No matter how brilliant, insightful or delightful your content may be, nobody’s going to read it unless it’s topped with an intriguing headline. Headlines aren’t just a feature of good performing content. They may very well be the feature that matters most.
Not only do headlines set the tone and expectations for your content, but they serve as the primary way to get people interested in what you have to offer.
Why a Good Headline Is Important
In the whirlwind of content swirling about the internet, you have a split second to convince people your content is worth clicking. And the way you convince them is through your headline.
Because we’re exposed to more than 200 headlines every single day, our brains have come up with a rapid-fire way to gauge which are worth clicking.
It uses the cost/benefit ratio:
Will the cost of the time spent clicking the headline for more info be outweighed by the benefit we think we’ll gain?
- If the answer is yes, we click.
- If the answer is no, we move on to the other 199+ headlines out there waiting for us.
You want people’s brains to answer an automatic yes. When yes is the answer, you’ll get a boost in content performance across the board, as a bounty of content performance statistics is either directly or indirectly affected by headlines.
Stats Directly Impacted by Headlines
Headlines directly impact the amount of web traffic and user engagement your content enjoys. These include statistics such as:
- Click-through rates: Total number of times a headline link was clicked to visit the article or page, compared to the total number of people who saw the headline. Good headlines will help to get people clicking.
- Pageviews: Total number of times a specific page on your site was visited. Good headlines will help to get people visiting.
- Users: Total number of audience members who visited your site during a specific period. Good headlines will help to get MORE people visiting.
- Pages per session: Average number of pages viewed during a single session on your site. Good headlines (coupled with good navigation) will prompt visitors to more deeply explore your site.
- Likes and shares: Headlines have been shown to have a direct impact on likes and shares, especially on social media.
- Comments: While the most thoughtful comments tend to come from people who actually read the entire post or article, you can still prompt plenty of comments from an attention-grabbing headline alone.
Stats Indirectly Impacted by Headlines
A number of other statistics are indirectly affected by your headlines, such as time on page and bounce rates. That’s because people wouldn’t be spending any time on any pages — or even heading to your site to bounce off it — if it weren’t for an enticing headline that prompted the visit in the first place.
- Average time on page: Reflects the amount of interest people have in your content. A good headline can get them to the page, but great content needs to keep them there.
- Bounce rate: Percentage of all sessions on your site where users visited only one page. Your headline got them to the page, but additional headlines and/or navigation weren’t able to keep them around.
What Makes a Good Headline?
Before you start whipping up a dozen different headline ideas, you need to think about where the headline is going to appear. Headlines that work on search are different from those that work on social.
Search headlines refer to the headlines that come up when people are using search engines. They include headlines for blog posts, articles, web pages and other content users can click directly from the search engine results page (SERP).
People searching for information online are looking for answers.
They’re not there to browse or play around. They typically want specific information to solve a specific problem or meet a specific need.
Keywords play a big role in search headlines, as they help your content pop up in the search results. But you still need to write headlines for the readers, as they’re the ones who will actually click through to your content (or not).
Good Headlines for Search:
- Answer questions.
- Promise knowledge or facts.
- Use keywords.
- Ask questions.
- List worst things, or things to avoid (negative superlatives).
Social headlines are those used for social media content. People on social media are not looking for answers. They want to be intrigued, amused or entertained.
Emotions are incredibly effective for social headlines, with most emotional headlines increasing the chances of your content being shared. The probability depends on the emotion your headline taps into.
- Anger can increase shares by 34%.
- Awe can increase shares by 30%.
- Anxiety can increase shares by 21%.
- Surprise can increase shares by 14%.
One emotion you’ll want to avoid is sadness. It can actually decrease shares by 16%.
Good Headlines for Social:
- Tap into emotions.
- Promise to entertain or surprise.
- Stir up anger, awe, anxiety or surprise.
- Use certain trigrams, or three-word combinations, such as “What You Need” and “At Least X.”
Elements of a Good Headline
While good headlines for search are a shade different than good headlines for social, there are several elements that all alluring headlines have in common.
Keep headlines short, sweet and right to the point. Six words is golden, according to KISSmetrics, as people typically read only the first three and last three words of a headline.
Crafting a compelling headline in six words is also pretty tough, so KISSmetrics provides a helpful suggestion:
“…Rather than worrying about [headline] length you should worry about making every word count. Especially the first and last three.”
As previously noted, the human brain is going to automatically assess the cost vs. benefit ratio of clicking a headline. So make sure the benefit is obvious, and try to put it at the front of the headline where it’s less likely to get cut off in search results.
The best headlines answer every reader’s burning question: What’s in it for me?
The best headlines are simple, straightforward, and easy to read. They’re informative, making it clear what your article or post is all about.
Data and Numbers
Used wisely, numbers and data always appeal to the audience. That’s why you’ll continue to see headlines promising a list of things that provide certain benefits. Using them wisely means actually delivering on what you’re promising — and not using hair-raising statistics taken out of context just to get a few clicks.
Credibility, Not Clickbait
Any type of clickbait is a no-no. Clickbait is notorious for not delivering on its promises, having a very brief shelf life and eroding credibility. The only time you’d want to use clickbait is if you wanted your bounce rates to soar and your reputation to tank.
Summing It Up
Once you have a feel for what makes a catchy headline, it will become easier to craft headlines that get you more traffic and clicks. Just remember to keep your headlines short, simple, and optimized for the channel you’re using.
Also pay attention to which headlines are getting you tons of clicks to learn what works with your particular audience. What always works is delivering on your headline’s promises — and having good headlines with equally good content to match.
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