There are lots of great reasons for brands to write, blog and contribute articles. Companies that blog reportedly see 97% more links to their website and are 13x more likely to achieve a positive ROI on marketing efforts . Consumers also want great blog content – 47% of buyers view three to five pieces of content before engaging a sales rep .
Perhaps that’s why businesses are spending more time writing blog articles than ever. In 2014, it took about 2.5 hours on average to draft a post . Now, it’s up by almost an hour. While it’s great to see brands are spending more time crafting quality content, many are unfortunately wasting their efforts by pairing their articles with watered-down headlines.
How many times a day do you skim past a boring headline? Every headline we see forces us to instantly choose whether we’re going to click or scroll. Your headline should never be an afterthought. You need to have strategy and insight behind it. BuzzSumo recently analysed 100 million article headlines and the results provide some useful tips on what will get your potential customers clicking.
- Focus on why the reader should care about the content
The top performing headlines included phrases such as ‘will make you’, ‘tears of joy’, ‘are freaking out’ and ‘make you cry.’ This suggests that headlines perform best when they claim there will be an emotional connection between the content and how it will impact the reader. In fact, the phrase “will make you” gained more than twice the number of Facebook engagements as the second most popular headline phrase in BuzzSumo’s study.
Always aim to create headlines that highlight the impact and/or value-add to your reader. What’s important to remember, however, is to not overdo it. When the content doesn’t deliver on the headline’s promise, the writing is seen as sensational which quickly turns off readers. Plus, Facebook has announced it will demote “headlines that exaggerate the details of a story with sensational language” and which aim to “make the story seem like a bigger deal than it really is.”
- Clear beats clever
Think about what makes you click. We stop when we see topics that interest us and articles that will make us laugh, cry, or just feel a bit smarter. We also want to know what to expect. If you’re not sure what you are going to get in exchange for your time, you’ll likely pass. What’s worse is when you a victim of clickbait and you regret every clicking in the first place.
That’s why it’s important to remember that ‘clear beats clever’. NewsFeeds are far too competitive to rely on vague or pun-filled headlines. Be specific about what you’re offering your reader. Some headlines phrases that might work include, “This is why”, “This is how”, “The reason is”.
- Tap into your tribe
Many brands make the mistake of thinking that their content is for ‘everyone.’ Chances are that’s not truly the case and you simply need to dig a bit more deeply into the characteristics and interests of your core audience. Then, you can craft headlines that are more targeted to the people you want to reach.
One way to do that is with ‘tribal’ headlines. You may notice lots of these on sites like Buzzfeed, with headlines such as ‘X Things Only Students/Office Workers/Mums Will Understand.” When content aligns with our personal views or experiences, we’re more likely to share, which means stronger engagement for you.
Remember, your ‘tribe’ may not be the same on every platform and the same headline that kills on Facebook may fall flat on LinkedIn. For example, the research found that phrases like ‘on a budget’ performed poorly on Facebook but really well on Pinterest. Test what resonates with your audience by comparing different versions across different platforms.
- Use listicals wisely
When you look at many of the top ways to begin a post (such as ‘X reasons why’, ‘X things you’, and ‘X ways to’, you will see that many of the most engaging phrases contain numbers. ‘Listicals’ are still an engaging format for many blogs and publishers.
The BuzzSumo research found that the number 10 was the highest performing headline number, followed by 5, 15 and 7. Others, however, have success with larger numbers. While lists remain a popular format, don’t get lazy with them. Remember to always add value with your content and ensure the headline reflects that value.
- Don’t stress about length
Social media researchers have done lots of surveys around the optimal length of headlines. Research from Outbrain found that 16 to 18 words and 80 to 110 characters was best. Similarly, BuzzSumo found that headlines with 12 to 18 words received the best engagement on Facebook. Engagement generally drops as headlines hit below or above this range. The lesson here is to take as many words as you need to convey the value of the content and remember that clear beats clever.
This research isn’t meant to be a bank of phrases to insert into all of your headlines. It’s a reminder to spend as much time on your headline as you do the rest of your post.
When in doubt, keep your reader in focus – try to convey why they should care and where possible, promise an impact or emotional connection. Call out the latest trends and topics to make your headlines as relevant as possible. Then, you can ensure you’ll get the clicks you deserve while your readers get the content they crave.
About the author
Lauren Trucksess is an independent content marketing and social media consultant. She founded Latitude Content as a way to help brands create content that drives stronger business results. Originally from the US, Lauren has worked in Australia’s best integrated communications and public relations agencies and has led content-driven campaigns for some of the world’s top B2B and B2C technology brands.