How to Write Incredible Headlines, According to Data


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“When shall we three meet again – in thunder, lightning, or in rain?” – Macbeth

Shakespeare knew that to entertain his audience (and prevent them from throwing apple cores at the actors), he had to grab their attention from the beginning. That’s why he began nearly every play with humor, violence, magic, or mystery.

You have to grab your audience’s attention, too, but instead of “a kingdom for a stage, princes to act,” you have to do it with your headline.

What’s at stake? Your search engine ranking, for one. If your headlines are forgettable (or ignorable), your content won’t be read or shared. Fortunately for you, there is more and more data available that shows us what headlines work. Here are the numbers behind the most attention-grabbing headlines.

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If you’re looking for Facebook shares, look at these four magic words: Which character are you? It doesn’t matter what type: Which Disney character are you? Which 1980s action hero character are you? Which Care Bear character are you? People love content that gives them playful insights into themselves.

This angle won’t necessarily work for every blog, especially if you’re publishing content for your B2B or B2C company. But figuring out a way to personalize and entice your readers will. Popular phrases, such as “will blow your,” “didn’t know about,” and “you probably didn’t,” all play up the element of intrigue and lure your audience into reading—and sharing—your content.

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Okdork’s 2014 post A Guide to Grow Your Blog (or Any Blog) 10X created a complex spreadsheet with formulas to measure exactly what makes a popular blog post tick. What they found is this: Blog posts that include a statistic in the headline perform 10 times better than headlines with no statistics. Consider what stats might be most compelling for your audience.

(Also check out the post to learn how to track this data for your own blog, including stuff like which days of the week get the most views, which authors are most popular, and which social platforms get you the  most shares.)

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Neil Patel and Joseph Putnam’s beautifully designed Definitive Guide to Copywriting offers a cheat sheet for headlines that will make your life easier. These tips work particularly well for post topics that are more didactic in nature. It might not make sense for your blog to publish a “Which Disney Princess Are You?” quiz, but it will always make sense to create content that is unique, ultra-specific, urgent, and — above all – useful.

These guidelines work for blog post titles and for ad copy, as we see here:

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Notice that this homepage headline includes a statistic, conveys a specific benefit, and is extremely useful to its target audience.

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Why do headlines matter? What drives people to click on headlines? What causes people to stick around? And how long should those headlines be? All of these are questions answered in one glorious data story published in purple-dog.co.uk’s post, How to Write Attention Grabbing Headlines. Headlines need to be short to fit in a Tweet and on search engine results pages, but even before the Internet required condensation, copywriters wrote short, and even novelists famous for lengthy works made sure their first sentences popped.

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Even the most simple data story – the number of clicks to open email newsletters – can bring you insight into what headlines work and which ones don’t. In How to Write Headlines that Grab Your Prospects’ Attention from Business2Community.com, they break headlines down into six categories:

  • The Teacher
  • The Instigator
  • The Threat
  • The Promise
  • The How-to
  • The List

Their most popular blog posts reflect the success of these techniques: nearly every post includes digits, many are how-tos, and many are lists. The data story above compares several newsletter headlines. Note that the headline with 89 clicks is the only one that includes a number.

If Shakespeare were a blogger in 2015, he might still begin his posts with humor, action, magic, and mystery, but he’d probably title it something like “How to Be King of Scotland in 10 Simple Steps.”

Comments
  • Charlie from Digsy

    I love the infographic. It’s one of the best 30 things only photos will prove that game of thrones will blow your mind.