Is the day of the great headline over? Here’s one of my favorites: “Crapper honored for flushing toilet.” It ran many years ago in a Chicago newspaper; and as the copy editors intended, cracked me up. The article was my introduction to Sir Thomas Crapper, the 19th Century plumber credited with inventing the flushing toilet. Turns out Sir Crapper’s claim to fame was a bit more myth than reality. He actually didn’t invent the modern convenience. He did, however, increase its popularity (sounds like a pretty easy marketing job) and improve upon the original model, according to Wikipedia.
Sir Thomas aside, the pursuit of web rankings has resulted in a lot of pretty forgettable headlines. There’s nothing memorable about “Ten Ways to Poach an Egg” but it just might show up in a Google Search on poached eggs. Localize it and your chances of it moving up the Google food chain are even better – “Ten Ways to Poach an Egg in Poughkeepsie.”
Still, the goal of a headline remains the same as it always has – to get someone to read your content. Today, you also want to be found by search engines. The goals are not mutually exclusive.
Here are six tips for writing effective headlines:
- Figure out what works: Whether it’s your blog or other online content, track which headlines and posts get the most page views, time on site and bounce rate. Maybe it’s the topic, keywords or headlines. You should be able to get some idea what resonates with your audience.
- Be clear: Don’t expect the reader to look at your content if they don’t know what it’s about. Make sure you headline clearly indicates what the copy is about.
- Keywords count: To make sure you optimize search, include the appropriate keyword or phrase.
- Size matters: Keep your headline short. Around 55 to 70 characters is optimum to ensure search engines don’t cut off your titles because they exceed the maximum length.
- Use powerful language: You don’t have a lot of characters, so use them wisely. Use the most powerful words you can and cut extras.
- Use catchy adjectives. Keywords and short headlines don’t preclude catchy. Try to use bold adjectives to amp up your headlines.
- Tried and true: Headlines that drive readership often:
- Ask or answer a question: What would you do with a million dollars?
- Are controversial: Five reasons cold calls don’t work anymore
- Convey a benefit: Tablets boost small business productivity
- Use statistics: 50 percent of small business owners don’t take vacations
- Include a number as in in ‘Ten ways to poach an egg with great results every time”
Great headlines take time. Don’t rush them. Do them right and you’ll be flush with readers. (You knew that was coming, right?)