The four flaw-detectors you must employ while writing headlines
David Ogilvy, the British advertising tycoon (and founder of Ogilvy & Mather) popularly known as the Father of Advertising, is said to have revised a headline for an ad copy 104 times before finalizing the draft.
Do headlines really matter?
They do. Especially in this era of digital content.
A headline is the first impression that an article makes on a reader.
Whether it is a newspaper article, magazine Feature, a Facebook post or a blog, it takes a compelling headline to turn a casual browser into a serious reader.
And that’s what makes crafting a wise headline crucial from a content marketing viewpoint.
We often treat headlines as a last-minute label that we need to tag our articles with. Headlines are much more than that. They hold the key to the interest factor of your article. They determine whether or not your target audience will pay attention and choose to read the article amidst the surplus sea of similar topics.
A mundane, half-baked headline could bog down your blog or Facebook post in a mire of digital text.
So, how do you frame a headline that floats up and catches the attention of your target audience?
The art of phrasing a headline is multi-dimensional and a whole story by itself. It has diverse angles, tested and proven formulas, and layers of skillful framework.
Let’s begin with the basics.
The 4 Basic Parameters for a Quality Check on Your Headlines
Here are the four most integral characteristics of a well-crafted headline.
1. SHORT AND SIMPLE
Red Alert: Is the headline of your blog post an essay by itself?
The ideal word limit recommended for a headline is six.
Though often headlines do cross the limit, the six-word parameter helps you to watch your word count and keep it as brief and succinct as possible.
To quote headline expert Bnonn:
We tend to grasp only the first three words and the last three of a headline.
Moreover, Google search engine results pages (SERPs) display a maximum of seventy characters. Though Google hasn’t set any character limits as such, the word count depends on the title display on devices like desktops and mobiles.
Title tags that have more than 70 characters often get cut off in the display.
Remember that online readers tend to skim through the content overload. The attention to a headline is often limited to a glance. Lengthy phrases with complex words may sound appealing but nobody has the time to read them! So keep your titles simple and comprehensible.
Tips from ThePendits:
What if your headline crosses the six-word limit and from a content marketing perspective you cannot help it?
Try to place the primary keywords in the beginning half of the phrase (within the six-word limit).
That way, even if your title-tail gets cut off in the display, the reader will get a gist of the headline. And the Google critters will also be pleased!
Red Alert: Is there enough bait for the bots?
SEO optimization isn’t exclusive to the content. It applies to headlines as well.
We all know that as soon as we enter our search words on Google (or any search engines), the displayed results are always headlines – headlines of related articles with the relevant keywords that we have typed in.
The more the keywords in your headlines, the more the click-through rate your content gets, and the higher the ranking on search engine results.
That is why you need to think before cramming your headlines with catchy words.
As mentioned above, remember to include the primary keywords at the beginning of the headline phrase. It not only catches the attention of your specific readers but also that of the search engines.
It makes it easier for the bots to find and identify your article on relevant searches if your headlines include the primary keywords (that too, in the first half of the phrase).
For instance, if you are writing a blog for a healthcare provider with a focus on the elderly, then a blog titled “Insomnia: Causes and Effective Treatment” would seem vague and devoid of keywords.
But if the title is “Geriatric Sleep Disorder: Managing your sleep after 60”, or “Sleep Disorders in the Elderly: Causes and Treatment”, then the search bots could definitely pick your scent!
The latter titles with the primary keywords “elderly”, “geriatric” and “sleep disorder”, hit the target right in the center, while the former heading sounds more like a generic essay on insomnia.
Tips from ThePendits:
How can you write a headline with maximum optimization?
Remember for whom you are writing. Focus on your target audience.
What words or phrases would stir their interest? What search words would they be using to find similar information? What would catch their eye? Pick those relevant words and include them in your headline.
One easy way is to type your primary keyword on Google search. The results will show related words and phrases that you can use for your headlines.
3. SPECIFIC & INFORMATIVE
Red Alert: Does your headline mirror your topic?
A headline serves as a pointer to the content.
The headline gives your readers a glimpse of the information provided, the angle of perception and sets the background for further indulgence.
It must give the potential readers, as well as the search engines, an idea about your content and whether it is relevant to them.
The readers’ decision to pick your article/web content depends on how far the headline sync with their search words.
Also, the search engines will abandon your posts if the headlines are not specific about the relevant topic.
Hence, always remember to be specific about what you are trying to convey through the headline. Don’t be vague or ambiguous. Make sure your headline directly addresses the topic of your article.
If you are searching for “tips to writing great headlines”, and the title of this article is “The Craft of Content Creation: how to grab the attention of your readers”, then this blog post will never pop up in your search results. The relevant keywords –‘writing’, and ‘headlines’– are missing from the title tag!
A headline that is specific not only guides the readers to your article but also gives them a glimpse into the type of information that the article provides.
Though you may think that vague or mysterious titles could raise the suspense element and lure the readers, they could jeopardize your content in the search results.
Tips from ThePendits:
Stay rooted in the essence of your message.
Lose weight with a healthy diet?
Lose weight with a healthy diet in 6 weeks?
Lose weight with 6 simple meals in 6 weeks?
What exactly are you trying to convey? Grab that gist of your topic and put it on your title.
4. SNAPPY & STIMULATING
Red Alert: Does your headline stir up curiosity?
On the 16th of April 1912, the evening edition of the American daily Boston Globe carried a huge headline: ALL DROWNED BUT 868.
The news was about the tragic end of the Titanic, one of the worst disasters in modern history.
The headline is an attention-grabber, because of the suspense it creates.
Though in today’s digital context the title could lack the SEO factor, it sure has click-bait value!
The Association for Psychological Science once shared an article from The New Yorker on:
“how a headline can change the way people read an article and the way they remember it”.
First impressions apply to online articles as well. The way you coin the phrase/phrases in your headlines can go a long way in convincing your readers to read further.
Unique and suspense-filled headlines spark curiosity and help readers to recollect your article easily. They also help people to remember the topic and retain the information provided.
A unique title that stands apart from the rest would not only arrest the attention of your potential reader but could also make an impression upon a casual reader who might want to read further.
Tips from ThePendits:
How to write striking headlines that make an impression?
Remember to stay focused on your niche audience. The same topic may resonate differently with diverse groups of readers.
Frame your headline for your target segment. Write from the angle of their interest.
Pick the most interesting or inspiring part of your article (that excites your target readers/customers and the reason why you are writing it). Add a dash of intrigue and a teaspoon of potential information, and there you are!
Here is our take on experimenting with headlines and polishing the skill of writing punchier and SEO-centric headlines:
Below are a few of the headlines that made history.
Try rewriting them into catchy, SEO optimized blog titles for today’s online platforms.
Man Walks on the Moon (Daily Mirror, July 21, 1969)
The Birth of India’s Freedom (The Times of India, August 15, 1947)
Black Tuesday (October 29, 1929, The crash of the Stock Market and the subsequent onset of the Great Depression)
VE Day – It’s All Over (Daily Mail: May 8, 1945, The end of World War II)
Mandela Goes Free Today (City Press, February 11, 1990)
Remember: The purpose of a headline is to catch attention, convey the message (of the article) and get the clicks, thus ensuring better ROI. If you can stay focused on these essentials, your headlines will surely turn heads.