Avoid the Headline Holdup: Learn How to Unplug The Bottleneck in Your Business

According to Copyblogger, 80% of people will read your headline, but only 20% will read the content in the body.

And it looks like you’re one who has read the headline and converted to a reader. I thank you for that and hope to fulfill your expectations.

Headlines, more than anything else, are the key drivers for generating traffic, readers, and leads for blogs. They are really important and yet are one of the most overlooked aspects of marketing.

So what do I mean when I say that headlines are key drivers for generating traffic?

When people are browsing through a search engine results page, the only things they see are the title tag (which is usually the headline) and snippets of text:

By looking at these screenshots, you can see that headlines are the big determinants for a website visitor. Headline, text, and possibly site familiarity determine if a user opens a page or not.

Headlines are also listed on blogs. Good headlines reduce bounce rate while bad headlines increase bounce rate. When people visit the KISSmetrics blog, they are presented with a series of posts:

If nobody opens a post, the bounce rate increases, and KISSmetrics becomes less effective at spreading its content and engaging visitors.

It’s the same with many other blogs:

Remember, headlines go beyond just getting blog posts read:

  • Headlines and titles get people to click on your search engine results.
  • Good tweets can be thought of as great headlines, which also get your content read.
  • Great headlines also make great email subject lines.
  • Great headlines get people to click on your Facebook and Linked-in updates.
  • Great headlines get landing pages to convert.

Therefore your headlines and introductory copy are all barriers to getting your marketing message read.

Now we understand why headlines are important and why they can’t be overlooked.
So let’s examine what makes great headlines and how you can consistently write excellent ones.

The 7 Things to Keep in Mind

1. Assure the Reader of a Benefit

If you want a blog that people will read regularly, you need to answer this question with each blog post:

How does this post benefit the reader?

Since all articles and posts start with the headline, you’ll need to assure the reader of a benefit in the headline. For a headline to assure benefit, it must be pointed and focused on the reader. This type of headline usually includes one or more of these terms:

How to

You

Guide

Free Download

Best Practices

What __ won’t tell you about ____

___ ways you can

Here are some headlines that assure the reader of a benefit:

Great headlines and posts are focused on readers. Don’t make posts about you. If your blog turns into a press release archive, it will inevitably fail – unless the goal is to have a really boring blog.

Successful blogs focus on the reader, and a headline that assures a benefit will attract readers and improve engagement.

2. Focus on the First Five Words

Nick Usborne says that with the rise of social media, the first five words of a headline are more important than ever. His rationale is that people scan through the things they see on the web.

And he’s right. Do you read every word of your twitter stream?

Or every word on a search engine results page?

Or every word when you check the news?

Chances are you don’t read every word. You look for relevancy, keywords, and probably read only the first few words.

While the whole headline is important, there’s no doubt that the first few words play a big role in whether a browser converts to a reader. Nail your first few words, and you’ll increase your chances of getting a reader.

3. Spark the Curiosity and Interest of the Reader

Great headlines are like teasers or cliff hangers. They make the reader curious and interested in the content of the post. This is similar to teasers or cliff hangers because they pique the viewers’ desire and get them excited about what’s coming next.

Let’s examine some titles that attract an audience.

How could any entrepreneur not be drawn to find out which 4 metrics are must haves?

Any marketer would need to see the 4 words:

I know that fitness promotes a healthy body, improves mood, and enhances overall well-being, but now you’re telling me it’s a lie? Tell me why…

Your headlines should tantalize like the ones above. They should also be a little incomplete in the sense that they should make the reader wonder about what’s in the post. They shouldn’t be complete statements. Don’t let the user settle for the headline.

For example, this headline only makes a statement and doesn’t fascinate:

Content Marketing is Good for Business

It’s a boring statement, not a headline. Instead, either one of these headlines would be much more effective:

How Content Marketing Grows Your Business and Increases Revenue

How You Can Use Content Marketing to Grow Your Business and Increase Revenue

Headlines like that will entice any current or aspiring entrepreneur.

Here’s another headline that won’t convert browsers to readers:

Businesses Need to Learn to Use Social Media the Right Way

Here are two better headlines:

5 Tips You Can Use Right Now to Improve Your Company’s Social Media

The Ultimate Guide to Using Social Media for Businesses

Notice the difference? The better headlines are focused on the reader and promise to give concrete tips for using social media.

So now we can see why your headlines should make the user thirsty for information. But you won’t be able to make these types of headlines without knowing what makes your readers tick. Let’s get into that now.

4. Know What Makes Readers Tick

Every blog attracts different readers, and different readers are affected by different words and terms. By knowing your audience, you’ll be able to form headlines that grab their attention.

For example, we know every entrepreneur wants to make their company more successful. So use terms like:

Increase revenue

Take your business to the next level

ROI

Fundraising

Product development

All of these will grab the attention of entrepreneurs. What the rest of the headline says is also key.

If your blog is written for and read by a tech audience, these terms will capture readers:

Zuckerberg

New (gadget)/New (product)

Steve Jobs

Android

iPod/iPhone/iPad

Another method to capture readers is to post on current topics. For instance, Yuri Milner announced in January 2011 that he would give every Y Combinator company $150K. Since this was on the mind of nearly every tech entrepreneur at the time, an article about this news item would grab attention. A headline with “Yuri Milner” in it would likely convert a lot of browsers to readers.

If you know your audience, you’ll know what makes them tick. Be sure to keep this in mind when forming your headline.

5. Give it the Breath Test

Your headline shouldn’t explain everything your blog post or article will cover. Leave it open.

When forming your headline, give it the breath test. If you have to take a breath while reading your headline, it’s too long.

Look at historically popular newspaper headlines and headlines from popular blog posts and articles. They’re rarely more than 10 words long.

So read every headline you can think of (we’ll get into that later) and cross out any one that:

  • Is so long that it forces you to take a breath
  • Makes you take a breath immediately after reading it

Keep your headlines short. Not many people will even bother reading any part of the headline if it’s too long.

6. Don’t Be Afraid to be Contrarian

Anything contradictory usually will gain an audience. If it is contradictory, you must back it up with solid facts. Otherwise, you could face some embarrassment, and that can damage your brand. A good contradictory headline might be:

Why ____ is wrong about ______

The contrarian viewpoint must be warranted; don’t be contrarian “just because.” Be passionate and say why you disagree with a current and popular viewpoint. Don’t force it.

7. Write a Lot of Different Titles for Each Post

Don’t use the first headline that comes to mind, unless it turns out to be the best. Be thoughtful and write multiple headlines for each post. The more headlines you write, the better the headline you’ll end up with.

Once you have your list, cross out any that test your breath. After that, find which headlines:

  • Assure the reader of a benefit
  • Promote interest and curiosity in the reader
  • Will spread well on social media
  • Is targeted for your audience

And select from that list once it has been narrowed down.

A Few Final Words

I’ll say it again: don’t overlook headlines. They can mean the difference between 100 readers and 10,000 readers. So invest some time and be thoughtful with your headlines.

Anything else you’d like to add? Let’s hear it in the comments!

About the Author: Zach Bulygo is a blogger for KISSmetrics, you can find him on Twitter here. You can also follow him on Google+.

  1. Great stuff Zach, I’ll be using this to refer back to for future posts. I suck at headlines it’s good to have a bit of a structure to work off.

    • Thanks Dan!

      Yeah I wasn’t very good at headlines and kind of neglected them when I started blogging for KISSmetrics a little under a year ago. But I’ve learned a lot about them and figure I’d share some helpful ideas.

  2. The main reason I click on KISS Metrics’ headlines is as you say. However, it is backed up with a good brand – I have yet to read an article that I feel has wasted my time. They are always well-written, well edited have a little depth/complexity to them and offer something concrete I can act on. Most articles about content are way too basic to be useful. Cheers, Jenny, Report Machine

    • Thank you so much for the kind words Jenny!

      We put a lot of focus on blog posts and many hours are spent when writing a post. It’s always rewarding to hear comments on them – both good and bad.

  3. The attention to detail in this post is amazing. E.g., if you have to take a breath while reading a headline, it’s too long. Wow! that kind of articulation of ‘user experience’ is right down the expert ally!

  4. Excellent article. I intend to revisit it as I go through my site and clean up my content.

    Thanks

  5. I run a music content website and all our headlines tend to be information only or a little boring really “Singer Mika Latte speaks about new album, touring and summer!” or something similar, this has really got me thinking about using these tactics to ensure our readers click through, it’s a challenge applying some of them to begin with but I think this will be a key focus for us now!

    Thanks for the great article.

  6. Thanks for your article . I really feel sad and I know so much more about this than I did before. Your blog really brought some things to many people about their life.Thank you very much.

  7. Your posts are always so informative and well thought out. There is always a take-away for me which I appreciate. Keep up the good work, and I’ll keep reading.

  8. It was definitely interesting to know about the headlines of your sit or blog.
    I do have fun and learn from your post.

  9. Hey,

    This is great! Thanks for letting us know. It is always helpful to learn knew things like this.

    Regards,
    Jenifer Taylor

  10. Your headlines are so effective and are pretty good :)
    Saif

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