I remember a wise college professor once telling me, “The headline isn’t the icing on the cake. It is the cake.” An engaging headline sets the tone for your whole piece. It sparks your curiosity, compels you to read more and is the key to effective SEO. If an article is a house, the headline is the foundation.
Here are a few pointers to keep in mind next time you’re faced with writing an engaging headline:
- Keep it short: Did you know that search engines typically only look at the first 65-70 characters of a title? That means that, above all, you have to incorporate as much of the “who” and “what,” as well as keywords, toward the front of the headline. It’s worth noting that brief headlines are far more successful at hooking your audience than lengthy titles. Be succinct.
- Add a number: Headlines and titles that include a number get approximately 30 percent more clicks than those without them. List-style articles tend to be more palatable and appealing than rambling paragraphs, greatly increasing the chances of getting your copy read. Remember to use the actual numeral, versus the word of the number. Example: 10 ways to cut calories.
- Focus on the benefit to the reader: Searchers are often looking for solutions to problems, which is why “how to” articles are so popular. Place those two little words at the front of your headline and watch the click-through rate soar.
- Name the known; omit the obscure: Say you’re writing an article about Santa Claus and his upcoming appearance at the local mall. You wouldn’t write: Elderly, slightly plump North Pole resident visits local shopping hub. Instead, you might write: Santa Claus stops at NWA Mall. Although it’s considered a social faux pas to name-drop, it’s encouraged in the world of headline writing. If a well-known figure is integral to the piece, by all means, call them out in the headline.
- Write it first: Contrary to popular belief, writing the headline first can help guide and, in some cases, even improve the body copy. Think of it this way: you don’t read text from the bottom, up. You read from the top, down. The headline is the base of which all the rest of the copy stands upon, so make it sturdy. First impressions really are the most important. The practice of writing the headline first can also be helpful when you’re faced with a chronic case of writer’s block. I find that if I can just produce an engaging headline, the rest of the words will come.
Here are a few intriguing facts about headlines from a study by the Content Marketing Institute:
- 8 is the magic number. Titles that include the number 8 get a 21 percent higher click-through rate than average.
- Headlines incorporating a colon or a hyphen – indicating a subtitle – perform 9 percent better than headlines without.
- Titles that end with a question mark have higher engagement than those ending with exclamation marks or periods.
Go forth, and be a headliner.
What are some other keys to writing a compelling headline? Tell us in the comments below, or tweet your responses using the hashtag #mcgblog.