I am not a blog headline expert. I really wish I was. I wish that every title I created exuded a sense of urgency to be read, but that’s just not the case. But, as I continue to blog professionally, I realize more and more that having a killer blog headline is often the key to growth, to shares, to gaining new followers and traffic. A simple title can make the difference between a post going nowhere and a post going viral. Really.
So, I have been trying over the last several months to up my game with headlines. But, with only so many characters available in a tweet, in search results, or shown on a link on Facebook, we have such little space to convince people to click through to our article! There is a lot that goes into crafting those perfect headlines.As I am passionate about helping people, especially my fellow bloggers, I created a Facebook group – Bloggers for Better Headlines – where people can ask what other people find a more click-worthy title for their latest post, pin-image, Facebook headline, tagline, or whatever. It has been a great creative exercise for my brain, and a great help to myself and the many who take advantage of the group. Several have reported great success in revamping old titles, or having better ones for their latest post.
We are all learning together, and sometimes it’s all really a matter of trial and error. And thankfully, headlines can very easily be changed, and reshared.
The 4 Elements of a Successful Blog Headline
To help share my (semi-limited) knowledge on the subject of headlines, I want to present the following points to consider when you go to title your latest masterpiece. I am breaking them down into four key points – Intrigue, Title Length, Headline Formulas, and Keywords.
One of the biggest things your article title has to do is create intrigue. Boring, flat titles will not be clicked. Super personal post titles will not be clicked. You will not get traffic from these headlines, other than from your biggest fans, because they read everything you write anyway. While certainly having amazing pictures to go along with your headline will get your more clicks, having the right text on those images, and an intriguing title, will ensure even more.
Click-Bait and Immediacy
There is a reason so many titles today are considered “click-bait” titles. Click-bait titles are full of intrigue, and well, beg you to click through to find out the answer! Such titles usually contain something like “You won’t believe what happened when….” or “You’ll never guess the 1 Essential Key to….” or “The Surprising Trick that Will Save you …. ” or “Unusual uses of this common household thing…..” and so on. They all encourage you to discover what these unbelievable, surprising, unique, reasons, ways, or uses are. Your curiosity is peaked. You must click! They are indeed click-bait.
While I do think you can definitely go overboard on the click-bait titles, claiming or promising things that you can’t really deliver in your post (somethings really aren’t that shocking or unbelievable, and some solutions are not actually going to work for everyone, etc), the point is to make your headlines interesting enough that people want to click and read.
You want your title to create a sense of immediacy, which is what these click-bait titles seem to do best. Because, in today’s world of multi-tasking, multi-tabs, and lack of time, if we don’t actually click over and read an article right now, we may never actually take the time to read it, even if we bookmark it, pin it, or open it up in another tab. So while it is great that people seem interested in an article by doing those things, we actually do want people to read what we wrote (and maybe even then become our newest follower).
So, to create a sense of immediacy, think about a title like “How Safe Is Your …..” or “How to Improve (X) in the Next 10 Minutes” or “(X) You Need to Stop Doing Now” The key to immediacy though is to play up on emotions, self-interest, and desires, rather than simply needs.
Keep in mind as well, that often click-bait headlines are often controversial, political, or against pop culture trends. These types of titles can be great for more topical, trending, or hot-button issues going on in your community, state, country, or world.
If you are looking for some suggestions on click-bait or link-bait titles on a certain topic, check out the Linkbait Title Generator.
Active Verbs and Strong Adjectives
When crafting a killer headline, keep a thesaurus handy, because you want strong, active, descriptive words in your title! I mean, would you be dying to click on a post simply titled “Chocolate Cake Recipe”? No? What about: “The Easiest Most Delicious Chocolate Cake Recipe Ever”? Chances are you are intrigued about what makes this recipe so different from all the others that it boasts to be the best.
If you are sharing a great parenting tip, let’s say about potty training, avoid something simple like “Great Potty Training Tip.” While that doesn’t sound horrible, the problem is lots of people have potty training tips. What makes your post, your tip, different? Describe that secret specialness in the title. Maybe it’s “How to Potty Train Your Kid Accident-Free” or “The Sure-Fire Way to Get Your Child Potty Trained By His Third Birthday” or “The Key to Avoiding Potty Training Regressions” or “How to Potty Train Your Child Over the Weekend Without Losing Your Mind.” They are all very specific, which is great! They are then solving specific issues involved in potty training, instead of being under that generic blanket of “potty training tip.” It’s makes your post stand out and beg people to click.
Also notice some of the strong words I used like “Sure-Fire,” “Key” and “Avoiding.” No matter what subject you are discussing, look closely at your post and describe what your post is really helping address specifically, and then play around with the verbs, adjectives, and adverbs until it is a strong, compelling title that is full of intrigue to your target audience.
Don’t Give Away the Meat
However, sometimes it’s best to not give away the meat of your article in the title, because, sometimes, giving away what your post is actually about, will prevent anyone from actually reading your content. For instance, I had a post about how parents should forgive their child and move on, and not dwell on their mistakes. But, by titling the post “Forgive Your Child and Extend Them Grace” I was left without anyone visiting the post. The reason being, everyone knows they should forgive their child! What’s surprising about that? What makes my post different?
So, I renamed my post “The One Thing Your Child Really Needs When He Screws Up.” It’s certainly a more click-bait title because it doesn’t give away the meat of the post which is to forgive your child and move on. This type of title can work well to create more intrigue on a post that just doesn’t seem to be getting traffic, or on a post that otherwise seems a bit too self-explanatory or commonsensical to a majority of people.
But, Don’t Be Too Personal
While certainly there is a place for bloggers to be personal (and I generally appreciate strong voice), many beginning bloggers make the mistake of creating headlines that are far too personal. Titles that include personal pronouns – I, My, Me, Myself, Our, Ours, We – alienate and turn off someone from reading your post. Why? Because they don’t know you and don’t care about why or how something affected you or why you did something. You are a stranger to them. So, if you make a title too personal (and especially without intrigue) you risk your post flopping.
Imagine for a moment you went to the Bahamas. You want to write about your travels on your blog, and share why everyone should take a trip to the Bahamas, because it was just that great. You write a very nice post, with lots of gorgeous pictures you took, and some great persuasion and voice. Then you slap this on as the title: “I loved the Bahamas!” or “My trip to the Bahamas.”
As a stranger seeing that text on a link in my Facebook feed, I would totally skip over it, in large part because I don’t care about you.
Great titles focus on the audience. Instead of the above titles, something like “22 Reasons Everyone Should Take a Trip to the Bahamas” or “5 Reasons You Need to Make the Bahamas Your Next Travel Destination” are sure to entice much more intrigue, because it’s no longer just a travel-log about your trip with dozens of endless photos of you on the beach. While the post can still be written in first person, and share you favorite experiences, it will be tailored to specifically convince the person clicking over why they should feel the same as you about the Bahamas.
Of course, there are exceptions to this rule about personal headlines. If the story really is personal and your opinion, then those personal pronouns can work. However, it’s usually for posts that have a strong, compelling, and unique, narrative. I’ve seen successful posts like this when it’s about a stranger’s remarks to them at the grocery store, or how they personally overcame something. “I bought a ‘mom suit’ but it wasn’t because I had given up” is a post I wrote using those personal pronouns, but I feel it still creates a certain sense of intrigue to many who can relate to either mom suits, or giving up as a mother, or both.
Avoid Being Vague
Sometimes, in our attempt to be clever or intriguing, we end up actually sounding rather vague! With headlines you have to approach them as an outsider who is not familiar with you or your blog. Some phrases can be interpreted differently to different people, and we need to see our titles from an outsiders’ perspective.
For instance, a post titled “Are you making time to connect?” could be talking about connecting with your kids, your spouse, your dog, your boss, your inner spirituality, or the internet. Obviously, a picture will help clarify your meaning, but if someone were tweeting it, they wouldn’t know. Also, some people suggest not phrasing titles as questions that can be answered with a yes or a no, because they can then easily be answered “No,” and have the person move on. But, asking other types of questions, like “What kind of mini van should you buy?” can be very powerful.
Avoid cliches, colloquial phrases, inside jokes, or things like obscure movie references. They tend to be vague, and not everyone understands them.
2. Title Length
For SEO purposes, it is generally advised to keep your title under a certain length. But, on all social media, there is a limit to how long-winded you can be and still have your entire title shown. Super long titles don’t necessarily make your headline bad, but you need to know that part of it will be cut off in search results on search engines, and in shares on social media channels.
Google asks that you keep your title length to about 55 characters. They also ask that you keep your slug (the part after your website.com/) length limited to under 100 characters, preferably to 62-77 characters. While technically your slug length can be something like just under 2000 characters, too long of slugs are harder to share on social media, are harder to remember, and google will truncate it in search with dots. An easy way to shorten the slug is to eliminate articles (a, an, the), which are generally considered “stop words” anyway. Instead focus solely on your keyword, generally limiting your slug to just three to five words.
The First 3 Words and the Last 3 Words
It has also been said that the most memorable part of a headline are the first three words and the last three words (according to KISSmetrics). While that would seem to say that titles should really only be six words in length, it’s darn hard to create a great headline in just six words. While you shouldn’t really be too verbose, I would also encourage you not to be so short either! Not much excitement or clarity can be achieved in 1-5 words. It’s always about finding that sweet spot.
Coschedule has a great article about all of the SM channels and what often does best in terms of length of blog headlines HERE that I recommend reading.
For Facebook, if you don’t want your headline truncated on mobile, keep it to 25 characters or less, and keep your link description (meta tag) to 30 characters. These limits are because mobile readers have smaller screens. This is important to consider as more and more users are solely using social media, like Facebook, on their mobile devices. You have longer than those limits on desktop though.
Keep your tweets shorter than 100 words, and about 71 characters minimum. And limit hashtags to about 6, and avoid starting hashtags with numbers.
3. Headline Formulas
It can be overwhelming to figure out all these rules and formulas for creating headlines that will get noticed and get clicked through and then read. That’s why I always say to do your best, and constantly try to get better! It’s helpful to read lots of great articles about how to make better headlines from time to time too.
The Science of Numbers
According to Buffer, the Ultimate Headline Formulas is “Numbers + Adjective + Target Keyword + Rationale + Promise” and include the example “10 Simple Steps You Can Take Today That Will Make You Happier.” It’s perhaps why sites like Buzzfeed have some of the most clicked on titles anywhere on the internet. So many of their posts use this number-based formula.
There are many studies and research done on the science of numbers in headlines. Generally, we like odd numbers, with 7 being the golden-boy of choice. However, sometimes we associate those large (odd) numbered headlines as being better, because our brains are trained to equate more with better. Higher numbers (29, 73, 55) seem to promise more information, more advice, more entertainment, and more incentive to click over.
Online Headline Analyzers
A key component of headlines is always the emotion! Generally an emotional title will appeal to one of three things: our intellectual side, our empathetic side, or our spiritual side. Some titles appeal to a combination of the three. One isn’t better than another, as long as you know who you are trying to target, and what aspect of them you want to impact. That’s why the Emotional Marketing Value Headline Analyzer from Advanced Marketing Institute is awesome. It gives you a rating system based on these three emotional aspects for your headlines, and how strong your title is at hitting those emotions.
Another great online headline analyzer is the CoSchedule’s Blog Post Headline Analyzer. (They also have a free tear sheet with 180+ power words to help you write better headlines available to download.) It also gives you an overall score, judges your balance of common, uncommon, emotional, and power words, and rates your headline type (List, How to, Question, or Generic).
Remember that in headlines, it is generally best to avoid special characters – # @ & ” ( ) * – because they don’t always translate well in RSS feeds, in searches, and so on.
Don’t use Series Titles in the Headlines
Many bloggers will disagree about this, but don’t use your series title in your headlines. Because, honestly, as an outsider, I don’t care that you are doing an A-Z series on food recipes, because, I probably just want that one recipe, not all 26.
Series are fantastic in many ways for blogs, but including your series title of “Cooking through the Alphabet A-Z” and then the actual recipe name “Delicious Pinneapple Upside Down Cake” all in the same title can weigh it down, lengthen it, and complicate your keywords and headline. Since every post needs its own set of keywords, adding series titles can limit how you phrase the post, and how engaging and intriguing your title is to the average Joe.
While I think “Cooking through the Alphabet A-Z” is a great series idea, create a landing page on your site for all those blog posts instead. And then at the beginning of each post mention the series, link to that landing page, and then link to the other recipes/posts in the series at the end of the post, in case people are interested to learn more. This will then better let you optimize each and every post within the series for SEO search traffic, and sufficient individual intrigue.
I once started a series on my blog called “Instilling Values in Our Kids.” I think it’s a great series, but initially I started all of my posts with the series name in my headlines. It then made my post titles anything but intriguing. I have since stopped using series titles in my headlines with much greater success of the posts.
I am not the SEO expert on this blog (but Jill does have an SEO ebook you should look into!). All I know is that you want searchable keywords in your title, in your post, in your url slugs, and even in your images alt tags and file names. The best thing to use to find keywords relevant to your topic is use the Google AdWords Keyword Planner for SEO keyword research. Type in a few things your post is about. So, if, for example, your post is about creating killer headlines for blogs, your search might include phrases like “how to make good headlines,” “blog post headlines,” “blog post titles” and “create headlines that get noticed.”
From there you’ll get “ad groups” and keyword ideas that are similar (or not so similar) to what you are looking for. There may be a few pages, and several groupings. I like to click on the groupings, and see what specific search terms show up.
You can combine several different ideas, stacking a few into alt tags or picture titles, or even throughout your post. Find the keywords that are relevant and result in the best average monthly searches. I see that “create a headline” gets about 40 hits a month (which is terribly low, but apparently, not many people Google search about headlines), so I will include that in my post title. I also see that “blog headline” and “killer headlines” and “compelling headlines” get some search traffic.
I may want to see if I can somehow incorporate those as well into my blog post title, something like “How to Create a Killer and Compelling Blog Headline.”
Again, though, I am not an expert at this! I don’t know if how I create SEO-friendly headlines and posts is the best way to compile headlines that will then rank you higher in search results. That’s for a whole other post.
I will say that while keywords are important, they are often not the most important part of a headline, but that can totally depend on your niche and your blog and how you write your posts. But, honestly, I feel like a lot of SEO is a luck of the draw sometimes. You can do your very best to stuff those great keywords in a post, and have nothing come from it. So, yes, find and use relevant keywords, but don’t get so hung up on them that your headline suffers drastically for it. I personally don’t receive a ton of search traffic everyday, but I do receive hits everyday from Google, which means some of my SEO efforts have paid off.
Last but not least, I invite everyone who reads this to join my Facebook group – Bloggers for Better Headlines. It’s a great place to bounce ideas around with others, but please know that spam, aka dropping links to non-related content, like your most recent blog post, will not be tolerated: it is solely for headline help. There are already over 268 members of the group and growing, and I hope you’ll become an active member of the group! Now here are a list of some helpful articles and tools (many I mentioned above):
Great Blog Headline Articles from Around the Web:
- Can You Write a Better Headline Than This? Not Using Old Headline Formulas You Can’t – KISSmetrics
- 30+ Ultimate Headline Formulas for Tweets, Posts, Articles, and Emails – Buffer
- The Anatomy of a Perfect Blog Post: The Data on Headlines, Length, Images, and More – Buffer
- 6 Headline Mistakes to Stop Making Now! – International Bloggers Association
- Best Headline Length – CoSchedule
- The Science Behind High Performing Headlines – CrazyEgg
Blog Headline Tools from Around the Web
- CoSchedule Headline Analyzer (This one is AWESOME!)
- Emotional Marketing Value Headline Analyzer – Advanced Marketing Institute (I really like this one too!)
- Portent’s Content Idea Generator (Fun tool that gives you different title ideas. Hit the refresh arrows for more ideas)
- Link Bait Title Generator – Content Row (They repeat the same phrases each keyword you enter, but is helpful to get the juice flowing)
- New Title Tag Guidelines and Preview Tool – MOZ (Helps you see how your title will appear on Google)
How do you make sure your headlines are rocking it?
Carlyn Bullock says
Thanks for this insightful blog post. I labor over the title, create something I love then Google tells me it’s too long for SEO – so frustrating! And thanks to IBA for leading me to this blogger this morning! Have a great week-mend!! With a smile, Carlyn 🙂
Hi Katelyn – I’ve been trying to work on better headlines for awhile and I can tell the better ones do make a difference! last week, Hometalk featured “Our Homestead’s Jaw Dropping Facelift” and while I got some snarky comments about using the word “jaw dropping,” it came with a ton of traffic because people wanted to see what it was all about. Thanks for the great info! Hugs, Holly
Mima Isono says
I’ve been struggling to create a compelling headlines before reading this article. I’ve checked my headlines one by one using the analysers you mentioned. Now I got it..Thanks so much for sharing the tips.
Mima || Tokyo Blogger || http://tiptoeingworld.com