Seven Irresistible Headline Hooks that Generate Traffic
With at least 11 major Google algorithm updates since we first tackled the challenges around crafting effective headlines for online content in 2013, we felt it necessary to refresh and update our readers with new strategies and improved best practices. This update is crucial given the growing importance of content marketing in modern search engine optimization strategies.
When it comes to content marketing, the headline remains one of the most important components of any post or content marketing article. You have on average up to three seconds to grab the reader’s interest before they scroll past your perfectly optimized, well-crafted article and on to the next in the feed. In terms of enticing the reader, your headline is playing double duty, as it not only has to capture the reader’s attention, but also convince them that there’s something worthwhile at the end.
What that something largely depends on the goal and tone of the piece, but there has to be something there—more knowledge, a laugh, insider info—that will encourage engagement.
For many small business owners, simply finding time to write is a challenging undertaking. Our goal with this article is to provide up-front guidance to ensure that your content headlines are both technically and aesthetically sound.
Technical Standards For SEO-Friendly Headlines
Before we touch on some of the techniques for crafting catchy headlines, we first have to make sure that the search engine will serve up your content to your intended audience. Search engine algorithms are constantly evolving, so you must keep your headlines formatted properly, and we don’t just mean proper capitalization to match up with your style guide.
Search engine optimization is an all-encompassing process that looks at not only the content on the page but also the technical elements such as the HTML code used to format how your content appears visually to the user. Search engines use website crawlers to index your page, taking inventory top-to-bottom of what keywords are in use and how they are being used.
A headline without title tags is no headline
One thing that the algorithms love is well-formatted pieces of content. That formatting can be accomplished by your design team when posting your content using the proper coding standards to define certain elements. The title tag is perhaps the most important element that must be marked in code, as it signifies to the search engine what that page is about and what readers can expect to find there.
Build headlines around keywords or keyword phrases
Ideally, modern SEO algorithm standards mean that you should not keyword stuff your headlines, as was the common practice in the past. You should instead choose a single keyword and craft your headline around it for maximum impact on your SEO performance.
Properly researched keyword strategies will go beyond stand-alone keywords and incorporate what is called long-tail keywords, which are essentially the natural language phrases users are using to conduct searches. Performed using both voice and text entry, long-tail keywords can be as simple as a several-word phrase or as complex as a full sentence. These are more powerful search terms and can provide readers with more context about what they can expect to find on the page.
Keep headlines short
The length of your headline is important, as it will impact how much of your title appears on search engine pages (SERPs). Around 50-60 characters are ideal, and front-loading your keyword means the reader will have a more clear idea of what they can expect to read on the page. Placing your keyword near the end of your title, you run the risk of it being truncated by Google. If this happens, a searcher might skip over your content in a SERP, as they won’t see the keyword they’re looking for in your title, and won’t consider your page relevant.
Use power words
While you want to keep your headlines short, that doesn’t mean the language you’re using should be weak and simple. Get readers’ attention by leveraging powerful words that evoke emotion and resonate with your target audience. Power words should be curiosity-inducing and help to distinguish your content from the field, but they should also be relevant to current trends in your industry or, where appropriate, to world events. Whether you’re trying to evoke trust or happiness, efficiency or prestige, the purpose behind your content will determine the types of language you should be using.
Unique headlines will get more traction in SERPs
If you have multiple pages on similar topics, your headline must be unique for each page, so that Google doesn’t penalize your page in SERPs, and you convey to users clearly what to expect. This will increase the click-through rate (CTR) of your pages.
7 Headline Hooks That Are Known To Convert
In reviewing and refreshing this post, we discovered that we broke several cardinal rules of modern content marketing. Perhaps one of the worst offenses was relying on formatting to attract the reader’s attention, rather than ensuring that the content was consistently formatted on the page. It’s important not to rely on visual gimmicks like boldface and underlining or using all capitals in a headline to get readers’ attention.
Your content headlines will have more impact when they are well-written and informative. This goes not only for the title but also for headers throughout your piece. The flow of the content is crucial for readability and keeping your visitors engaged and on the page, and conveying what each section of the content will deliver.
Now that we’ve set the expectations, we thought we’d ask the question: what makes for a good headline, and what makes for great headlines? The type of headline you deploy in your content is largely tied to what your content goals and what you’re trying to convey to your audience. Often content creators are looking for the secret to irresistible headlines. While we don’t have the perfect formula, we do know a thing or two about crafting great content, so we would like to share with you seven methods for creating eye-catching and engaging headlines that will help draw readers to your page and help increase conversion rates.
Using numbers to set expectations upfront
Remember, you only have three seconds to attract the user’s attention, but more importantly, on average they are only spending 10-20 seconds on a page if they do navigate to it—that is unless you’ve caught their attention with something they’re interested in and they feel it’s worth their time to read. Enumerating your content with numbers in the title is a powerful way to tap into a reader’s interest because you’re telling them upfront how much time and effort they will need to expend to engage with your content.
You’re allowing them at the outset to commit to only reading “three steps” or “five best practices.” Enumerating your content at the outset also provides a natural organization and structure to the piece. It’s important to only use numbers in your title if your content only contains the enumerated list.
Show they’ve missed something crucial in their service model
Using fear as a motivator in your headlines leverages your position as an industry thought leader. You are creating a sense of urgency that the reader who doesn’t know what you’re about to reveal to them could be making a vital error operationally that could negatively impact their customers. In the same instance, you’re positioning your content as that which can save them and prevent embarrassment or failure, powerful drivers for professionals focused on constantly improving customer engagement and ensuring they are providing a better experience than their competitors.
Example: Beware! Four Accounting Errors that Can Ruin Your Business
Make a bold statement
There’s a tricky balance in this tactic, as it is often the most abused by content creators relying on clickbait tactics to attract readers. Your goal is to make a big, bold claim with the intent to grab the reader’s attention. Often, the idea is that your content contains information that goes against conventional wisdom and that your solution or takes on the matter could be a game changer. To avoid being clickbait and ultimately destroying the trust of your readership, you have to avoid over-promising and under-delivering, and try to avoid being offensive. You don’t want to drive readers away, but rather you’re looking to tap into their curiosity about how you could back up such a bold deviation from the norm.
Example: You Don’t Have to Be a Runner to Win a Marathon
Appeal to the reader’s ambition
In the previous version of this article, we referred to this as appealing to people’s greed, but there’s more to this tactic than just that. Your readers have ambition, and a desire to improve their position and achieve goals. What you’re doing with this headline tactic is providing a path to success they might not find elsewhere. The key to crafting a headline that taps into your readers’ ambitions is to make believable claims on how your content could help them succeed and reach those goals. This often can be presented as having knowledge or skills they may not realize will help them, and you’re sharing your secret to success.
Example: Insider Secrets to Beating the Odds and Winning at the Track
Present a “How To” and focus on DIY
One of the most common reasons people hop onto the Internet these days is to find out how to do something or how to accomplish a task better. They’re looking for tutorials and guides and best practices, especially if it saves them money they’d otherwise have to spend hiring a professional. Positioning your content up front in the headline as a “How to” or a “Do it yourself” guide establishes your expertise, provides the user with the guidance they need, and ensures they will turn to you in the future for other needs because you’ve helped them solve a problem. Descriptiveness and specificity are key to headlines like this, as people are looking for solutions to very specific problems.
Example: How to Landscape Your Yard in Four Easy Steps
Use rhetorical questions to guide them to your services and products
People are looking for educational content and informational content, but more importantly, they are looking for solutions to very specific needs and pain points. While they tell you in sales it’s never good to lead with a question that can be answered with a simple yes or no, questions can be powerful ways to open doors customers may not have realized they were ready to open. If your headline is structured as providing answers to a question they didn’t realize they needed to ask, and those answers happen to alleviate the pain point they came looking to solve, they are more likely to engage with your content. The goal is to provide content that seems like it’s “just in time” for the reader and empowers them to determine that they do need to find out more by reading your article.
Example: Instead of the headline, “Do You Need A Copywriter?” you’d structure it as “How Do You Know When It’s Time to Hire a Copywriter?”
Humor is just as powerful as fear but difficult to properly execute
Using humor requires a delicate balance in presenting your content as a solution to the reader’s problem, but also understanding your target audience enough to know what they find funny. Humor will only be effective if appropriate for your brand and industry, otherwise, you risk coming across as insincere.
In our fast-paced, meme-driven social media landscape, humor requires a degree of timeliness that is hard to pull off, and it can be easy to miss the window where a specific joke would have been effective as a headline. Ensure if you do decide to deploy humor that you are either leveraging a trending topic or using humor that can stand alone and outside of the mainstream to remain evergreen. The irony is often one of the strongest methods for deploying humor in a headline.
Example: Safety Meeting Ends in an Accident
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Get The Page Traffic You Need With Better Headlines
Writing compelling headlines is challenging, and there’s no such thing as the perfect headline hacks or standard “headline formulas” for guaranteed success. However, what we can do is provide you with some best headline practices that will help you achieve your content marketing goals. Writing better headlines is something that will come with time, and a little A/B testing, if we’re being perfectly honest.
The best method to improve your headlines and grab attention is to have a clear marketing strategy around your content, and test different versions of your headlines, seeing which resonates most with your readers. Once you’ve found what works best, lean into those methods and emulate those tactics in other headlines. For different types of content that target different audiences, remember that you’ll have to adjust your approach to headlines to catch their unique interests.
The blog at UpCity is more than headline writing tutorials. We cover a wide array of marketing topics to help our community of B2B service providers better meet the needs of their customers across an array of marketing and business-focused topics. Follow us on LinkedIn and keep up to date with the latest marketing trends and best practices.