Shaping Headlines

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Here’s something every blogger needs to know: headlines are insanely important.

A headline has to grab the reader’s attention enough to click on a link or to start reading your article. That’s the headline’s job. It doesn’t matter if you have the cure to cancer in the post, if your headline doesn’t do it’s job, your content isn’t going to even get the chance to make an impact.

So, here’s the thing about headlines: They really matter, and they really take work.

We need to spend some time on our headlines. A lot of first time bloggers will just slap on a title because they don’t know how important a headline is. But we’re not going to make that mistake.

Good headlines take some work. They need to be shaped and molded and fooled around with. In fact, in advertising it’s normal to come up with 100 headline ideas for a single ad. They know it matters THAT much.

Now, you don’t have to write 100 versions of each headline, but it would be smart to write at least 3, if not more, versions of each headline… This gets you really thinking about this topic and how you can grab your reader’s attention.

Consider how people discover blog posts for a minute: the two most common ways someone will find one of your articles is either by searching in a search engine, or by seeing it on social media. In either case, your headline will stand completely alone, maybe with a single supporting sentence. That’s all a potential reader will have, to decide whether your link is worth clicking on.

So it matters. Your headlines really matter. Arguably the headline is the most important part of your blog post. Of course, once your headline does its job of pulling someone in, your article has to live up to the promise your headline made, but that’s the next lesson.

Like writing in general, learning to write great headlines is something you’ll get better at over time. As you watch other sites, notice which headlines work on you, try to understand why they work, why they draw you in. With headlines there a lot of room for experiment and trial and error.

Actions for This Lesson

First, choose three of your content ideas from the last lesson. These should be the three blog posts you want to write first.

Next, for each of those three content ideas, write at least 3 versions of the headlines for each of the blog post ideas. Remember, headlines really matter, and they usually take some work to get right.

Headline Shaping Resources

Here are some resources to help you write better headlines:

How to Write Amazing Headlines (with Leo Babauta) — this 16 minute interview expert is from a longer session with Leo Babauta and Corbett Barr about creating effective content. Leo’s blog Zen Habits was a TIME magazine top 25 blog for multiple years running and Leo is a master at writing great headlines.

10 questions to help you write better headlines — when looking for headline tips and inspiration, I often like to lean on journalists (not just bloggers) for wisdom. Studying other blogs is great, but the real art of writing headlines comes from newspapers. This article from an editor at NPR shares some great questions to ask about each headline you write.

30+ Ultimate Headline Formulas for Tweets, Posts, Articles, and Emails — here’s a solid list of tried-and-true formulas you can use to come up with ideas for headlines.

The viral post factory UpWorthy makes writers pump out 25 headline ideas for every post. Here are UpWorthy’s top headline tips from a presentation called How To Make That One Thing Go Viral:

  • Write 25 headline ideas for each post.
  • Don’t give it all away in the headline.
  • Don’t give it all away in the excerpt, share image or share text.
  • Don’t be shrill. Don’t form an opinion for the reader. Let them do that.
  • Don’t bum people out (people act on content when entertained or angry, not when relaxed or sad).
  • Don’t sexualize your headline in a way your mom wouldn’t approve.
  • Don’t over-think it. Some of your headlines will suck. Accept that and keep writing.
  • Lastly, be clever, but not too clever.

OK, it’s your turn to write some headlines. Write at least 3 headline ideas (or more) for each of your three top content ideas from the last lesson.

When you’re done, I’ll see you in the next lesson.