Your Headline Sucks: Get More Readers with a Few Simple Changes

In the two years between college and joining BKMedia Group, I had a few different jobs that straddled the line of part-time and freelance. Most of these jobs ended up dealing heavily with social media and email marketing—I graduated in 2009 and these were the two biggest buzzwords in marketing at that time.

As online communities like Facebook and Twitter grew in popularity and influence, businesses were told of the digital El Dorado that was social media. Without a presence, they would be doomed to obscurity and ultimate failure.

The same was true for email marketing: companies learned that they needed to capture info and connect with previous, current, and prospective customers or they were passing up a veritable gold mine.

As a result, companies took an all-or-nothing approach that simply wasn’t sustainable. Profiles were created on every social platform available, the majority of which simply collected dust. Emails were created with machine-gun like repetition until employees and emails lists were burned out, or privileges were revoked due to spam complaints.

A number of years have passed since then, and a lot of the hysteria has faded. The value of these services are still there, but the hysteria has subsided and people tend to understand that a well considered, a la carte approach is far better. No social media is better than bad social media. Ditto email marketing. Ditto blogging. 

Taking the time to do things right saves you from wasting a lot of money now and more time in the future. And whether it’s social media, newsletters or blogs, there’s one important element that’s absolutely crucial, yet almost always an afterthought: the Headline.

I’m doing it right now, in fact. Here I am almost 300 words into this blog post and I haven’t even written the headline for it yet. Newspapers may have been dealing with the idea of the headline for hundreds of years, but it’s a relatively new challenge for the likes of you and I.

In our daily lives we don’t need to write engaging subject lines for our emails to mom, enticing her to open them; we know she’s going to read them, so we tell her the boring truth about what’s inside (“Please send chili recipe”, “Photos from cooking accident” etc).

Before You Can Keep Their Attention, You Have to Grab it

There are three core elements that show up for every Google search result: title tag, URL, and the meta description or relevant text. Now let’s be honest; how often do you actually bother to read anything besides the title tag?

That title tag—usually the headline of your blog or page—is the thing most people read when making their decision of what to click on. Even if the content on your page is so relevant that it jumps to the first result, your click through rate will suffer if your headline isn’t relevant or interesting enough to catch their attention.

Sound daunting? Well then stop reading now because I sugar-coated it a little and you don’t want to hear what’s next.

Nick Usborne, a writer who specializes in writing for businesses and web, says that what really matters is the first five words. In today’s social media world, where people are inundated with story after story, update after update, “people scan before they read,” Usborne says. Make sure your most important keywords are right at the beginning of your headline so they’ll instantly grab the attention of those scanning eyes.

So how do you condense the core message of an entire post into just a few short words? Practice. You edit and revise everything else you write to make sure it’s clear and understandable, right? (You should.) Spend some time doing that with your headlines, too.

Offer Them Something

An easy way to grab attention is by offering or describing a benefit to your readers. This doesn’t have to mean writing ‘spammy‘ headlines like you see in your inbox; the knowledge you’re sharing can be beneficial to readers and you don’t have to fake it… just do it right! Terms like ‘why,’ ‘how to,’ and ‘# ways to…” are basic ways to instantly speak to your content and why someone should read it.

  • Why Your Headline is the Most Important
  • Learn How to Grab the Attention of Potential Readers
  • Make or Break Your Blog with Better Titles
  • Your Headline Sucks: Get More Readers with a Few Simple Changes

I’m finally getting around to writing a headline for this post. That last one would definitely catch your eye on a twitter feed or in search engine results, don’t you think? (Hey maybe it already did! I haven’t decided yet…) Just a simple look at those four headlines is a great example of the previous points.

My first attempt: “Why Your Headline is the Most Important”

The most important what? Would adding more descriptors to the end really change anything? It doesn’t grab right off the bat so I’ve already lost some potential readers.

In most cases you’re not going to get the most compelling title on the first try, and no, not every article can be spun this way, but brainstorming and typing titles out can help you determine what direction you should head. For me, I realized I needed to use more exciting language and a better way to get the core of my message to the front.

Know and Cater to Your Audience

You know the people you’re trying to reach better than anyone. While some basic terms can help you outline a benefit to your readers, there are different words in every industry that may grab the attention of readers.

Are you writing to an audience in the financial sector? I think they like money and returns and things like that, right? Maybe you write a blog for consumers of a certain type of product? What are their demographics and interests?

Whoever you’re trying to reach, make sure your headline speaks to them specifically. As they saying goes: ‘you can’t please everyone,’ and while trying to keep your message broad and get your content to as many people as possible may seem like a great idea, you also risk missing the audience who could benefit from it the most. That audience may be fewer than the 7 billion you were hoping for, but the relevance of the content means they’re more likely to read, comment, and share it with others.

Keep it Simple

Right about now it may seem tempting to turn your headlines into mini blogs of their own, after all we’re attempting to make them targeted, attention grabbing, benefit offering, and explanatory; that’s a whole lot of stuff!

Possibly the hardest step is keeping titles and headlines simple: under or around 10 words. A common test is the ‘breath test.’ Is your headline so long that you need to take a breath in the middle of it or leaves you gasping for air by the end? If the answer is yes, it’s too long.

Whether you’re posting to a blog, sending out an email campaign or tweeting links, the headline/subject/tweet is the first thing that people are going to read. If you don’t make it interesting enough, it might be the last thing they read, too.

You’re spending valuable time creating content; slapping a few words on top as an afterthought doesn’t do it justice and is like shooting yourself in the foot. Spend a few extra minutes writing and rewriting quality headlines. This simple action can help you build a larger audience by getting people interested in your content before they’ve even seen it!

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