The job of a headline
A headline is there to create intrigue and encourage a click through to the website. More so, the job of a headline is to give a clear and comprehensive idea of the content a reader can expect to find behind the 16-or-so word headline. It becomes the reference point to the article. Not everyone will remember the content but they’re likely to remember the title.
That’s quite the task if you think about it. The success of your conversion rates, SEO ranking, click-throughs and shareability all rest on the power of your headline and it’s ability to speak to the audience of the online world. You can’t just have a great headline and hope for the best.
Factors that will affect your headline
Headlines have been moulded to a formula over the years, but, just as the world is changing, trends change as well. So, what used to work and be great for creating headlines, is not quite the same anymore.
Some factors that will affect the way you write your headline and how you manage to grab the attention you so desperately need are:
- Clickbait: If you relied on “false advertising” in your headlines just to grab attention and get the reader to your article, but then proceed to ramble on about a completely unrelated topic, those days are soon to be over. The web and its various platforms are fading out the spammy content and headlines. So, unless you want to be completely out of the digital race, use clear and true-to-content titles.
- Click-throughs: Click-throughs aren’t as relevant as they used to be with titles that encourage social shares without any interaction with the content.
- Headline formulas: “X ways to” and “How to lose ___ in X days” are some of the general headline formulas that have proved popular in the past. But what generally happens when everyone boards the trend-train, it eventually becomes mainstream and overlooked as the same old tactic. It’s time to modify these formulas slightly because there’s no doubt that they can be successful, it’s just a matter of spicing things up.
- Personalisation: Finding ways to personalise your headlines will, most certainly, not hurt your chances of getting your content to reach the right audiences.
- Authority: Thanks to the rage of “fake news” out in the world, there’s a lack of trust in content authority, authenticity and truth. This is a problem for every individual attempting to market and reach an online audience and, no matter your headline, people will be skeptic.
Keys to viral headlining success
Now, despite these trying factors, the reality is that people do still read articles and are still prompted by headlines to do so. This is where the four Us of headlining come in to attain that viral headline success.
- Urgent: If something is urgent, you read it. Simple as that. Convince people that they need to read this specific article because it has answers to their questions. Through urgency, they find usefulness.
- Unique: Uniqueness goes hand-in-hand with personalisation and providing an edge that competitors can’t compete with. If you aren’t authentic and unique there’s a good chance a reader will scroll past your content and click on one of the other 300 “10 Reasons to drink water” articles.
- Useful: This is the reason you write the articles and put effort into the headlines. You want to help people and show them that you have the relevant information that they’ve been looking for. That your company is the solution to their problems. And this is also why people choose to read and interact with your content.
- Ultra-specific: You can be seemingly useful or you can be ultra-specific and satisfactorily useful. Give the people what they want in one place and they won’t need to go searching other content to fill in the blanks. This will also build your authority and people will come to trust your content.
According to language research in the context of headlines, there are some interesting truths to what is considered a successful headline. Headlines that are short in length, have question marks or time references can negatively affect the success of the article. So, where you thought posing a question as a means to seem relatable to the audience was encouraging them to engage, you were actually pushing them away.
If you want to have a question for a headline, you need to make sure you’re asking as a means for people to find out more and not as a way of pointing out that they don’t know anything. Humans are stubborn that way. If we can answer the question without reading the content, we’re not going to bother with the content. And if we can’t answer the question we, more than likely, feel inadequate and offended by having that fact thrown out at us.
On the other hand, demonstrative pronouns, positive and negative superlatives, interrogatives, determinants, numbers, adjectives and quotations are all the elements you need to see success.