by Joan Stewart
On average, 8 of 10 people never make it past your headline or title.
That’s because headlines are usually an afterthought–slapped onto an article, a press release or a blog post after you’ve spent an hour or two painstakingly writing it, rewriting, proofreading and correcting errors.
By the time you’re done with all that, you’re exhausted. So you write the first headline thing that comes to mind. In my work as a publicity expert, a writing coach a former newspaper editor, I’ve identified five major problems with headlines and titles.
Why Headlines Fall Flat
These also apply to press releases, headlines at the top of your website’s homepage and titles of White papers, ebooks and YouTube videos.
- They’re vague. A headline like “Isn’t It time You Looked in the Mirror?” could be about how to deal with wrinkles. Or it could be about taking a personal inventory. Don’t make readers guess!
- They’re too short. Don’t feel obligated to write only one line on a blog post, but make every word count. On a YouTube video, use all 50 characters in the title–that’s valuable real estate where you can insert one or more keywords or keyword phrases. And please, no one-word headlines, ever. Even two-word headlines like “It’s Complicated” will make it next to impossible to attract anyone’s attention.
- There’s no promise of a benefit. Headlines that tell readers exactly what they’ll get will prompt them to read further. The headline on this blog post promises my tools will help you “Write Killer Headlines.”
- They’re boring. Use a headline to paint a picture and notice how long that headline is.
- They’re confusing. A bad play on words, a pun that doesn’t work, or a headline that tries to be too cute often confuses readers. A confused reader does one thing: leaves.
Seven of My Favorite Free Tools
1. Magazine Covers, Especially Cosmo
I’m not above stealing killer headlines, removing a few words and substituting my own. You shouldn’t be either.
Many consumer magazines use “formula headlines.” They sound alike from one magazine to the next. They often begin with a numeral. Some are written in the form of a question. And professional copywriters steal them from each other all the time, remove a word or two and substitute their own.
Here’s a Cosmopolitan magazine cover I’ll use to illustrate my point:
10 Things Guys Crave in Bed can be turned into:
8 Things Moms Crave on Vacation
7 Things Supervisors Crave from Their CEOs
9 Things Authors Crave from Their Readers
The Surprising Trait 80% of Men Find Sexy can be turned into:
The Surprising Quirk Found in 60% of Introverts
The Surprising Tool Make-up Artists Find Indispensable
The Surprising Treat Dogs Find Irresistible (and It’s Healthy)
Here’s the best part. You don’t even have to buy the magazines! Do a Google search for “Cosmopolitan magazine” and click on “Images.” Click on each cover for a closer look at the headlines.
Those formula headlines are everywhere!
And they’re so handy, that blogger Chris Garrett collected dozens of his favorites, removed a word or two from each, and compiled them into the free PDF 102 Headline Writing Formulas.
He has divided them into six categories: Get What You Want (Health, Wealth, Relationships; Time and Lifestyle); Crystal Ball and History; Problems and Fears; Fact, Fiction, Secrets, Truth and Lies; How-to Tricks of the Trade; and Best and Worst.
No opt-in required. All you have to do is choose one that works for you, and then fill in the blanks.
Here are a few examples of what you’ll find:
- 101 Most Popular __________ Myths
- 101 Things Not to Tell ___________
- How to Spot a Fake ___________
- Are ___________ a Dying Breed?
- 10 _________ We Don’t Want to See __________
3. Content Idea Generator
Create an account and answer 18 simple questions about your products and services. In less than one second, the Content Idea Generator will give you literally hundreds of great ideas for blog posts, articles, tweets, White Papers, ebooks, videos, etc. Double opt-in required.
I spent just a few minutes answering all the questions related to my area of expertise, getting free publicity. With one click of the mouse, it suggested 360 headlines. Some of them just won’t work, but here are a few of the best:
- 10 Reasons Why Buying Expensive Ads is the Worst Option for a Business Owner
- 7 Things to Think About Before You Give Reporters a Great Pitch
- Lady Gaga’s Secret to Getting Free Publicity
- 5 Must-Have Resources for Getting Free Publicity
4. Emotional Headline Analyzer
Reaching your customers in a deep and emotional way is the key to successful copywriting. The Emotional Headline Analyzer will analyze your headline to determine the Emotional Marketing Value score. It looks for three types of words in your headlines:
The first time I played around with it while writing a blog post about this tool, I typed the headline “Write more powerful headlines with this free tool.” I only scored 25 percent! I kept rewriting the headline and watched my score slowly creep up. You can see all the versions here, along with the final score. If I had kept at it, I could have scored even higher.
When I wrote about tool this in my publicity tips newsletter, several readers emailed me and said they were able to improve lousy headlines in the 40th and 50th percentile by repeatedly rewriting them and scoring in the 90th percentile. One of my readers scored 100 percent, next to impossible.
If you want to use two words that rhyme, the B-Rhymes rhyming dictionary gives you words that sound good together even though all of them don’t technically rhyme.
Here’s an example: I searched for words that rhyme with “publishing.” It returned 99 words, many of them way off base. But I used some of the better words—promising, flourishing, everything, ravishing and perishing—in headlines that also includes the word publishing:
- 7 Promising Facts About Digital Publishing
- What Flourishing Authors Know About Publishing Ebooks
- Everything You Need to Know about Ebook Publishing
- 9 Ravishing Book Covers That Beautify Publishing
- Why Traditional Publishing is Perishing
6. Link Bait Title Generator
Go to LinkBait Title Generator and type the main keyword associated with your topic. It will ask you what style of headline you’d like: controversial, fun, list or shocking. I wanted controversial headlines about pets. It created 13 headlines for me. These are the best:
- The connection between pets and sex
- 11 things the media isn’t telling you about pets
- 10 ways marketers are making you addicted to pets
- 10 pets myths busted
When I asked for headlines with the word “pets” that are fun, it offered these:
- 10 ways pets can help you live to 100
- 4 jaw-dropping pets videos
- 10 ways pets can suck the life out of you
7. How to Write Magnetic Headlines ebook
Copyblogger, the premiere blog for copywriting and content marketing, has a killer triple-crown of freebies for you. Opt in here and you can get:
- The ebook How to Write Magentic Headlines.
- Instant access to 13 other high-impact ebooks on content marketing, email marketing, keyword research and landing pages.
- A 20-part course that lays out the proven framework for online marketing that works, directly to your inbox.
You now have a headline toolbox filled with fun, free tools. Keep these within easy reach and you’ll never be stumped again.
What tools or techniques have you found that make writing titles and headlines easier? The Comments section awaits.
This article was originally published on The Future of Ink and is reprinted here in its entirety for our Magnolia Media Network readers.