7 Reasons to Learn Headline Writing

Illustration showing someone learning to write headlines, or at least writing something.

Why learn to write good headlines?

Originally, I was going to write an article on how to write a good headline for a blog post, but in doing a little research, I noticed two things: First, there are a lot of articles on that topic, and second, many give the why short shrift. While the how is certainly a useful skill to master, and one that I may still write myself about in the future, if you don’t understand what that skill will give you, you’ll never prioritize learning it.  I put together what I think are seven key reasons to learn headline writing.

1) Your headline is the article’s “first impression”

One of the statistics I’ve seen again and again is that roughly 80% of people read a headline, but only 20% go further. So if you work the basic idea of your article into the headline or title, you’ll actually reach a larger audience. For example, the title of this post: 7 Reasons to Learn Headline Writing. For the 80% of people who only read the headline, they’ll still go away understanding that there are many reasons to increase their skill in headline writing. That in itself might be enough to plant a seed in their mind, or adjust they way they think a little bit.

2) Learn headline writing and you’ll use it everywhere

When you learn to write good headlines, you’re learning a skill that can serve in a variety of situations. The same thing that makes a good blog headline also makes a good title for your white paper that you give away as part of your lead capture system. Or the title of the page where people subscribe to your email list. The same rules serve you well when writing email subject lines.  The skill applies to social media posts and image captions. Learn headline writing once, use it a thousand times.

3) Directly and positively impact your sales

Online experiments, something I do for my clients, can often show big gains when a headline is improved. One business I worked with experimented with the bold “headline” text on a coupon they used. One version used their usual positive tone, the other was more of a warning about something negative. The new version had significantly increased responses. In this example, we could actually measure how much more business the better headline had brought in, and that’s not an unusual thing to see when doing headline tests.

4) Sometimes the headline is all you can see

People share links all the time on social media.  Sometimes, the only thing that shows up in the preview is the title of the page. Guess what? Yup, another place the headline shows up. When people share your blog article with their friends on Facebook or Google+ or wherever, you don’t know how it will display because you don’t control your their sharing behavior.  However, almost all sites display at least the headline in link-type social posts.  Here’s an example of how one share of a link to this blog was shown on Facebook:

Facebook's display of a link showing only the headline; learn to write headlines well so when this happens people have a better chance of visiting

Notice that it didn’t pull any images from that page, and only a tiny amount of the text of the article.  The main thing people have to go on is that big text at the top, which happens to be part the title of the article.  This ties in a little bit to #1 on the list, but in the case of many “previews” on social media sites, it’s not that only 20% read the article, but that they actually can’t read the article unless they take the extra step of clicking on the link and opening it up. A good headline can actually make that happen, which leads us to…

5) A good headline drives action

When you want readers to do something, it’s often advised that you include a “call to action.” This is where you say, “Call now,” or “Click here,” or “Subscribe to get your free gift” or whatever, you’re calling people to action. Although CTAs are typically much shorter than a full headline, they draw from the same set of skills to engage readers and pull them in. So even if you’re not focused directly on sales, but rather getting more people looking at your stuff, sharing your content, or subscribing to your YouTube channel, good headline writing will help with all those goals as well.

6) Search Engine Optimization

Search engines aren’t really that smart. They’re improving a lot, but they’re still just machines. How do you help the search engines understand what your article is about so that they are more likely to show it in the search results of your target market? You bet, you write better headlines. There are lots of things that impact what pages show up where on the search results, but the title of a page and its major headlines are a couple of the big ones. Why? Because search engines want to show results that are relevant to the searcher’s needs, which means the search engine needs to “understand,” at some level, what the page is about. What better way than using what humans do to get a sense of an article–look at the headline! Your headline writing will help you reach not only the humans you’d like to connect with, but also the computers who can help you do that.

7) There’s some fascinating psychology involved

This one’s just kind of fun. It’s not necessarily about your business directly, but human beings are kind of interesting.  Marketers and writers, and all those other folks who regularly have to write effective headlines, have learned all kinds of quirks about human behavior. For example, earlier I mentioned the experiment comparing a positive and negative headline. I was not surprised that the negative one came out on top because psychologists have found that the fear of loss is about twice as strong in most people than the desire for gain. (Test this out on yourself: if a stranger came up and offered to give you $10 if a coin flip comes up heads, but you’d have to give him $10 if it came up tails, would you take it? What if he’d give you $20 if you won, but you only had to give him $10 if you lost?) These are the sorts of things you’ll end up learning about when building your headline writing skills. And that’s kinda fun.

While it’s not specifically about learning headline writing, this recent article about a “social network mind trick” from Kelsey Libert on the Moz.com blog is just such an interesting tidbit of psychology that I’m talking about.

Posted by Michael J. Coffey  |  0 Comment  |  in Blogging, Email & Lead Capture

About Michael J. Coffey

Michael started learning about online marketing as the web store manager for a scrappy little game retailer during the "dot com bubble" of the 1990s. Since then he's helped fitness companies, tea wholesalers and retailers, lawyers, clothing designers, restaurateurs, and entrepreneurs in many other fields. In his spare time he drinks very high quality tea, writes letters with a fountain pen, and reads literature.

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