Do you know what the most important piece of your content marketing is? It’s not the actual content—it’s the headline that entices people to read your content. If your headlines are not compelling, then no one will look at your content. With that in mind, here are seven rules for writing powerful and effective headlines that will significantly boost your headline writing game.

1. Write your headline first.
Headlines are promises—they promise a certain benefit to your audience if they read your content. The promise could be anything from learning a new skill to simple entertainment. It doesn’t really matter what the promise is, so long as it is met.

Starting with your headline helps you distill the essence of your content into a tweet-sized package, giving you a clear purpose for creating the content piece. This helps keep your content clear and crisp.

2. No clickbait!
Headlines are promises and “clickbait-y” headlines are promises from used car salesmen. The whole purpose of clickbait is to attract attention (This clickbait headline generator will change your life!), but it attracts attention in a way that degrades the content’s quality and brand attached to the content. Sensationalist, ridiculous, and frequently misleading, clickbait headlines waste readers’ time because they severely over-promise what the content can actually deliver.

For example, on my post about social media superstar Sree Sreenivasan, I didn’t title it “Social media marketing secrets that will shock and amaze.” I called it simply “Secrets for social media success from Sree Sreenivasan,” because that is exactly what the post is.

If you use clickbait techniques in your content, the only guarantee is that you will disappoint your readers.

3. Don’t be clever.
If clickbait is annoying, overly clever headlines are almost as bad. “Clever” headlines usually means writing a play on words or a joke that readers will only understand if they read the whole piece. Remember, the headline is supposed to bring readers to your article—if they have to read the article to understand the headline, then the headline failed in its job.

Being clever often means being unclear. Save the cleverness for the body of the content once you’ve hooked your readers in.

4. Write for people, not SEO robots.
Google is trying to change the web and make it a better place, through its Hummingbird search algorithm. Hummingbird is bringing in the semantic web, which rewards quality content written for real people, rather than for robots, with higher search engine rankings. Content marketing is all about speaking your customers’ language and people don’t speak SEO keywords—they use natural language.

5. Answer your audience’s questions.
Part of writing for people and not robots is to think what questions your audience is asking. Use those questions or their answers as your headlines. For example, my post “Five tips for using email as a lead generating machine” is the answer to the question, “How to drive leads with email marketing?” Likewise, my post, “Leveraging premium content: A how-to guide for marketers,” is the answer to the question “How should marketers to use premium content?”

6. Tout the features your audience will like, not the ones you like.
Sometimes as marketers, it’s easy for us to forget about our customers as we get so deep into our products. We get so wrapped up in our products’ great features, that we forget that we are supposed to be solving problems for our customers.

This is the oft-noted difference between Microsoft and Apple products—Microsoft’s products tend to be over-engineered and complicated. Apple’s products tend to be very simple and easy to use. Under Steve Jobs (his second tenure anyway), Apple focused on meeting customers’ needs (even if they didn’t know what their needs were). If Microsoft operated the same way, then the Office suite of programs wouldn’t be such bloated monstrosities.

7. Use numbers and lists.
People love lists and headlines with numbers and lists are highly effective. For example, my blog posts Top five ways to optimize sales enablement efforts and Six tips for boosting your creative powers follow this model.

Implement these headline rules into your content creation and watch your content’s popularity increase. Happy headline writing!

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