Your headline is the first, and perhaps only, impression you make on a potential reader. On average, 8 out of 10 people will read your headline, but only 2 in 10 will read the rest. Writing better headlines is therefore the smartest way to build your audience and grow your business. But which headline hacks should you use?
Last week, Björn Owen Glad wrote an article about lazy marketers. The fact is that certain marketing tasks requires us to be lazy. Writing stronger headlines belongs to one of them.
A good headline makes a huge difference. It’s no coincidence that Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People is on the list of best-selling books. The headline promises the reader two benefits that are too hard to resist. Who can say no to more popularity and power?
Strong headlines speak directly to the needs, dreams and problems of a target group. There are many excellent articles on headlines that work, sell and get shared. You can even analyse your headlines with tools from Coschedule and Advanced Marketing Institute to make them even better.
Editor and blogger Jon Morrow has compiled 52 Headline Hacks that covers five important techniques. In this article, I sum up his findings and show you how to apply his smart hacks in your own marketing.
What keeps your readers up at night? This is the sort of material you need for your threat headlines. These headlines play on people’s sense of anxiety and insecurity, so use them with caution and choose the context carefully.
Threat headlines are, however, particularly effective when a company or organisation wants to show the rest of the world what they stand for. This Copyblogger article is an excellent example of a threat headline that does its job. ”One subscriber is worth a thousand likes” is another. In both cases the threat comes from social media.
A few threat headlines you can use in your own marketing:
- How Safe Is Your [Valuable Person/Object] from [Threat]?
- 9 Lies [Group of People] Like to Tell
- The Shocking Truth about [Blank]
Zen headlines are written to give your reader a simpler life. The purpose is to close the gap between where your reader is and where she wants to be. At Spoon Academy, we apply this principle to more technical articles, such as this one.
Zen headlines fit subjects that your target audience finds difficult, cumbersome and/or frustrating.
A few zen headlines you can use in your own marketing:
- Can’t Keep up? 11 Ways to Simplify Your [Blank]
- Get Rid of [Recurring Problem] Once and for All
- How to [Blank] in 5 Minutes
Piggyback headlines are about riding on a well-known brand or group. The technique has been used on this blog a few times, most notably in Björn’s popular post “What can Ricky Gervais teach you about content marketing?”.
The method works because it makes powerful associations between famous people/brands and your subject area.
A few piggyback headlines you can use in your own marketing:
- [Do Something] Like [Famous Person]: 20 Ways to [Blank]
- [Famous Person’s] Top 10 Tips for [Blank]
- The [World-Class Example] Guide to [Blank]
Nobody wants to make embarrassing mistakes, least of all when it comes to speaking a foreign language. One of the world’s most successful headlines – “Do You Make These Mistakes in English?” – is clear proof that this headline hack works.
Our own article about content marketing mistakes also supports this notion: We don’t want to feel stupid in front of others. That’s why we’re attracted to this kind of headline.
A few mistake headlines you can use in your own marketing:
- Do You Make These 9 [Blank] Mistakes?
- 7 [Blank] Mistakes That Make You Look Dumb
- 11 [Blank] Mistakes You Don’t Know You’re Making
How to headlines
A classic how to headline is an oldie but a goodie that never fails. Jon Morrow does a great job with this technique in one of his most read articles. One of our most popular blog posts relies on this structure as well: “3 crucial steps: How to succeed with content marketing”.
The headline hack sounds simple, but it is also highly effective.
A few how to headlines you can use in your own marketing:
- How to [Blank]
- How to Be [Desirable Quality]
- How to [Blank] (Even If [Common Obstacle])
Bonus tip: Steal headlines from other industries
One of my favourite techniques is to steal headlines from other industries. Read the front page of famous sites or skim through the headlines at news stands, as well as the bestselling books and movie titles of all time. There is always something you can re-use in your own writing.
Don’t reinvent the wheel. Use headline hacks that already work. Experiment and test your way forward to see what’s best for your particular audience. Of course, there is no formula that fits all situations. But if your blog doesn’t have the readership it deserves, look over your headlines first and make them better. It’s simply the fastest and easiest way to build your audience and grow your business.