Day 8 of the A-Z challenge.
H is for Headlines
Do you wrestle to find the perfect headlines for your blog posts?
I do. Even with eight years of blogging under my belt, this is still one of my most challenging activities.
Because I know they can be the most important words I write in the whole post.
The headline is the first thing readers see. The pace of life is so busy today that people make decisions in seconds. If my headline doesn’t immediately interest, amuse or intrigue them, they may never read the rest of the post. And all my efforts will have been in vain.
The good news is that there is a wealth of advice out there in cyberspace about how to write effective headlines. I’ve boiled this down to 5 tips.
As always, the relevance of these tips will depend on why you blog
These tips will primarily be of interest if you’re trying to build followers and regularly take part in memes or write discussion posts. Tip number four will be of particular interest.
1. Be specific, not general
In other words, don’t make your headline too vague, or try to be too clever. Tell your readers exactly what they will discover if they read on.
Here’s what Darren Rowse of ProBlogger has to say on this.
A post titled ‘More Reader Engagement’ could mean almost anything. But a post titled ‘Five Ways to Encourage Readers to Comment More Often on Your Posts’ is clear and specific. If you see that title on Twitter or in your email inbox, you’ll know exactly what you’ll get from that post.
I know I’ve fallen into the trap of trying to be too clever sometimes, going for headlines for example that rely on wordplay. They seldom worked.
I’m talking about something far simpler, but just as effective.
2. Use Powerful Words
Powerful words and phrases work well in headlines. They grab the attention and create an emotional pull or inspire people to take action.
The examples above are ones I think could be used in book reviews if you use them in combination with the book title and author name.
Some of the words/phrases you see recommended frequently would be more suited to other kinds kinds of content – like a list post, or a discussion article. If you never write these types of post you can skip the next few paragraphs and go straight to tip number 3!
But for other readers, let’s give some categories of word groups you could find useful.
First up are those groups that promise the blog post will tell the reader something they don’t know. This is quite a popular option which works because it suggests you have expertise and are ready to share it with your readers. So use words such as Secret, Little known as in …
10 Little Known Gems of Irish Literature
Other groups might promise speed or convenience: Speedy, Quick, Simple, Straightforward as in
Quick Guide to Historical Fiction
Or you could use words that indicate the post offers a comprehensive perspective: Complete, Ultimate as in
Ultimate Guide to Welsh Authors
There’s also a group of words that you could use to alert readers to something: Warning; Red Flag, Mistake. As an example:
5 Mistakes To Avoid As A Book Blogger
By the way, headlines that contain a number are very effective. They intrigue readers (who doesn’t love a list?) and give the impression that the content will be quick to read.
One word of caution with all “power” words: you have to make sure your blog article backs up the claim. Don’t claim something is a quick guide and then write 3,000 words! Or say something is an ultimate guide and write only 600 words.
3. Watch The Word Count
There’s a school of thought that says the most effective blog headlines are those 5-10 words long or have 50-80 characters. Other experts at Co-Schedule say headlines with approx 6 words or around 55 characters tend to earn the highest number of clicks.
There isn’t really a hard and fast rule. But generally shorter headlines tend to do better than longer ones, particularly with readers who are getting your blog feed via their phones where the screen size will often chop off the last few words.
One other factor to bear in mind. Research has shown that when people skim content they tend to read the first and last three words of a headline. They’re not consciously doing this – it’s just the way we read text on a page or a screen.
However many words you put into your headline, use the most important words (your keywords) first and last. More about keywords in a later post.
4. Try “Why” … Headlines
These are the posts which begin with “Why”
Why You Should Read XYZ Without Delay
Why XYZ Should Win the ABC Award
Why XYZ Is The Best Book I’ve Read All Year
They work I think because they suggest that the blog post is going to be an answer to a question your reader is considering. They imply you have good knowledge or insight about the question.
5. Add Square Brackets to Headlines
A number of bloggers I follow are already using this technique. I’ve not really understood the purpose until now. But reading up on how to create effective headlines, has persuaded me that this is a technique well worth trying.
The idea is to add the square brackets to the end of your title to give readers an indication of the kind of content they will read in your post. For book bloggers the most common usage would be to add [Book Review] to the headline.
I’ve found these tips helpful when I’ve written list posts or discussion posts. Using them to write headlines for review has been more of a challenge. It’s difficult to reconcile all the tips.
If you want to use the book title and author name as part of the headline but also want some of the “powerful words”, the headline becomes longer than the recommended 5-10 words. Adding [book review] makes it even longer.
If you don’t use the book title/author name and instead go for an eye-catching title using those emotive words or the “Why…” type, it could fall foul of the “Specific not General” tip. I ran into this issue with I chose “Haunted by A Gentle Survivor [Review]” as the title for my review of Robert Seethaler’s A Whole Life. And also when I wrote “Touching tale of dignity and vulnerability [book review]” for my review of Alys Conran’s Pigeon.
I was so pleased with myself when I wrote those headlines. But looking back on them now, I can see they are flawed because they’re not clear enough for the reader.
I suspect this is a question I’m still going to be wrestling with for a long time.
Join The Discussion
Do you struggle with headlines? Have you found any solutions beyond the tips mentioned here. Leave me a comment below to share some of your experiences.