Headlines are the single most important part of any online (and most offline) content. It’s the headline that determines whether or not the rest of your content even gets glanced at, much less read. If your headline isn’t resonating with the reader, your content never has a chance. That’s why, when Nathan Safran shared a huge amount of data with us over on Moz, I knew I had to put my spin on it and share it with you.
Trick 1: Lead With a Number
It turns out that people, especially of the feminine persuasion, really dig numbers in headlines. More than a third of all readers preferred headlines that gave a specific number of “bits of information you’ll learn” — and while men preferred numbers more than the other options, women actually preferred them more than men by a meaningful percentage.
Trick 2: Understate
Laying on the superlatives really turns people off, it seems. Headlines that are really super amazing because their overwhelming awesomeness is epic…are exhausting. Tell the people what you’re going to share with them simply and to the point. One superlative is OK, zero is OK (but not as good as one!) — but more than that, and you’re going to lose people.
Trick 3: Capitalize Like a Newspaper
Some things are all about creating the aura of competence, experience, and authority — as it turns out, one of those things is called ‘sentence case’. That’s the process of capitalizing every word in your sentence except for conjunctions and particularly short prepositions like ‘at’ or ‘on’. Newspapers have been doing it for so long that it’s fairly well ingrained in our brains as “standard authoritative voice” — so take advantage and stick with it.
Trick 4: Eschew Obfuscation
If there’s one thing that will kill your headline, it’s not being very clear to the reader about what they can expect when they click it. The more explicit that your headline is, the fewer people will misinterpret it and thus not click (or worse yet, click it and then realize
that what they got is not what they expected.)
Trick 5: Don’t Always Follow the Rules
The last thing to keep in mind is that if you follow all of the above rules religiously, you’ll start to look like a bot — or worse, an uncreative writer. Even Buzzfeed and Cracked, perhaps the two greatest masters of the modern headline, keep their “X things you YZ” headlines to about 50% of their total content. Creativity is still a highly valued commodity, even today!
So there you have it: the most basic rules of creating the most important content you’ll ever create. If you’re a content writer, let me know if you’ve seen results that tell a different story! If you’re someone who hires content writers, link them over here so that they can get a notion of how you want it done.