Written by Ryan Scott
Fewer people read your blog posts than you think. More people read your headline than you think, too.
You might not realize it, but your headline could be the reason you're losing traffic. In fact, on average, only 20% of those who read your headline will click through to read your article. That means good headlines lose 80% of your audience.
Great headlines, though, can make a dramatic impact in the opposite direction. You can increase the traffic to your articles by as much as 500%, based solely on the headline.
Not only does the headline affect click-through rates, but it sets the tone and establishes the key subject of the article. points out , a title can have a huge impact on what the audience takes away from an article.
Discussing her article, "A Gene That Makes You Need Less Sleep," Konnikova said, "If I had instead called it “Why We Need Eight Hours of Sleep,” people would remember it differently."
What makes a great headline?
That depends on who you're writing to, and where they're reading it.
As a marketing consultant, my job is to help companies grow. The content I help them create must accomplish two things:
They must appeal to their target personas.They must promise to provide value to their target personas.
When I talk about the greatest headlines of all time, it gives a connotation of the most creative titles. If I was writing about creative titles, I would go with something like, "Why My Cat Has a Savings Account," or "In Defense of the Figurative Use of Literally." These are both intriguing and creative titles.
But these kinds of titles don't appeal to SEO, and they don't address the problems my clients are facing. Too many marketers make their titles too cute to be effective.
The best headlines are the ones that capture the pain points of your target personas and introduces a topic that will make their lives better. And it must be compelling.
If your headline is not compelling, you'll lose up to 80% of your audience.
Types of Headlines
The 'Best' Headlines
The 'Make My Life Easier' Headlines
The 'It's a Race' HeadlinesThe 'If I Were You' Headlines
The 'What We Do When...' Headlines
The 'Backed By Science' Headlines
The 'Why X People Do X' Headlines
The 'Experience Has Taught Well' Headlines
The 'Let Me List Them Out For You' Headlines
The 'Don't Be Stupid' Headlines
The 'Don't Be Ignorant' Headlines
The 'Everyone Loves Competition' Headlines
The 'Click Bait' Headlines
1. The 'Best' Headlines
These headlines are powerful for SEO. These types of headlines speak right to the common web searches of your customers. Consider this -- if you're searching for ways to save money, wouldn't you be intrigued by the best way? Or would you be satisfied with any old way?
These headlines are typically exact-match searches; starting off with the words, "the best way to..."
2. The 'Make My Life Easier' Headlines
This is the little sister to the 'Best' headlines. If your customers are facing problems, they don't always want to know the best way to do something. Sometimes, they want to know the easiest way.
At one point, I worked as the internet sales manager at a car dealership. I found a lot of our customers weren't interested in the best way to buy a car, which is save money and pay cash.
They were very interested, however, in the easiest way. Our most successful content was helping our customers do things easier.
3. The 'It's a Race' Headlines
Sometimes people don't want the best, and they don't want easy - they want fast. In some industries, you see personas that are always in panic mode, needing something done yesterday.
The plus side of "fast" content is, it means they will jump through the buyers' journey much faster if you can prove the value of your product or service.
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4. The 'If I Were You' Headlines
Most of us share a desire to improve. We want to be more productive and more successful. We all would love to accomplish more in less time. And, we all want to be good at what we do. It's those desires that make the, "If I were you..." headlines so powerful.
When someone tells us how we should do something, we balk. When someone offers to show us why we should do something, it appeals to us. It speaks to the reasons and motivations we should adopt a new idea, or change our current ones.
This title, in particular, was especially powerful to me for two reasons. The first, was the context of the article; it appeared on LinkedIn from a very popular marketer.
The second reason was because it caused cognitive dissonance - Facebook is one of the largest platforms available to marketers, yet this title says I should walk away and forget it. And it worked. This post was viewed around 300,000 times.
5. The 'What We Do When...' Headlines
Transparency is a new paradigm in marketing. For years, companies have done all they could to keep their "secret sauce" hidden from the public. What companies have started to realize is, the real secret sauce is trust. And every company has access to it if they want it.
Transparency is one amazing way to build that trust. Buffer, for instance, has championed transparency. As a result, they have built an amazing company culture, as well as a rabid fan base of customers.
Buffer reveals things most CEOs would laugh you out of the room for sharing. They share everything from their revenue earnings to how much they pay their employees.
And it works.
6. The 'Backed By Science' Headlines
Humans have a thing called a learning bias. No matter how wise a saying is, we are much more apt to accept it as true if we trust the source. Not only that, but we're fascinated by ultimate truths that spur us into action.
For example, if you can prove through research that waking up to Mozart translates to more energy in the morning, iTunes will light up with Mozart-seekers.
Why not do the same with your product or service? How is it going to make someone's life better? Share that, but base it on research.
7. The 'Why X People Do X' Headlines
This title appeals to our desire to be the best. As Brian Tracy in his book, Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life, says, "The people you most admire and look up to have an inordinate amount of influence on how you think and feed about yourself, and the kind of decisions you make."
If your title can appeal to the kind of people your audience look up to, it can be a powerful incentive to read more.
8. The 'Experience Has Taught Me Well' Headlines
Experience is the best teacher. But sometimes, the tuition is just too high. Smart people learn from other's mistakes. They also learn from other's success.
These titles speak to the problems your target personas are facing and promise to deliver insight on how to deal with these problems.
9. The 'Let Me List Them Out For You' Headlines
For some reason, we like list posts. They appeal to a wide audience and inspire a lot of clicks compared to other types of articles. Which is why blogs like buzzfeed constantly use them.
10. The 'Don't Be Stupid' Headlines
The most compelling headlines are those that appeal to our desire to be accepted. We don't want to look like fools. Headlines that connect to that desire are extremely compelling. When you mention mistakes, we all want to ensure we're not making them, especially if they are well-known.
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11. The 'Don't Be Ignorant' Headlines
We don't want to be the last to know. We don't want to be left in the dark, especially if our colleagues know something, we want to be in the loop. So do our customers.
If there is something they should know, we should be writing about it.
12. The 'Everyone Loves Competition' Headlines
This is a powerful title option. It allows you to replace third-party, uncontrollable reviews of your product or service with reviews you can control. Not only that, but it can steal traffic from your competitors as well. In very competitive spaces, these types of headlines perform very well.
Marcus Sheridan, of The Sales Lion loves these types of articles. Don't get him started on talking about Yelp. Instead, write some comparative articles and use these headlines to drive organic traffic from your competitors' websites.
13. The 'Click Bait' Headlines
Deep down inside, humans are just as curious as cats. Headlines that appeal to our inner feline are super powerful.
Some people, such as Upworthy, have mastered the art of sparking our interest. They create titles that dangle a carrot in front of us, forcing us to click through to get it.
If you're going to use this tactic, you better deliver content that excites as much as the title. If not, you'll just annoy your audience. I've started to loath these headlines, because more and more people are using them and not delivering on the anticipation.
So why do people do it? It brings clicks.
These types of headlines work. Period.
This is an example of a 'Best' headline, something that has a ton of search volume and is extremely clickable -- what are the best ways to study?
'Let Me List Them Out For You' headlines like this one get a lot of clicks because lists are consumable ways of getting information.
How could you not click on a title this compelling? This 'Click Bait' headline is (annoyingly) effective.
Consumers are looking for proven and trusted answers, so any 'Backed By Science' headline like this will likely get a lot of attention.
This is a 'Make My Life Easier' headline because it offers a solution to a need, and making life however much easier can be greatly appreciated.
This 'Don't Be Ignorant' headline makes consumers feel like they need to click on it and be 'in the know'.
'Experience Has Taught Me Well' headlines share personal stories and advice based on experience -- a headline that is both informative and personable.
This transparent headline builds trust with its audience, so it must be a 'What We Do When ...' headline.
We all want to know how other people 'made it,' and this 'Why X People Do X' headline gives insight into how they, too, might be successful.
This 'Don't Be Stupid' headline influences consumers to click out of anxiety -- no one would want to make this costly mistake.
This headline pits products against one another while capturing traffic for both services, so it can only be a 'Everyone Loves Competition' headline.
How To Craft the Perfect Headline
Which version of these headlines work the best? That depends on what the writer is trying to accomplish. Some are better for SEO while others are better for attracting people's attention from social shares.
Here's how to choose which type of headline to use:
Ask, "what is the single, most important point I want my readers to take away from this article?" Decide the best way to communicate that single takeaway.Write 25 headlines for each piece of content, then choose the best.Ask others. Give them your ideas, and see which one they like best. Always ask why.Keep a log of which types of headlines work best for your target personas. Use them shamelessly.