The reality for content publishers today – your audience does not read your stuff!
I can hear the sighs and gasps of disbelief as you ponder this fact. But I have a strong case and point.
Monitor your own behaviour right now.
Are you looking forward to reading and absorbing each carefully crafted sentence in this article or are you skimming along in an effort to soak up the high points?
Carry on (as if you didn’t know the ugly truth about your readers habits) and come back to this point in a few minutes.
So what’s the point in creating compelling content if no-one is reading it?
It’s clear that you need great content on your website, otherwise what the heck are you thinking? And content leads to traffic. Which leads to welcoming and warm ‘pre-sold’ visitors who love you and happily click the call to action on each and every page and email you to help you reach your monetization goals.
Fantastic CTPM (Content – Traffic – PreSell – Monetize) in action.
But you need to be savvy with your content – create hooks that grab readers attention. Great copywriting is persuasive writing and you need to be smooth and hard-sell free.
The best way forward – hook ‘em with great headlines!
1) A headline is a promise.
A good headline tells readers why it’s worth investing the next few minutes of their lives reading this particular article. The article itself is the promise made good.
While it’s possible to write a good article and “kill it” with a bad headline, you cannot take a bad article and salvage it with a good headline (you may hook readers with a compelling promise, but they’ll soon stop reading when it’s clear you’ve failed to deliver).
It’s crucial for your credibility that you keep any promises you make. So…
Never promise a dollar and only deliver a dime. Equally, don’t bury a one-dollar article beneath a ten-cent headline.
2) “Front-loaded” headlines are usually better.
The strongest part of a sentence is the beginning. So if you can do it naturally, start your headline with your Specific Keyword (or a close variant if it’s awkward).
A good way to achieve this is to flip the headline around and use a colon, like here…
“The Ultimate Guide to Fish Breeding”
“Fish Breeding: The Ultimate Guide”
The second headline is a much stronger construction. First comes the topic… then the promise.
In this case, the headline promises to tell the reader everything he need to know about breeding fish (so if you use a headline like that, you’d better not disappoint!).
It won’t always be possible to “lead” with your topic, so don’t force it. Just be aware that, all other things being equal, a fast-scanning reader is more likely to stop on a headline if it’s front-loaded with concrete words relevant to what he’s looking for.
The search engines, not coincidentally, will consider the headline/title to be a touch more relevant, too.
But keep it real. Never force it. Humans come first, always!
3) Find your “angle” first.
Everybody is different and everybody works in different ways. Generally speaking, though, it’s much better to write the headline before you write the article. Why?…
Because a great headline contains an article’s spin, its positioning, its angle of attack.
Decide on your “angle” first and the article will more or less write itself. But write the article first, with no clear strategy in mind, and you may not be able to make a compelling promise when it’s time to write the headline. Why? Because the article itself is not compelling.
Let’s say that your topic is “clam chowder recipe.” Great. But what’s your angle?…
- quick clam chowder
- healthy clam chowder
- cheat’s clam chowder
- luxurious clam chowder
- traditional clam chowder
- clam chowder with a modern twist
- the best clam chowder recipe ever
- budget clam chowder
True, some keywords already contain the angle (ex., “quick clam chowder recipe”). If so, great… that’s half the battle won. But to write a good headline (and a good article), you need to go deeper…
“Quick” (as an angle) is vague. And “vague” is dull.
The difference between dull writing and engaging writing comes down, in part, to concrete details. So be as specific as you can…
Vague: Quick Clam Chowder
Specific: Clam Chowder in Under 7 Minutes
Vague: Traditional Clam Chowder
Specific: Clam Chowder Like Your Grandmother Made
Vague: Healthy Clam Chowder
Specific: Clam Chowder With Half the Calories and All the Taste
Vague: Budget Clam Chowder
Specific: Clam Chowder for Less than $10
Another possible “angle” is the style of your article. So if you’re great at making people laugh, say, promise them a lighter look at the topic in the headline…
- How NOT To Make Clam Chowder
- My Clam Chowder Disasters (and How To Avoid Them)
4) Move beyond the obvious.
Great headlines must stand out. In an increasingly crowded world, it’s the only way you’ll get the click.
Whether a potential reader is searching at the engines, scanning their RSS feeds, or even checking their email, there needs to be something about your headline (or subject line, in the case of an email) that’s compelling.
You don’t want to stand out for the wrong reasons, such as resorting to tabloid-style hyperbole or sensationalism. But stand out you must…
You need to stand out from the uninspiring headlines (“Quick Clam Chowder Recipe”) by not writing an uninspiring headline yourself.
And you need to stand out from the “next level” of obviousness, too: “headline-writing by numbers.” For example, you’ll find a lot of “fill in the blank” headlines online, like these…
- “How To _______ and ________”
- “Why ________ Isn’t ___________”
- “How I ________________”
- “How You Can _____________, Too”
- “7 Ways to __________”
- “Now You Can _______ and ________”
- “The 3 Secrets of ______________”
- “Get Rid of ________ Once and for All”
There are literally hundreds of these classic headline “formulas.” And the reason they are “classic” is that they work! But…
If you “fill in the blanks” with uninspiring words, you will still end up with uninspiring headlines. So you also need to use your brain and get creative.
Take “How to _______________ and ____________” as an example…
“How to Win Friends and Influence People” is great.
“How to Make Clam Chowder and Save Time” is okaaaaaay… but that’s about all.
Use the classics, by all means. But you still need to engage the right half of your brain and move beyond the obvious. How?…
By nailing down your “specific angle” first.
So if your topic is making clam chowder, and you’ve found a great specific angle (as discussed above), you’ll have something interesting to add to the blanks…
Boring: “How YOU Can Make Quick Clam Chowder, Too”
Better: “How YOU Can Make Clam Chowder in Under 7 Minutes, Too”
Boring: “Now You Can Make Clam Chowder and Be Healthy”
Better: “Now You Can Enjoy Tasty Clam Chowder and Not Worry About the Calories”
In all honesty, though, you can forget about fill-in-the-blank headlines and just “tinker with the words” until you come up with something that appeals…
- “Quick Clam Chowder: A Super-Tasty Soup in Under 7 Minutes”
- “Clam Chowder With a Spicy Twist (Your Grandmother Will Hate It)”
5) Don’t forget your audience.
Whatever benefits you promise in your headlines (saving time, saving money, etc.), they will need to be benefits that appeal to your target audience.
So if the VPP (Valuable PREselling Proposition) of your recipe site is “healthy eating,” your audience will be more motivated by the nutritional benefits or the calorie content of clam chowder… rather than how to make it quickly.
And if your VPP is how to cook like the professionals, visitors will be drawn towards a headline that promises to reveal the secret to “depth of flavor,” or to show them how to impress their friends and family.
For more great tips on writing content that hooks your reader please check out the American Writers and Artists blog.