The humble headline. Such a simple construct, really – a one-line summary of a piece of content and why it’s worth reading. Yet, good headline writing is a deceptively complex process. In fact, crafting a clear, powerful, and compelling title may just be the most difficult part of content creation.
Why? Because there is a lot of contradicting advice when it comes to identifying what it takes to write a good headline. For instance:
- You need to set a consistent tone that aligns with your brand, but you want to make sure each piece of content feels unique.
- You should highlight the keywords your audience is searching, yet you need to write for humans, not robots.
- You want to take advantage of social and consumption trends, yet you should avoid cheesy click-bait headlines that detract from the content’s perceived value.
- You want your headlines to be clear and understandable, but you also want to avoid sounding too dull or technical.
And, you have to balance all of these considerations while keeping your word count below the acceptable character-count limits, to boot.
To clear the confusion and help you create headlines that will capture the interest of your target audience, we’ve put together a new guide, How to Cook Up a Killer Content Marketing Headline. In it, you’ll find an outline of the most important rules, along with some suggestions for spicing up your efforts once you’ve mastered the basics.
But to get you started off on the right foot, I’ve put together some additional tips and tools that you can use to generate unique headlines, evaluate how well they perform, and attract your target audience without having to resort to sneaky tactics that may turn off readers.
The secret sauce: Tips that help with headlines
Tip 1: Give yourself options: Headline writing is certainly not an exact science – there’s no definitively right way to craft a compelling title that will guarantee your content gets the attention it deserves. You may find it helpful to create a few headlines for each piece, then select which one you feel will resonate best with your audience.
Of course, it can be difficult to be objective when you’ve put so much effort into every phase of your content creation. If you have trouble deciding among the options, solicit a few outside opinions, as suggested by some of the Content Marketing World (#CMWorld) Twitter community:
- Twitter is a great way to compare the effectiveness of headlines. You can see which one gained more attention. Jade Phillips
- Test them with colleagues at work. That helps a lot too! Liliana GH
Tip 2: Keep score: Since headlines can play a make-or-break role in the success of your content marketing, why take a chance that you’re missing a critical element for success? Instead, quantify your titles’ potential value using a title evaluation scorecard, like the one Roger C. Parker created to guide his headline decisions:
While you may not hit on every item in the list, the higher the score, the more confident you can be that your titles are doing your content justice.
Tip 3: Test the waters: Following the rules of good writing and having a good sense of what will interest your audience are both important for successful headline creation. But if you really want to optimize the traffic coming to your content, you may want to take a more scientific approach to testing the performance of your headlines.
A/B testing (also known as split testing) is the standard method for comparatively evaluating headline options. In this technique, you would randomly segment your audience into two groups, and then send your content to each group, using a different headline for each. If one headline gets a significantly better response than the other, your best bet is to go with the higher-performing one.
Aside from email split testing, there are other ways to test your title ideas. For example, here are a few suggestions from the #CMWorld community:
- We test headlines using PPC and paid banner ads. The winner gets the clicks. Doug Kessler
- Post to (separate) social channels with each headline. Your reporting will tell you which ones perform best (most clicks). Kyla Karakochuk
Tools to help with headline creation and optimization
Headlines should be a unique and personal reflection of the value your content offers. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t get a little technological assistance to help point you in the right direction. From standalone tools and apps to full-scale marketing automation systems, plenty of tech solutions can help with headline creation and optimization. Here are just a few:
Hemingway Editor App: Insert your headline into Hemingway and the tool will give you a color-coded analysis that tells you if your copy is too dense or complex, needs a more active voice, or goes off on an illogical tangent. It also will offer suggestions of replacement words to make your headlines more impactful and understandable.
The Readability Test Tool: The Readability Test Tool takes your copy and rates it based on standardized readability indicators. If this free tool indicates your headlines are too complex, it’s a good idea to revise them so they are easier to understand.
CoSchedule’s Headline Analyzer: CoSchedule has a full suite of paid content management tools, but it offers up its headline analyzer for free. The tool scores your overall headline quality and rates its ability to result in social shares, increased traffic, and SEO value.
Emotional Marketing Value Headline Analyzer: This tool compares your headlines to others in your industry, so you can get a relevant analysis of how emotional your headlines are. It can also help you decide what kind of emotion you want to activate in your customers by enabling you to test various options.
HubSpot’s Blog Topic Generator: Stuck for headline ideas? Just plug in some terms that describe your content’s topic and HubSpot’s handy tool will send you a week’s worth of potential headlines you can customize to your needs.
Cliché Finder: If you are writing all day, every day, it’s natural that some of your words may start to sound cliché. Use this simple tool to uncover the phrases that have lost their impact, so you can consider fresher alternatives.
King Sumo’s Headlines plug-in for WordPress can be used to test your headline options by evaluating which one performs best against your website traffic.
Optimizely: Among the features typically offered by enterprise content management systems such as Optimizely are tools that can help you automate your A/B and multivariate testing processes to receive reliable analyses.
Don’t let a boring, weak, or ill-conceived title derail the success of your carefully crafted content. Try a few of these tips and tools that may make it easier to generate unique headlines, evaluate their performance, and ensure that your content is attracting the massive audience it deserves.
Do you have other tips and tools you would like to recommend for creating powerful, high-performing headlines? We would love to hear about them in our comments.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute
Our tool listings are provided as possible suggestions — they are not meant to be a comprehensive list of the tools available in this category. Inclusion in this list is not an endorsement by the CMI editorial team. If we’ve omitted your favorite tool (from your company or ones that you have used), feel free to include it in the comments.