Catchy headlines can do wonders for driving traffic. The trick is to create these without looking like “click-bait.” Nothing infuriates readers more than clicking on a link only to find out the content is related to something else. While titles that are click-baity may increase unique visitor rates, they usually damage return visitor ratios.
So, what can you do to create catchy headlines which perform well whether it’s on a site or shared in social media? That all depends on your site’s goals and the type of content you create.
Here are 18 of my tips for how to write catchy headlines. You want to engage the readers, not dupe them into simply clicking the content.
1. Be Descriptive
One of the most important things you can do to a headline or title is to be descriptive. Let the potential reader understand the message you’re delivering. Some experts connect this with rationale for your content. In either case, you need to pique a person’s interest.
Words like, “facts,” “ideas,” “tricks” and “lessons” already share a part of what the reader is going to experience. What is the reason for your content? Are you relaying facts or want to teach a few tips? The rationale behind your headline is going to be influenced by the type of content you plan on creating.
2. Keyword Research
No matter what Google does to its algorithm, keywords and phrases will always play a part in driving traffic. However, you need to modify your strategies to keep up with those algorithms. For example, Google searches for keyword relevance since its Penguin update half a decade ago.
For instance, let’s say you wanted to use the word “surreal” as a keyword. Variations of it include “weird,” “dreamlike” and “strange.” As a result, you would want to consider these words in your headline and content as well. Keywords are only part of the equation, and you’ll still need to come up with good content ideas to engage the audience.
3. Use Active Voice
Active voice in content does wonders for search results and visitor engagement. It can also improve the titles you share by engaging the audience. This is why a lot of experts try to avoid passive voice as much as possible. Addressing users directly in the here-and-now connects the reader to the content.
Using active voice in titles often gives them more life and expression. It imprints on the reader the content will help him or her right now. For instance, “10 Ways You Can Avoid Blockbuster’s Failures” would make the visitor feel like he or she is now a part of the material. Active voice also has potential to help create viral content rather quickly.
4. Experiment with Online Tools
One of my favorite tools for creating headlines is the CoSchedule Headline Analyzer. This tool scans through the headline and gives you a numerical value according to how effective it would be. It’s based on current titles and statistics, so it has great potential for accuracy.
The problem with tools like this is you have to know a bit about power, emotional and other types of words. This requires a bit of research, however the end results are often worth the effort. After a while of using the tool, you may find yourself creating catchy headlines out of sheer habit.
5. Using Data in Headlines
Using data within your titles already shares a great deal of information about the post. For instance, a title that says, “34% of Adults in the US are Considered Obese, Avoid Being a Statistic” clearly defines statistical numbers as well as a what the reader can learn.
Adding empirical data to your headlines gives the presence of authority and triggers interest. Visitors may want to see how you got that statistic. They may simply want to learn how it impacts their life. The end result is traffic that is highly curious about your findings.
6. Keep Titles and Content Accurate
This goes along the lines of not being click-bait. You want to keep headlines as accurate as possible to avoid looking foolish to new and recurring readers. Visitors should take a memorable experience away from your content. It will reinforce their need to come back at a later date.
Clarifying a headline tends to perform better. For instance, a title like, “10 Reasons to Eat Chicken and Pineapple – Infographic” already tells the audience they will see an infographic related to reasons why chicken and pineapple are ideal. You could even use brackets to focus the content such as, “5 Brilliant Recipes for Chicken and Pineapple [Podcast].”
7. Mindmap Your Content
Mindmapping is a useful tool for creating goals, content strategies and other plans. Apps like Mindomo give you an easy-to-use visualization of this aspect. Tools like this are also useful as they let you connect with team members for brainstorming ideas.
Because there is such a vast array of competition on the Internet, there is quite a bit involved for creating a good headline strategy. You want to be unique, but it needs to be effective. As there is so much content created on an hourly basis, it’s difficult to keep fresh and original in today’s world. Tools like Mindomo are often helpful to keep your company ahead.
8. Offer High-Energy Headlines
Exciting news works well to attract a reader. Even something as adding an “!” at the end of a title can inspire urgency to a visitor. For example, “10 Ways You Won’t Believe You Can Cook Asparagus!”
Of course, you want to make sure you add the right words to the headline. A basic title such as, “10 Ways to Cook Asparagus!” really doesn’t convey the same urgency as adding in “You Won’t Believe.” The right words and punctuation can easily stir emotions and excitement, especially if the content itself is also high-energy.
9. Deliver Useful Headlines
A useful headline is one that speaks to your target audience. You wouldn’t use, “How to Play Poker” if your website is about car repair. While that may be an extreme example, you still want to focus on to whom you are writing for.
You want the headline to be connected with information that is actionable by your audience. For a gaming website, the title example above would work perfectly as long as the content was solid in how to play poker. Otherwise, the reader will be disinterested and move on to the next website.
10. Use Digits Instead of Words in Lists
List titles are one of the most popular forms of content on the Internet. In fact, sites like Buzzfeed have experienced a lot of success using them. Approximately 36% of readers prefer headlines with numbered lists. This is higher than any other form of content creation.
For instance, “10 Ways to Lose Belly Fat Fast” looks more attractive to the average reader then using the word, “Ten.” This is aside from the fact that using numbers also saves on title space. You don’t want your headlines to be too long, especially in a search result or when using social media like Twitter.
11. Using Trigger Words to Drive Traffic
Although numbered lists are the top spot, what can you do if you don’t have a list? That’s when using trigger words come into play. Things like “how,” “what” and “why” are engagement factors for a lot of readers. This divulges that you’re sharing information which may be important to the reader.
This is related to a process that has been in effect since the early days of journalism. Always write about the who, what, where and why when creating content. While this is changed a bit thanks to the Internet, the basic principles still apply. Besides, questions are amongst the top methods for generating traffic. For instance, “Why Would You Want to Lose Belly Fat?”
12. Be Personal with Headlines
An effective way to write content is by writing so in second person. Terms like “you” and “your” engages the reader and makes him or her feel like you’re pointing them out. The same can be said about including these words in headlines. For example, “10 Reasons Your Spaghetti Doesn’t Taste as Good.”
This also works with headlines in social media posts. It connects the reader and makes him or her part of the story. It resonates within the target audience and influences their perception of the content. Think about it. How engaging is an owner’s manual written in third-person?
13. Be Commanding
Telling readers what to do is a common practice that works well for many websites. It acts much like how a call to action does in that it promotes action from the individual. For example, “Stop Wasting Time and Learn How to Fish Like the Pros” isn’t exactly conversational. However, it does influence the reader to take action.
Think of how often landing pages use the term, “Buy Now.” This is a call to action. Just adding a CTA to a Facebook page can increase the rate of click-throughs by 285%. The same principle often works for headlines as well. While it may not be as effective as a button on Facebook, it still engages the reader in a similar fashion.
14. Use Social Sharing Words
One way to get a lot of exposure on the Internet is through social media. Apps like Sprout Social can have your website’s content in front of thousands of people with a single click. But using words that are more shareable has potential to get more clicks.
Add elements like, post, check out, great, how to and free to engage readers. A title like, “Check Out this New Blog Post Showing How to Swing a Golf Club” would be more responsive in social media. While the title may be too long for an average post, it works exceptionally well as a headline in sites like Twitter and Facebook.
15. Keep it Simple
About half of the adults in the United States are unable to read an 8th grade-rated book. This is part of the reason why many experts attest to using the simplest language to engage the largest audience. In other words, visitors shouldn’t need a thesaurus to decipher your headline.
The simplest terms also provide a sense of being an “Average Joe.” This means it’s more relatable to the majority of people browsing the Internet. Of course this also depends on your target audience. However, many have found using the easiest words to have the greatest impact when it comes to visitor retention.
16. Know Your Right Length
The length of your headline is influenced by your medium. For instance, you need to keep under 140 characters in Twitter to be effective. If you’re aiming for search results, under 70 characters is ideal. Some organizations will try to stay in the golden zone of 8-12 words.
The reality about headline length is each platform is going to be different. This is especially true when using social media marketing tools. For instance, you can get away with using a much longer title in YouTube than you can with Twitter. Develop strategies for each of your platforms to get the most out of the headline.
17. Tap Your Dark Side
Don’t be afraid to use negative words in your titles. I’m not saying you should go all horror-movie, but using words like “stop,” “terrible” and “worst” are quite effective at driving traffic. This is because a lot of people want to learn how to succeed through examples of failure.
An example would be a blog post that read, “10 Worst Ways to Invest Your Money.” This tells the reader how they can succeed by avoiding problems others have experienced. What can be exceptionally poignant is to add an example like, “10 Ways to Avoid the Failures of Blockbuster Video.”
18. Keep Track of Your Results
The bottom line is that every website and business will have different results when it comes to engagement. While some statistics prove general theories, it’s really going to boil down to how your target audience accepts the content. Your site’s visitors may be more inclined to click questions over number lists.
Keep track of the performance regarding different styles of headlines whether it’s a post in a blog or social media. Over time, you’ll find a pattern of what works the best and fine-tune a method to engage the audience.
Be True to Your Content
A title should clearly define the message you want to convey. It’s all about sharing information and making readers feel like they gained something when they leave the site. Otherwise, your presence and reputation may see a bit of a dip. The last thing you want is your company being labeled as using click-bait material. You’ll lose respect, readers and have a more difficult time achieving online success with content.