Writing headlines can sometimes take me forever. You know that feeling when you’ve finished your first draft of the article and you think the hard part is over? Then, you can’t get to that perfect headline and you end up spending as much time on it as you did writing the piece. Or worse, maybe you don’t give it the attention it deserves and just throw something up there.
First, there is no shame in putting a lot of time and thought into your headline. Some days the headline comes to you right away or while you’re writing the piece; or it’s what inspired the article to begin with. Those are great days and I mark them in my journal alongside my great hair days. But they are rare (like my great hair days).
You already know the importance of a strong headline so I won’t spend time discussing that. We know it’s what attracts the traffic in social news feeds and when it comes to search engines matching us up with user queries.
What makes a great headline?
Your headline should give the viewer enough information to know they want to click through. It should hit a pain point for them and make a promise to solve a problem (or entertain, educate… whatever the goal of your piece of content is) What it should not do is insult them with trickery and games “This man fell on the street and called for help and you won’t believe what happened next” or mislead “Never Work a Full Day Again.”
Your audience doesn’t like being patronized. They are a smart group of individuals who just want to know what your article is about and why they should read it. Unless you’re Jane Austen putting the finishing touches on a literary classic, your readers don’t expect an art form. We don’t need clever, cute or creative.
It’s Harder Than It Sounds
When I get stuck, I try these three questions to get there. As I explained, I’m looking for a headline that explains in plain terms what the reader will get by reading this. I also want it to be snappy and intriguing. Lastly, I want to be thinking about what prospects are searching for. We want the search engines to match you up with those people, right? Which is why the cutesy clever titles don’t work. No one is searching for lessons I can learn from my dog about financial planning. (Let me add quickly here that sometimes the goal isn’t organic search and if you have a funny title or something you know no one will search, but you love it and it will get shared, don’t let it stop you from using it.)
So here are the questions I pose to get those stubborn headlines out of the ether in less time.
1. What is my hidden gem?
It might be the sentence just above this: Questions I Pose To Get Those Stubborn Headlines Out of the Ether.
I copy and paste it at the top and know it’s a working title. I don’t like it, but maybe I can work with it. It’s not results oriented, and would I click on it if I saw it in my newsfeed? Probably not.
I did the following two-question exercise with a client last week and it worked like a charm. She works for a financial services firm and had a post ready to publish called IRA Planning.
The problem with this title is it’s too broad. What type of IRA? For whom? What is an IRA? Why do I care about IRA Planning? Secondly, my client is never going to compete well for the key phrase IRA Planning. If you Google it now, you’ll see the major institutions including the IRS have it pretty much locked up.
2. What is my article about in one sentence?
Stop overthinking it. Step away from your monitor and tell your imaginary friend sitting across from you in one sentence or less what the article is about.
“Well, it’s about the options to fund your ROTH IRA”
OK, we’re getting somewhere: Options To Fund Your ROTH IRA
3. So what?
Next question I asked her: Options To Fund Your ROTH IRA - “So that….what?” (That’s the “why should I care?” line.)
“So they have better tax-free growth.”
And there is your headline: Options For Funding Your ROTH IRA For Better Tax-Free Growth.
Back to the headline for this article. What is this article about? There are a million articles about writing compelling headlines. Most of them describe qualities of a good headline, or the elements in one. I wanted to do something different. I wanted to help you spend less time on your headline by asking yourself three questions.
Questions I Pose To Get Those Stubborn Headlines Out of the Ether
Spend Less Time Writing Your Headline By Asking Yourself Three Questions
Write Great Headlines Fast By Asking Three Questions
Next time you’re trying to rustle that tough headline out of it’s cave, think about it in two steps and balance the two – think about your readers and community first, and SEO second. What is the article about in one sentence? Make sure you give enough information for someone seeing it to click through to it while thinking about what your searchers are looking for. And one other thing: Don’t give it all away. Make them want more – the “click-through.”
What would you add?
This is a modified version of a post I originally wrote for Vocus.