Do you want as many people as possible to read your post? If you do then you need to spend more time on writing your headline. Just a few words can make the difference between a successful post and a post nobody cares to read. Once you read on you will understand why it is so important to put so much effort into deciding on the wording of your headline.
A post should always include the following four elements
- A headline
- What readers can expect to learn from your post
- The content (obviously)
- Call to action
In this post I will focus on headlines.
The Goals For This Post
- To help you understand why great headlines are so important
- To help making you a better headline writer
The headline is the most important element of your post. The first thing to keep in mind is that a headline is a promise. It promises some kind of benefit or reward in exchange for attention. That reward could range from an amusing diversion to the solution to a pressing problem.
Here are some famous headlines
“How to Win Friends and Influence People”
“How to Save Time and Get Things Done”
“How to Get a Better Job and Make More Money”
“How to Save Money and Retire Rich”
On average, 8 out of 10 people will read the headline, but only 2 out of 10 will read the rest. The only way to increase the number of people who will read your headline and the content is to write better headlines.
Let me introduce you to the SHINE formula.
S is for Specificity
If you are vague about the value of reading your content, your reader will be too.
Nothing is as uninteresting as vagueness. Specific and concrete facts, on the other hand – particularly ones that form pictures in our minds – are intensely interesting.
So the first thing you must do to create a winning headline is use objective, quantifiable language. Figures are excellent; they imply research, which adds to your perceived legitimacy but all kinds of specificity are good.
Avoid subjective claims that anyone can make. These are meaningless; like claiming your girlfriend or boyfriend is the most beautiful person in the world. Loved girlfriend or boyfriend is the most beautiful person in the world to their partner. Everyone says that kind of thing and these sorts of claims actually reduce readership significantly.
A headline you can read in a single glance obviously communicates its content more effectively than one you cannot. Usability research shows that people not only scan the content but headlines as well – and they tend to take in only the first and last 3 words. This suggests the perfect length for a headline is 6 words.
However, some of the highest – converting headlines on the web are as long as 30 words. As a rule, if it will not fit in a tweet it is too long. But instead of worrying about length you should worry about making every word count. Especially the first and last 3.
H is for Helpfulness
For your reader to see value in your post, you must show how it will help him. Sounds obvious, yet most headlines give readers no clear idea of how your content will help them – and so they do not read it.
To make your headline helpful, simply speak to the problem the reader came to your site to solve. People understand that what is stated in the headline implies a solution in the content.
Alternatively, if your reader is not yet aware of the problem, simply begin by stating it directly – as in the headline “Bacteria in your grocery cart”.
I is for Immediacy
Speaking of bacteria, your headline should be so interesting that your reader cannot help but read on immediately.
You already know from experience that if you do not read it right away the odds are slim you will read it at all. The same is true of anyone reading your content.
Creating immediacy is obviously easier for topics with greater emotional appeal. It is more difficult if you are selling something like project collaboration software. Focus on desires rather than needs, as these are, strangely stronger.
It is even better if you can tease him while doing so. Curiosity is an immensely powerful motivator. Paradoxes, quizzes, an implied danger or reward, or even simple questions can inflame a headline’s immediacy by playing to your reader’s curiosity – almost forcing him to read the copy.
N is for Newsworthiness
To give your reader a reason to spend time reading your post, as opposed to your competitor’s, your headline must say something he has not heard before. Or, more precisely, something he thinks he has not heard before.
Obvious, generic, or familiar statements will put a bullet in your foot. In fact, anything that makes him think, “I already know what this is about.”
In other words, your headline must have news value. This does not have to mean actual news – although headlines starting with “Now”, “Finally”, “Announcing”, “At last” and so on are all tested winners.
Indeed, by putting your headline in terms of a story, you guarantee a unique spin. You also guarantee the critical element most headlines on the web lack – which brings us to our final point.
E is for Entertainment value
People today are information grazers. With so many blogs to read, so many things to ‘like’ on Facebook, so many tweets to scan, so many videos to watch, headlines which promise some entertainment in the content succeed more often than those which do not.
This is something you do not see emphasised very often in headline formulas. In fact, since much of the advice you will read about writing headlines comes from the cult of Claude Hopkins, you may even hear that copy should not seek to entertain at all. Hopkins famously said a salesman is not a clown.
But Hopkins wrote nearly a century ago, in a very different world. Although most marketing principles are universal, some things do change, so let me put this as bluntly as I can:
People on the Internet will not be bored and entertaining does not mean you should include the sorts of stupid ‘clever’ gimmicks you see in much advertising.
But stories, the oldest form of entertainment, are highly effective. So is humor, if used cautiously.
Lastly, do not write your post and post it immediately. Reread it the next day and I guarantee you that you can find many ways to improve it if you use the SHINE formula.
Headlines are more important than you think and could make the difference between the content being read or not. Using the SHINE formula increases the probability of your post being read.
Try and go back to your blog and see if your headlines score high using the SHINE formula. If not then use the SHINE formula to rewrite the headline. Publicize it again and measure if it got read by more people than the old headline.
Next is content. Make sure you follow me if you want to know when the next part is being published.