The Curiosity Gap in Headlines
(Snippits from our oh so popular Digital Glue Podcast!)
Did you know many copywriters spend over 50% of their time on just the headline?
This is because, in order to get noticed, your words need to be magnetic. To reach someone, to sell something, you need to draw them in and make them stay, and to do that; the headline is the QUEEN!
If the headline is poor, the copy will not be read. And copy that is not read does not sell goods.
That quote from John Caples sets the tone for this topic. It would help if you had your words to create intrigue. Stop the reader in their tracks and read the words you have written. And in hopes that your words have offered them exactly what they are looking for.
One of the most interesting things about this concept is how it has evolved over time. It used to be that a headline had to catch the eye and create curiosity in the reader — but just enough to have them want to keep reading. Now a powerful headline is all about how searchable and clickable it is. Keywords became, well … key!
It’s important to note that the fundamentals of writing a good headline have stayed the same. Technology is what has changed. And, quite frankly, constantly evolving. And we are adapting to that … growing with technology as it advances. As humans, we haven’t really changed. Our needs and desires as consumers are the same in theory; we have new options and places in which to find the answers. So, our main task is to learn how to adapt and develop headlines that pack a punch no matter what platform they are written or posted on.
It would help if you focused on using headlines to get people to read the first sentence of your piece, as that is the headline’s true purpose and primary job. If you can accomplish that goal, the rest of your content, the introduction, the subtitles, the bullet points, and the main storytelling will take care of the rest. And hopefully, convert the reader into a loyal customer. But before we talk about some simple tips to write headlines that will call for attention, here are four small yet utterly essential rules to follow. We think of them as the foundation on which we build our headlines.
At Virtually Untangled, we like to follow these “4 U’s” of writing attention-driven headlines:
- Make the headline unique
- Be ultra-specific
- Convey a sense of urgency
- Be useful
And those, my friends, are the guiding principles to writing a killer headline.
But they are also just the base.
To dig deeper, we have broken them out into 10 TIPS on implementing the four foundational rules into every headline you write, so you can make that click happen and have customers flock to your offering.
Let’s dive right on in …
#1. HEADLINES ARE A SOLO ACT.
It’s easy to think of a headline on top of the article and then forget about it. We must remember that they will be seen out of this context, just on their own, as a product of a search, in tweets, newsfeeds, hashtags, newsletters, etc. They are more often than not competing for attention with other articles, and your potential readers will scan and decide whether to click in a quick span of time. So, make it effective. Make it unique and exciting. Make sure it stands on its own to deliver your message, and if someone sees it in a search result, they will feel compelled to click and read.
#2. USE NUMBERS AND MAKE THEM BIG.
Every guide teaching you how to write a headline that captures attention agrees that numbers work, and big obscure numbers work even better. So, if you write two articles with the same content except for the headlines, “110 Ways to Grow Your Podcast” will outperform “6 Ways to Grow Your Podcast”. Why? Because it promises more value, and that attracts readers. More bang for their buck! And simply, marketing 101 right there!
#3. DIGITS ARE MORE POWERFUL THAN WORDS.
“10 Ways to Write a Cover Letter” (with digits) will reach more readers than “T-e-n Ways to Write a Cover Letter” (with “ten” written out). Digits outperform in every search. It’s a tried and tested rule. So, pay attention! Numbers reach directly into our unconscious and say, “This message is important.” It tells our readers that the content of this article is a fact, and it’s backed up with numbers. So, it must be legit!
#4. PLACEMENT MATTERS.
If your article includes a list, it’s better to structure the headline with the number at the start. For example, “10 Ways to Grow Your Blog” will outperform “How to Grow Your Blog in 10 Steps”. Readers tend to pay closer attention to that type of content formatting. It attracts the part of their brain that says this is a must-read!
I feel like I say this a lot, but it is so crucial on so many levels …
#5. DON’T MAKE A PROMISE YOU CAN’T KEEP!
This comes down to quality. If you write an article promising “killer tips,” they’re just meh! And that’s no good. You must make them actual KILLER TIPS! And then follow them up with original thoughts and details. Avoid falling prey to the overuse of those over-the-top adjectives with headline writing that can oversell your words. Using compelling and positive adjectives will bring you more engagement. The happier the words, the faster the copy will catch your audience’s attention in a good way and increase your click-through rate. I say it often, and it is worth saying again … be YOU. Be genuine, share honest-to-goodness knowledge from your heart, and people will know you are the real deal. Be a good human … never lead anyone on.
I’m going to hit you with another quote here because it is just too fitting, and I am passionate about this topic …
If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough. ~ Albert Einstein
Please keep it simple. Keep it legit. Show them you are the expert on the topic and know your stuff. Need I say more?
Okay, now let’s continue …
#6. KEEP YOUR EYE ON LENGTH.
Google will only show the first 55 to 60 characters of a page title, so bear this in mind when creating those killer headlines. I suggest keeping it under 55 or considering what will happen if it cuts off at that point by asking yourself, “Will my message get lost or easily misconstrued?”
Let’s consider these …
- SOCIAL MEDIA: Always be mindful of character limits for each platform. For example, to tweet an article, add hashtags to your copy, not after the copy, and consider a URL shortener to keep things in check.
- EMAIL NEWSLETTERS: This format will always vary depending on your subscribers’ device or email program, but shorter headlines are more likely to be viewed in full. And more enticing.
- READABILITY: It’s easier to read and digest a shorter headline quickly. People are less likely to read it if you make it too long. And if you make it easy for the reader, they will be drawn to it. Please don’t give them a job; provide them with a solution.
#7. MAKE THESE SUCKERS SHOW UP IN GOOGLE SEARCHES.
In the current world, we live in, writing is meant to be read and shared, and keywords are ESSENTIAL to optimizing your search engine performance. So, remember to include them in the headline and your body content, social blurbs, hashtags, and so on. This is extremely important, so let me repeat that … make sure you include the EXACT SAME WORDS in the content that you have used in your headline. A good tip for an even more efficient search is to ensure your keywords are at the beginning of your headline. These keywords will catch the attention of your target audience on every virtual platform you place them in, as well as all other search results.
This is truly headline magic at its finest!
#8. BE ULTRA-CRAZY SPECIFIC.
Because of the sheer amount of digital marketing out there, the odds of coming across the same headlines over and over are enormous. And quite frankly …on the rise.
So, it’s worth the time to explore making your headlines unique and very specific. Neil Patel is a true master at this. He is unequivocal with his titles. They do not beat around the bush. Neil writes headlines like “Why I turn down $1,671,000 a year to protect my brand” and “How X increased my web traffic by Y% in Z days.” Being this crazy specific will attract people to your headlines when what you have to say is EXACTLY what they have been looking for. Plus, they will also attract the ones you WANT to work with. No time suckers there … Yup, your exact target market! You have seriously weaned through the crowd … cut down their time spent sifting through the rest of the information out there. That is already the start of a beautiful relationship — imagine their attitude as they read your piece now? Happy! Happy! Happy!
This also speaks to how simple the headline is … So, don’t let over-complicated headlines detract a reader.
With that being said, there is a truly fabulous quote by Joseph Pulitzer that comes to mind …
What a newspaper needs in its news, in its headlines, and on its editorial page is crispness, humour, descriptive power, satire and originality, good literary style, clever condensation, and accuracy, accuracy, accuracy!
Let’s keep going, as there are only two more quick tips to share today …!
#9. CREATE A SENSE OF URGENCY.
It has been said that effective marketing boils down to creating a fear of missing out on a fantastic deal. FOMO, as we know it! So, if you create that urgency in your words, people will feel compelled to click and keep reading. We, as humans, need a force that propels us toward action. To act now, not tomorrow. Click now, not bookmark it to scope out later! That is what urgency does when you use it in your headline writing. And your conversion rates will improve dramatically when headlines are written with a sense of urgency. And a bonus is in the content, too, of course. (Which it should be!)
Potential customers tend to respond quickly because our brains are wired to buy based on emotions. But also to justify that decision based on logic. So, show them the logic! Logic plus emotions plus giving them precisely what they need equals a slam-dunk conversion!
#10. SOLVE THAT PAIN POINT.
We should always make sure we are writing valuable headlines. We want to create copy that helps our readers and improves their lives. We can tell them about our offerings to solve their problems and ease their pain points. Keeping in mind the sheer volume of people looking to provide this for your target audience … we need to stand out and make them see us in a sea of others. Show them why we are the best. So, by writing headlines that are easy to understand, the moment a potential reader stumbles on your web page, landing page or social post, they won’t need any help to figure out what you’re talking about. The goal is clarity of purpose, NOT to look fancy or super educated. No one likes a no-it-all! Simplicity and being genuine are what will keep them returning to your offerings over and over again.
So, with all the new and emerging content marketing strategies hitting the world wide web daily, it can be challenging to focus on the foundations and “rules” for killer headline writing. This is why intelligent digital marketers are very disciplined. They have to be! And with all the information available at our fingertips, it can be very overwhelming if you are not. So, you must understand the importance of great content and its effects on your conversions which goes hand-in-hand with your overall success. You need to generate leads and traffic. That’s the bottom line.
Today we have shared just how important the headline is in your content marketing strategy. No matter what format you work in or what platform you are posting on, it is a significant player. And a highly effective and fantastic player it can be! Your end game and prime focus should always be genuinely educating prospective customers on your offerings by teaching them new things. By offering value. By taking care of their pain points.
It’s not just about them clicking on your headline; it’s about what happens after. They need to read your words to receive your message. And you can lead them there with a headline that screams, “READ ME! I promise to give you what you look for every time!”
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