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Are Your Headlines Making Promises You Can’t Keep?

Are Your Headlines Making Promises You Can’t Keep?


In the overloaded online world, a headline is the first — and likely last — thing your audience will read. With only six words to make your case for an article, writers and editors are under a lot of pressure to construct a title that’s informative, tempting, and reader-friendly.

According to Copyblogger, eight out of 10 people will read headline copy, but only two out of 10 will continue on, which explains why effective headlines are so crucial to the overall success of your article.

Consistently producing unique and thought-provoking content is a struggle on its own, and coming up with attention-grabbing headlines to match only adds to the headache. But every aspect of your article should guide readers along and give them a reason to read on — and that includes the headline. 

Although your article might be beautifully written and full of knowledge, none of that matters if your headline doesn’t persuade readers to click through. And few do this better than BuzzFeed.

Achieving a BuzzFeed-Worthy Headline

There’s a reason BuzzFeed headlines are scattered across your Facebook and Twitter feeds. People love them, and they’re difficult to resist. While some attribute the success of BuzzFeed to clickbait tactics, Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith makes a valid argument: “You can trick someone to click, but you can’t trick someone to share.”

With a killer combination of humor and highly targeted keywords, the articles that perform well on BuzzFeed share one key element: click-worthy and shareable headlines.

Take the article “7 Blogger Types That Make Editors Want to Die,” for example. Written by our vice president of content, Brittany Dowell, this headline works because it appeals to a specific audience (editors) and relates to their frustrations in a lighthearted and comical way.

Balancing relevance, excitement, intrigue, and humor in one headline is no easy feat. To get started creating captivating headlines, consider these five tips. 

1. Use numbers, digits, and lists.

According to a Conductor survey, 36 percent of readers prefer headlines containing numbers. Numbers generally indicate that a list will follow, and in readers’ minds, that signals that the article is easy to scan and not very time-intensive.

Readers likely responded well to our headline “8 Problems Editors Have With Your Content” because they knew they wouldn’t have to invest much time in absorbing the content (and they wanted to know these faux pas, of course). 

2. Speak directly to your readers.

When crafting a headline, think about who you’re trying to reach — and don’t be afraid to call them out. Readers love articles that speak directly to them. In fact, 21 percent prefer headlines that address them. You can do this in a variety of ways, but make sure you’re targeting the right audience.

People want to feel included, and achieving this in the headline is a powerful tactic. If your intended audience is entrepreneurs, give them a shout-out in the headline. They won’t be able to resist the click.

3. Keep it short and sweet.

Readers tend to remember the first three words and the last three words of any title, making six words the magic number for a headline. If you really want to break it down, your headline should contain no more than 65 letters because search engines cut off everything after that in search results.

4. Make promises you can keep.

There’s nothing wrong with making a promise to readers in the headline — as long as you deliver. As content marketers, we strive to add value to our target audience and follow through on any promises we make in the headline.

When your headlines overpromise, you’re deceiving readers and betraying their trust. Sometimes this happens unintentionally, so it’s important to be aware. At Influence & Co., we constantly evaluate the success of our articles. When blog posts aren’t performing as we think they should, we take a look at the headlines to see if there’s something we could have communicated better. 

5. Get creative. 

Boring, dry headlines suggest boring, dry content. Spice yours up with exciting adjectives and action verbs that will evoke a response from readers. 

Which would you choose: “How to Get Published Online” or “Discover the Secrets to Getting Published Online”?

By jazzing up your headlines, you can show off your brand personality, providing a human touch for readers. And don’t be afraid to throw in a little humor if it makes sense. 

Remember that the more compelling your headline is, the greater the chance that it will defy the meager readership odds. By spending extra time perfecting your first impression, you’ll encourage readers to return and build a meaningful relationship. 

Do you have any other tips for creating headlines that entice readers? Let us know in the comments below!

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About Sarah Morris

Baths over showers. Dogs over cats. Chocolate over vanilla, always. I’m taking over the world with content, one whitepaper at a time.


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