7 Surprisingly Effective Headline Writing Tips

7 Surprisingly Effective Headline Writing Tips

By Jessica Kelly

You didn’t click on this article haphazardly. You clicked here because you saw an intriguing headline. It was science, actually – carefully crafted words that made this article clickable.

Over the years, data scientists have analyzed billions of clicks among countless demographics.It turns that patterns of behavior  are associated with specific headline wording. We’ve boiled it down to 7 surprisingly effective rules to think about for your next article.

1. Use 6 main words and/or 57 characters or less –

Google doesn’t have time for your rant. They will cut your title off at 57 characters (no matter how masterfully you crafted it.) If you can’t get your headline that short, make sure your target keyword is in the first half so that google picks it up and your audience knows the main points of the article upon first glance.

Google knows that people skim their results. If you gets straight to the point and answer a problem or need, you’re more likely to get that click. If the content is not obvious and attention grabbing, you lost your 2 second chance to make an impression.

2. Start with a number.

I mean an actual number. Spelling it out just doesn’t have the same effect. For example, Saying “9 Tips To Cure Your Insomnia” will outperform “Nine Tips to Cure Your Insomnia” everytime. Not to mention that it saves valuable character space for keywords.

Google actually recognizes this preference among its readers and rewards sites who use this technique with higher rankings. They want clicks too, and this does the trick!

Headlines with numbers generate 36% more engagement than "how to" headlines

Oddly enough, odd numbered blog post titles get the most traffic on Google with no real scientific explanation. According the the Content Marketing Institute, odd numbers out-perform their even counterparts by nearly 20%.

What’s more is that while men and women both prefer numbered articles, women seem to prefer them more. So if your company caters to women, you may want to take this tip extra seriously.

Does this mean that you need to change you whole writing style and switch to numbered lists? Yes and no. If you weave these types of posts into your blog up to 50% of the time, you’ll get the overall benefit – as long as the information you provide is genuinely useful or interesting. We will get into some other attention grabbing words to use later so that you don’t have to become a list factory.

3. Use Title Case:

Title case is when you capitalize all the important words in your headline – excluding prepositions and conjunctions. Like so:

Title Case: Herrington Stands Trial, Pleads the 5th

Sentence Case: Herrington stands trial, pleads the 5th

Reportedly, using title case can increase your Click-through-rate (CTR) by more than 1%. This may seem like a small number at first glance, but if you plan to have thousands of visitors to your site, this number represents a significant increase in page views. Journalist and creative writers argue about why this is the case, but using title case is proper AP style – that is the style journalists use. Little hints of credibility peak through when you write like a journalist rather than a blogger.

That is not to say that sentence case is always the less of the two options. Medium argues that it provides easier readability in some cases like pop up windows or on buttons.

4.  Integrate headline power words.

Headline with emotional words generate 50% more click throughs

There are two kinds of power words to consider: those forecasting content and those evoking emotion. Headlines with emotional words get an average of 50% more shares than posts without, according to Buffer. This shows that people are seeking emotional satisfaction in their content. For example, this article’s headline contains the word “surprisingly.” In this case, you are making an appeal to the reader’s curiosity.

Use caution though, always deliver on the value you promise in an emotional title. Nothing discredits your brand more than promising an awe-inspiring article that falls short. Readers remember emotional downfalls more than logical ones. They may not return to your site for fear of being tricked again. Luckily, we are not short on emotional words in the English language, so you are free to choose your emotional word with precision.  These words have shown to make heads turn and increase click through rates.

On the other hand, words that foreshadow content also seem to be useful to readers. The following words all promise content and provide expectation of what’s to come:

  1. How to
  2. Free
  3. Exclusive
  4. Tips, and
  5. Template

To go further, you can personalize their expectations by using words like “you/yours” and “this guy, these people.” Being specific and relating to the reader breeds interest and relates the reader’s own experience to your content.

5. Use Negative Superlatives: 

Negative Superlatives cause 30% increased engagement

While we don’t suggest using scare tactics, it is proven that negative superlatives work. According to Outbrain, words like never “worst” or “never” outperformed posts without superlatives. Conversely, positive superlatives showed to perform the least: a whopping 60% less than their negative counterparts. We suppose fear is a motivator. Don’t over-do this unless your brand identity is built on fear-mongering. Remember that the best SEO asset you have is being genuine. The numbers don’t lie, though.

6. Don’t Be Too Pushy. 

Pushy Headlines Cause 20% less engagement

The harder you push, the less people trust you. Credibility on the internet today is a lot like high-school coolness levels. If you try too hard, you’ll rank lower.

“19 Must-Have Recipes You Need to Try Today” just sounds spammy. No one wants to be told what to do. The power of suggestion is much stronger and the stats are there to back it up. Outbrain reports that pushy headlines perform 20% worse than regular headlines.

7. Copy and modify: 

Many highly trafficked sites have been testing words and phrases that convert for years. Don’t overtly steal someone else’s headline, but look up available combinations that have worked in the past. There is no need to re-invent the wheel. As long as the headline is relevant to the content, well-thought-out and modified slightly, you will see amazing result using tested phrases.

Buzzfeed released their top 3-word phrases that convert on FB for everyone to use.


3 Word Headline Phrases that convert on FB

The next time you are writing an article for your blog, put just as much thought into the headline as the article itself. If you don’t get the click, your work was all-for-not.

For help with your content marketing, reach out to a Team & Culture Teammate. We look forward to helping you create a positive online experience for your clients and readers. 

-Written by Jessica Kelly

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