‘First impressions count.’
This familiar saying has been a part of our social zeitgeist for, well, forever. We pray we make a good one, and are terrified of making bad ones. It’s why we read articles on what to wear for interviews (because nothing says ‘serious candidate’ like a silver pencil skirt). It’s also why we send our friends panicked messages on the way to first dates, and why meeting the parents has been the core plot line for multiple Hollywood films.
If you’re like most people, you probably fear first impression failure.
Let’s be frank. As a species, we appreciate seconds. Second coffees. Second breakfasts. A second wind. Second chances. With first impressions, you’re denied that. You have only one, lonely little opportunity to make a positive impact.
Fortunately, we live in the age of the internet – and while there’s certainly many downsides to that, making a good first impression is not one of them.
Online, you can plan, experiment with and craft your digital ‘meet cute’ down to the tiniest detail – which, for brands and businesses in particular, is great news. It means that, if you put the work in, you can tailor exactly how you and your brand’s content comes across, maximising your chances of clicks, conversions and ultimately, customers.
But the devil is in the details – and before you can get any of those juicy results, you have to make that all-important first impression. Which, in terms of content, is your headline.
Let’s talk a little more about headlines, shall we?
Though dishing up a title that’s to die for might not be the most winsome prospect after spending hours (or even days) perfecting your content, it’s crucially important if you want results. Snap judgements can be made in mere moments, and engagements are hugely affected by how irresistible your headline is.
But this simple truth has complex parameters.
Actually writing a clickable, interesting and first impression-worthy title comes with a whole set of things to consider:
- Though 8/10 people will read your headline, only 2/10 will read your content (no pressure, then) (Copyblogger)
- Longer headlines are usually more effective when it comes to most content (excluding email subject lines), though trend downwards when they’re beyond 100 characters (Polar Blog)
- Everybody agrees that clickbait-style headlines seem desperate and boring – so keep your titles chill, people (Buzzsumo)
- Magic words exist. In a Buzzsumo report, the headlines with the most clicks on Facebook involved the words ‘will make you’, ‘this is why’ and ‘can we guess’ (Buzzsumo)
- Conversely, there are dull, Muggle words that you should avoid. In the same report, Buzzsumo warns against using ‘control of your’, ‘your own business’ and ‘work for you’ (Buzzsumo)
So… how do you actually write one, then?
Based on the facts above and our own expertise, we’ve devised these headline-writing rules of thumb to help you put your best content foot forward. (We’re nice like that.)
1. Be as direct as humanly possible, and show the value of your content.
People like to know that whatever they’re clicking on will benefit, impact on or entertain them in some way. State that your content does that, and you’ll instantly spark intrigue.
Example: ‘This is why scientists are saying chocolate is healthier than lettuce’ (We wish.)
2. Avoid being too ‘commanding’.
While people like directness, we hate being told what to do. So if you demand participation from your readers, you’ll likely be ignored. Invite them to engage – don’t force. (That means no more ‘if you don’t read this post you’ll be haunted by a malicious poltergeist until you die’ headlines.)
One way to do this is to state who your target audience is. This suggests to the reader that, if they fit that category, your content will benefit them. It’s persuasive without adding pressure.
Example: ‘10 brilliant tips for writers from authors on how to write tear-jerkingly good blurbs’
3. Make it informative. According to Polar Blog, size matters, and the length of your headline has a direct impact on the amount of clicks it’ll get.
This makes sense. Long titles can convey a lot, and can also make your offering seem more unique, as you can draw on details specific to your work that’ll set you apart from similar content. (We tip our hats to Fall Out Boy. They were way ahead of the curve with their essay-length song titles.)
Example: ‘Recent study with more than 1 million participants shows we’re all addicted to Buzzfeed quizzes’
4. Be a person! Gone are the days where automated, lifeless content is engaged with (unless it’s Botnik’s, a company where creators use machines to generate work. Their content is hilarious. They got robots to rewrite Harry Potter).
Make it emotional, talk frankly and be authentic. Avoid hard sells, coldness or demands. If you can connect with people in a geniune way, then by all means you should do so. Speaking to your readers’ hearts is a surefire way to make your content (and your brand) seem instantly valuable.
Example: ‘This video of a young llama in a pink jacket will make you cry tears of joy!’
Ultimately, don’t cut corners.
Your content’s success hangs on your headline – so to make a first impression that really counts, put the effort in. It’ll be worth it.
Do headlines give you headaches? Drop us a message over on our Contact page and we’ll do the work for you.