How do you draw in a reader, immediately and unequivocally? You already know to write engaging content, something that speaks to them. However, even before getting to the meat of the article, it’s all about capturing attention. To grab someone’s attention, you must begin with an engaging headline.
An ideal headline hits some crucial points. First, it captures a reader’s attention in two or three seconds. Second, it trigger’s the mind’s “want-to-read” mechanism. Third – but by no means last! – it captures the attention of search engines. Regardless if your work is published online, internet discussion can make or break a project. Work those keywords!
This article is designed to help you hit all the marks, maximize potential, and create the perfect headline.
Two-Second Headline Challenge
There’s an old saying about not judging a book by its cover. Guess what? When it comes to sales messages, throw that phrase out the window. In an era of instant-everything, first impressions are everything. Think of the headline as the front cover, and the of the post script as the back cover—and treat them accordingly. A great headline can shock, command, or generate a chuckle. These aren’t the only options, but they’re as close as possible to guaranteed results.
The Shocking Headline
The Internet terminology is click bait. Derisive terms aside, click bait titles get results. Whether a titillating story about a celebrity or a political firestorm, nobody can resist a shocking headline. We complain about them, express contempt for them, and most of all we click on them!
Examples include “Celebrity X Arrested for Drugs” or “Politician ABC: [inflammatory remark].” They’re shock-value hits. Shock value headlines aren’t restricted to politics and celebrities, however. Mainstream articles are known to employ similar techniques. A treatise on innovative science might be titled, “Hadron Collider: We’re Opening Black Holes Every Day.” A factual headline can still shock. It hits our mental hot buttons, drawing us in, making us do a double-take. It’s the kind of headline that makes us click with the thought, “That can’t be true. What are they talking about?”
The Commanding Headline
A different approach might be to employ call-to-action headlines. As I discussed in a previous article, a Call to Action is any verbiage that tells someone what to do. Examples include: “Make a Better Widget”, or “Engage Better-Quality Clients”. This type of headline wins in two ways. First, it’s giving orders: Make and Engage are action words, telling readers, “Do this!” It also implies, without saying outright, I dare you to make a better widget, and I dare you to engage better-quality clients.
The Humorous Headline
Humor can be a great tool for capturing a reader’s attention. Puns have been a newspaper staple for years. Anything that causes a double-take means someone is paying attention – which dovetails into reading further. A humorous title can be a great introduction to an article written in folksy, conversational style.
Examples of humorous headlines include: “Jeweler’s Name Has Nice Ring to It”, or “Bowling Green Pins Down Strike Deal.”
Keywords are crucial for a good headline, and simple to use.
A keyword is the word or words put into a search engine, the things you’d expect someone to search for when looking for your article. Let’s say an article is about puppies. Someone looking for articles on puppies would want to read that article, right? They’ll go to Google and type puppies in the search box.
Now imagine how many articles there are on puppies. Chances are, they number in the tens of thousands, maybe more. How can you make yours stand out? If your shiny new article comes up in the first fifteen page results, you’ll be lucky.
Let’s change things a little. Say your article is about Maltese puppies. That breed-specific detail immediately restricts competition and gives you a fighting chance to be seen. However, you can improve the odds by the right use of keywords. Google and other search engines give a little extra weight to keywords in headlines, which is why it’s imperative to use those words in titles and subtitles. The words need to be scattered throughout the article, but putting them into headings gives them a boost. It’s kind of like your article standing up, hand raised, and saying, “Pick me! Pick me!”
An example of keywords, going back to the Maltese puppies, would be, “Raise Healthy Maltese Puppies.” It might not titillate, but it’s short, to the point, and includes a call to action.
Long or Short Headline?
Speaking of short, a headline should encapsulate your message in as few words as possible. When creating headlines, it’s tempting to write a complete sentence. Don’t do it! Be ruthless with the red pen, whether it’s a paper article with actual red pen, or a digital rendering.
Let’s revisit one of our sample headlines: Make a Better Widget. You could also use Learn to Make a Better Widget. As you can see, the extra couple of words don’t engage you more. It’s doubtful anyone will look up “learn” when searching for widgets, so it doesn’t help you in the keywords category. Take out any words that you can eliminate and still make sense. All the words belong in the article. Only the most important words belong in the headline.