How to Write a Great Headline and Adapt It for Social and Search
For every piece of content your team creates, you typically need 3 different versions of a headline. One for the website, one for search, and one for social. Even if you’re putting up a blog post that won’t be shared or writing copy for social content that will never live on a site, headline writing is an important skill that every marketer should know.
How to Write a Great Headline
For the purposes of this article, we’ll be referring to “headlines,” but a headline can be a lot of things. When we use that term, we’re talking about social copy lines, the headline on your social link posts, headlines on blog posts, email subject lines, landing page headlines, podcast or video titles, etc. Anywhere you have a sentence or less to convey the meaning of your content and get across a powerful message that encourages the user to continue reading, watching, or listening.
Great headlines need to answer two important questions:
1. Why should I read this?
2. Why should I share this?
The content itself should answer the rest:
1. Why should I come back to this page?
2. How can I keep up-to-date with this company?
3. Where can I get more content like this?
It’s important that your headline clearly showcases value to the reader, whether that value is merely entertainment or something insightful they can take away. You might tell them how you can make their jobs easier, what the newest trend in their industry is, or how they can look cooler / be smarter / be happier using your product. Value is subjective and will differ from brand to brand, but it should be present in every headline. If your content, website, or brand doesn’t provide value to any audience, you may want to do some branding work before you’re ready to ramp up your content or social strategy.
“Value is subjective and will differ from brand to brand,
but it should be present in every headline.”
Some words and phrases that will immediately help you show clear value include: Guide, Everything, Complete, How, Need to Know. If your headline can be reframed to include one of those words, and if the content supports that headline, chances are you’re delivering value to your audience and they will come back. Value can also be proven by offering an end goal for readers.
Here are three sample headline structures that offer an end goal:
– [Resource We Are Providing] That Will Take You From [A] to [B]
– Everything You Need to [Goal They Will Achieve]
– [Provided Resource] That Will [Goal That Will Be Delivered]
Here are those sample headline structures with real-world examples:
– From a lifestyle brand: 10 Crafting Basics That Will Take You From Disaster to DIY
– From a tech or telecom brand: Everything You Need to Take the Perfect Sunset Selfie
– From a B2B brand: 7 Tools That Will Double Traffic To Your Website
Headlines should be clear and straightforward, letting readers know at a glance exactly what they’ll be getting. Typically you want to aim for a length of 6-8 words, but if it’s longer: make those first six the most important. It’s also OK to make your headlines teasing (or “clickbaity”) as long as there is quality content to back it up. A user is never going to be upset if you urged them to click, as long as they value the content. Clickbait is only inherently bad if the content fails to deliver or if it promises something different from what the user finds when they click.
“Clickbait is only inherently bad if the content fails to deliver.”
Good headlines will always be some combination of these attributes: brief, positive, informative, simple, clear, opinionated, relatable, articulate, valuable, aspirational, straightforward. Clever headlines can pay off on occasion, but you should use them sparingly. Users will typically process the first three words before deciding to read on, so if you’re too clever you could lose your audience by not proving value or relevance soon enough.
How to Adapt Your Headline for Social
Your audience’s attention is captured for a brief moment on social – even less than on other platforms. The best headlines will cause them to hesitate and (better yet) take action.
If you’re interested in view or engagement metrics, you have more flexibility to be clever, creative, and playful. If you want users to click and take additional action on your site, you have to be enticing. Sometimes that comes from clarity and a straightforward message that shows the value of your offering, but most often it’s about sparking their curiosity and desire to know more.
“The best headlines will cause your audience
to hesitate and take action.”
When adapting your headline and content to social, it becomes much more about how the entire package works together, and less about the headline by itself. In the case of social, the headline will often be supporting your image, and it’s the image (or video) that will catch your audience’s attention first. Make sure the visual is enticing, compelling, and ties in cohesively with your headline to tell a complete story.
It’s also important to think about formatting. Most traditional content headlines will be written in a capitalized style. On social media, you want your headlines, copy, and images to feel more authentic and native to the platform. Align your writing style with the way your audience speaks and engages so that seeing your content will be a natural fit for them.
How to Adapt Your Headline for Search
For search headlines, the first few words are far more important than the headline as a whole. That means front-loading your main keywords in a way that still gets your point across and makes someone want to click your article from the page of search results. It’s a delicate balance, and the easiest way to achieve it is by making a two-part version of your headline that’s separated by a colon. Your keywords will proceed the colon, and the topic of the article will follow. For example:
– Article headline: See Photos of the Best Celebrity Halloween Costumes This Year
– SEO headline: Celebrity Halloween Costumes 2018: See the Best Photos
You can also cut adjectives, professional titles, and even change “and” to an ampersand (&) to cut down on extraneous characters and keep your keywords front and center.
If you’re not sure what your keywords should be, play around with Google Trends. You can input some of your likely keywords and see related and rising queries to help you form a keyword phrase. In the example above, searching “celebrity halloween” brings up a top related query of “celebrity halloween costumes 2018,” searches of which have increased 2,900% over the past month. Over time, you’ll gain a better understanding of top keywords and search patterns to be able to instinctually pull them out of your article headlines.
The last thing you want to do when you’ve chosen your SEO headline, to make sure it’s viable for search, is to actually search for it. If there are already content results populating for that exact headline, the chances of your article ranking above them is relatively low. Instead, you’ll want to adjust your headline, reframing it or adding in a unique angle that will distinguish your content from the other results.
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