5 Tips for Killer Content Headlines

05
Mar 2013

DJSMCkNSdAs many of you know, I got my start in marketing as a copywriter, even enduring five long years at one of Houston’s largest ad agencies.

(I like to compare the experience to paratrooper school: While having it on your resume is priceless, under no circumstances do you want to spend the rest of your life there. But I digress …)

During my tenure on that copywriting team, there was always a place of honor at the glossy black table for those who could come up with a killer headline. To a certain extent, if you could rock the headline, the rest of the piece could be written in Swahili Pig Latin for all it mattered.

And of course, those winning headlines were most often fluffed-up abstractions involving at least one oh-so-clever play on words and only the faintest connection with the content that followed.

If I’d written back then the kind of headlines I write now, I wouldn’t have lasted a week.

Why? Because we were working in a (mostly) print-based world, and if you were seeing the headline, you’d probably already taken a step towards expressing an interest in what followed.

Not so on today’s interwebs.

Which brings me to today’s topic: writing effective headlines for your blog posts, articles, e-books, and other content assets. Your headline is the storefront of your content, the part that first says “Hey, look over here!” to a would-be reader. There’s an art to writing good headlines on the Web, and it has absolutely nothing to do with the headlines I used to create as an ad-agency wordsmith.

As with most concepts involving online marketing, it will probably take some time for you to develop your own style and figure out what works best for your audience. In the meantime, I’ve got a few tips to keep in your back pocket, right next to your copy of Strunk & White’s Elements of Style:

1. Keep it short

You’ve probably heard that most search engines cut off page titles at 70 characters, but there’s another important reason to keep your titles short. Attention spans on the web are tiny—miniscule, even. And if a would-be reader is scanning a search engine results page with a dozen or more options, you have less than a second to entice him or her to click on your link. So let’s keep those titles short!

2. Be clear

Of course, the sister axiom to “keep it short” is “keep it simple,” and to me that means to tell the folks exactly what they’re getting. If you’re talking about how to protect your plants in freezing temperatures or why organic food is worth the price, say that. No clever puns or aimless wordplay: just the facts, Ma’am (or Sir)!

3. Express one concept

If your content is more on the editorial side, á la Chris Brogan or Brian Solis, you may touch on three or four separate topics over the course of your writing. Instead of trying to encapsulate the whole enchilada (or Texas-sized burrito) in your headline, just communicate one key concept, either the most important, the most compelling, or an umbrella idea that ties it all together.

4. Use your keywords

Of course, one of our main objectives with all this content marketing stuff is to drive traffic to our websites, and using those all-important SEO keywords is, well, key to attracting that search-based traffic. If you need to decide between two keywords (say, between “pet travel” or “travel with pets”), Google’s Keyword Tool is a terrific resource that lets you compare the popularity of different options. It’s easy to use … and free 🙂

5. Put most important words up front

For extra SEO mojo, place those keywords as close to the beginning of your headline as possible. This simple practice has the added benefit of telling potential readers early on what your topic is. For example, I could have titled last week’s blog post “Update on the Latest LinkedIn Changes” but instead I opted for “LinkedIn Update: Events, Answers Out; Endorsements, Projects In” because it clarifies early on that it’s a post about LinkedIn. It may sound overly picky, but in the wild-West environment that is today’s Web, we need every advantage we can get, right?

So those are my tips for killer headlines—now it’s your turn! Share your tips with us in the Comments. We’d love to hear from you!

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 About the Author

Rachel has answerA self-described geek who can recite entire episodes of South Park by heart, Rachel Parker has had a passion for content ever since she was old enough to hold a crayon (purple, please).

As Founder and CEO of Resonance, Rachel helps businesses publish content that connects with their audience … and converts those followers into customers. She’s also the host of the Content Marketing Podcast and a sought-after speaker, having presented to many major business and marketing organizations. Contact Rachel about speaking to your group or business.



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