“On average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.”- David Ogilvy
Headlines are more important now than ever, thanks to social media. Think about what is shared when you Tweet, post to Facebook, or share a link on LinkedIn. What auto-populates when you click “Tweet This” above an article? Usually, it’s the headline. And if it can’t capture attention in 100 characters or less, that share isn’t working as hard for you as it could. (Why 100? See my post on the anatomy of a healthy, sharable tweet.)
Don’t forget the media part of social media.
Think like a journalist. Journalists are taught to get straight to the point and write a headline that will grab relevant readers’ attention. Don’t overemphasize sensationalism, but do take note at what catches people’s eye as they read a fast-moving Twitter stream or Facebook newsfeed.
5 tips for sharable headlines:
- Avoid being generic. Sure, it says what your article is about, but it sounds a lot like a few dozen other articles out there at any one time. Be specific about what your article has to offer.
- Focus on what’s new. Just like a journalist, let your headline tell people what the new information in your article is. It may be an updated study or a different perspective than what’s being largely shared. It may be the latest in an ongoing event or research series.
- Find the valuable “nugget” of information. What’s the bottom line (or top line for journalists) that your article will tell or teach people? You know what it is: when you write an article, it’s that sentence that makes you know you’ve got news on your hands. A stat that makes your eyes pop a bit or that disproves your original hypothesis. Something surprising or unsuspected will usually do the trick, or you may be writing to confirm – with statistics – what’s assumed knowledge. Those types of articles can be just as valuable.
- Yes, numbers really do help. “The 7 ways to write a killer headline.” “5 secret tips every SEO must know.” Tangible takeaways will help your readers know not only what their getting, but how long it will be.
- Be enticing, but don’t be vague. If you’re too clever, you’ll lose people’s attention before you even have it, because they didn’t “get” what you meant in your headline. Clarity trumps cleverness when characters are precious.
And a bonus: if you’re using a ShareThis or TweetThis widget for your posts, you don’t have to pre-load it to share the headline. Perhaps “Clarity trumps cleverness when characters are precious” is a line that people smile at for its alliteration and are more likely to share/click/view. Customize your share “phrase” if the headline needs to say something else. For example, if your Search Engine Strategist says your headline must use certain words or phrases, play with the share copy to keep the enticement high.
Perhaps most importantly: keep your reader in mind. Who are you trying to attract and what do you really want from them after they read the article? Entice the right readers and you’ll see not just more traffic, but visitors that actually take the action you’re hoping for.