Headlines: The One Thing They Must Do And A Few Simple Things You Can Do To Make That One Thing Happen

Headlines: The One Thing They Must Do And A Few Simple Things You Can Do To Make That One Thing Happen
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Since the dawn of the newspapers more than 500 years ago, headlines have been both the face and backbone of content. As content has multiplied and migrated from paper to radio to television to monitors to smartphones to tablets, the importance of a good headline has only become more significant.

There are a million articles, workshops and seminars out there that talk about creating killer headlines for different types of content and it’s too complex of a topic to cover in one post. But if you asked a group of marketers what characteristics a headline should have, you would probably get a list that looks something like this.

Headlines should convey a benefit or value.

Headlines should show how you can solve a problem or fill a need.

Headlines should make a promise.

Headlines should be brief.

Headlines should be bold, clever, entertaining, funny, creative, etc.

Headlines should include keywords, preferably at the beginning.

Believe it or not, headlines don’t have to do any of these things. Don’t get me wrong – these are all good things. An effective headline will likely have one or more of these characteristics, especially the first two on the list, but none of them are requirements.

Your Headline Must Do Exactly One Thing – Get People To Keep Reading.

People will read your headline more than any other part of your content. If the headline doesn’t focus on the reader’s needs and draw them in, they won’t read anything else. Whatever time, effort or money you’ve invested in creating and/or sharing that content will have been wasted.

If people keep reading, the headline worked. If not, it failed. Simple as that.

Bold, Brief And Clever? Not Necessarily.

Back to that list of things your headline should do. Many experts will tell you that your headline has to be exciting, bold and – one of my all-time least favorite words – catchy. These experts are typically creative types. Writers like me, unfortunately.

And for goodness sake, make sure you don’t go beyond Google’s character limit. That’s the SEO geek talking.

I disagree.

First and foremost, your headline should be relevant to the reader and somehow convey that the content you’re sharing is valuable enough for them to continue reading. Very often, a simple, straightforward statement that clearly illustrates how the reader will benefit from reading your content is the most effective approach.

And let your goal of getting people to keep reading determine the length of the headline, not the search engines.

Would it be nice if the headline jumped off the page every single time? Sure. Is a clever, short headline more effective? In many cases, yes. But not always.

Too many marketers sacrifice clarity for cleverness. When you get too cute, you can easily turn off the reader.  Maybe you think you’re being funny – a potentially game changing yet dangerously subjective risk – and the reader doesn’t. Maybe your headline sets an expectation that your content fails to deliver to the reader or completely misrepresents your content.

The headline of this blog probably didn’t blow your mind, but it got you to read it, right? When in doubt, keep it simple.

Every Piece Of Content Needs An Effective Headline.

Every page of your website, every blog, every email blast, every article you share. Even photos and videos should have a strong headline or caption.

For example:

Websites: Most pages on the average business website are devoid of headlines for some reason. Home, About, Services and Contact are page titles, not headlines. They’re fine for navigation. But each page of your website should have a headline that inspires and motivates visitors to read or at least scan the content on that page.

Emails: “(fill in the blank) Newsletter”, “(fill in the blank) Roundup,” “Hello from (fill in the blank)” and other generic phrases that appear in email subject lines and never change month after month are probably attracting flies in the recipients’ “deleted items” folder.

As I write this blog, I received an email with the headline, “This is just amazing” in the subject line. Eye roll. Instead of making a lame claim that you can’t quantify, tell me what you can do for me. That would really be amazing and I’ll be much more likely to open your email.

Sharing articles: Try to avoid simply posting the link with someone else’s headline. Create a headline that’s reflective of your business and, more importantly, make sure it speaks to your specific audience. This is an important part of the relationship-building process.

Today, I saw a link on Facebook with the headline, “Create a mobile version of your site free for the first year with Google’s GoMo.” Even though I rarely believe something is completely free, I clicked it because the headline was more about me than Google. If the headline said something like “Google launches GoMo for mobile websites,” I probably would have ignored it.

You’ll never hit a home run with every headline. Hey, we all swing and miss, which is why testing is so important. There are countless techniques and approaches, but it’s important to stay focused on the one thing your headline must do – get them to keep reading.

Besides this blog, what was the last headline that got you to keep reading?

Scott McKelvey
Scott helps business owners enhance their brand, build relationships and increase revenue by developing marketing messages that focus on the needs of their clients. Scott writes content for all things marketing, from websites and blogs to web videos and brochures. As Creative Director for New Jersey’s largest radio stations and TargetSpot, the nation’s largest internet radio advertising network, Scott has helped local, regional and national brands maximize ROI by combining powerful messaging with strategic geographic and demographic targeting. Scott's philosophy is simple: Show your target audience how your product can solve a real problem or fill a real need in their lives and you'll build a base of loyal customers. Visit Scott's site for more about his writing philosophy and experience.
Scott McKelvey
Scott McKelvey