Tutorial – How to Write a Headline

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Transcript of How to Write a Headline Video Tutorial

Hello everyone. So as we continue our journey through content development, we’re taking one idea from absolute — choosing the topic and the kernel of the idea and bringing it all the way through to an email. Publishing it as a blog post, promoting it and then sending it as an email to our subscribers. At this point, we are in the midst of writing a good headline, so I wanted to give you some really specific instructions guidelines, frankly, to write substantially better headlines than you otherwise might.

The first thing to know is that headlines make a massive difference in how successful your blog post is. This would also apply if you were publishing an e-book. It certainly applies to your opt-in incentive, aka your lead magnet or ethical bribe, depending on how you refer to it. What I tell you here will also strongly influence how well your headlines do on social media. If you write tweets with this information, it will help you. If you write Facebook updates, it will help you. There are some shades of gray refinements that you can do for each social media platform. I’m not going to cover that here. I’m really focusing, frankly, on blog posts. Though, again, this would apply to e-books, lead magnets and other fairly substantial stuff. It would also apply to videos as well.

Like it says here, the headline really determines you success It is true that four out of five people will read the headline copy and nothing else. Headlines are so powerful that actually the website Upworthy, which publishes articles basically by regular people. Upworthy does a lot of headline tests, it’s how they get their content to be so viral and so well read. They have found that they can increase an articles exposure by 500% based on their headline tests. Standard article, as written by the author might get you 100 shares and with a little tweaking and a little testing to the headline, they can get 500 shares out of that. That’s one of the reasons why we’re focusing on headlines, because they are super powerful and they are very worth a little time.

They are so powerful that, actually back in the day, there was an old copy writing rule that you spend half of your writing time on your headline. I’m not going to suggest you do that, that half of your time on your headline is really more gauged to, say, print ads or to long-form sales letters. It does give you an idea of just how much weight the headline carries and the guys who are making millions from their copy writing, they spend at least a third and probably half their time just on the headline.

The good news is that we don’t have to spend half of our time on the headline. We’ve got enough data and testing these days that we can just apply a couple really fairly simple rules/guidelines to our headlines and make them substantially better in 10 or 20 minutes. Do honor that 10 or 20 minutes. You really should be spending about 15 minutes on your headlines at the very least. I probably spend about I would say at least 20 minutes, depending on the headline. Sometimes it might be 25 minutes. Again, this is a lot of gray These are all guidelines, so don’t get too caught up in setting a timer and spending 20 minutes on your headline.

First thing, and probably the most important thing is headline length. You will immediately notice that we’ve got three different ideal headline lengths here. Again, none of this is the absolute, carved in stone sort of thing. I do like studies though more than I like opinions. Six words is an opinion, this is from a lot of conversion experts and they have come up with six words because the human mind digests things well when they’re in threes, so the six words is three words for an intro, three words for a close. They consider that the ideal length.

Again, we’ve got this out brain study. Out brain is this massive content marketing network that you might want to use if you’ve got a big budget. This is for English headlines. They also did Italian and German, so if you’re writing for those languages, you might want to take a look at the specifics there. As you can see, really between 10 and 12 words and up to 21 words is what did best. For their audience, they found 16 to 18 words really stole the show.

Frankly, in my experience, I would be more in the camp with the content marketing institute and the UK newspaper, the Guardian, where they say that eight words generally works best for their headlines. I know that if I submitted a 21 word headline to any of the different clients I write for, the different blogs that I guest post for, it would get re-written. They wouldn’t tolerate a headline that long. I probably wouldn’t publish something on my site that was that long. I’m really more comfortable around the eight words, but this is something I really ought to test and we will talk about that in a moment too.

Next thing to know is to use numbers. We have talked about listicles in the past. This is the data that shows why listicles are so popular and why they deserve that popularity. They get more clicks than other things. Part of this leverages the principle of specificity and I will talk about that more in a moment. A clearer example of how numbers demonstrate specificity is when you use large numbers or odd numbers. Odd numbers, like it says, they tend to do about 20% better. I certainly would support that, again, I have not tested, but if you’ve got a funny number, you come up with, say, “57 Ideas For How To Optimize Your Blog” and you’re thinking “oh, I should just round it up to make it 50 because that sounds better.” Actually no, use the more specific number. The reason for that is if you’ve got a study where you get 300% increase in click-through for “x” technique versus a headline that says “we got 327% increase in clicks for ‘x’ technique,'” know that the headline that says 327% will do better than the 300. The reason for this is that the 300% kind of sounds like marketing hype, it’s a little vague. The 327%, that sounds like somebody did an actual test, that that information is verifiable and not somebody’s opinion. That’s almost always why the 327% will do better. When in doubt, go specific.

Also, these large numbers, they do great. While it’s cool to have an article that’s “seven ways to optimize your site,” I know from watching a lot of blog posts; if you’ve got a post that says “57 ways to optimize your site” or “87 ways” or “137 ways to optimize your post,” that will get more shares and more readers than the seven ways to optimize your post. People just feel like they’re getting more for their money, even though it’s free. I guess they’re getting more for their time, so that’s a legitimated twist on it.

Use adjectives. This is a real gray area. As you can see, I wrote not too many. This is another example from conductor who did a bunch of headline studies that we’re all very grateful for. They sell the best results with one headline and notice it’s best. Best is one of those words that often does really well. The plain version got some lift, but not too much. Three adjectives did the worst. Four did very nearly as well as the best. So what their takeaway is for this is use one. Then we’ve got this outlier here where they just completely loaded everything up and they got a really good result. Again, all of this is with a grain of salt.

This is something I have referred to before, but be specific is really an underlying success factor for headlines. If you want a simple rule, whenever you’re in doubt between headline A and headline B, pick the headline that is more specific. You will almost always make the right choice. After that, go after the audience, but we’ll talk about that in a moment.

Use the right case. This was really surprising for me. Again, Conductor did this cool study and they found sentence case, or their definition of sentence case, was preferred. I got more clicks, more shares. They define sentence case as this; for you copy editors, you may know that that’s kind of an unusual definition of sentence case. It’s basically where they capitalize the first letter of each word, including articles. I, frankly, on my blog have been using lowercase because I kind of aim for the more casual, but I’m probably going to switch to sentence case now. I think the reason behind this is that it makes it easier to read. I actually know from way too much experience with paper click ads that if you capitalize the first letter of each word in a paper click URL, you’ll get significantly better click through rate. It’s because it makes it easier to read. We use that little caps as a visual marker that it’s a new word, because we’re not reading, we’re all zooming through all the information we come across online.

That does make sense to me that sentence case would work better, because it really helps in paper click ads when you capitalize the first letter of each word in a URL.

Next thing, we talked about this. This is the only way to know what’s going to work. There are, as you can see, five different plugins that you can test headlines with. Pay attention when you’re looking at WordPress A/B split test plugins. Some of them are only for landing pages. Some of them only test templates or maybe stuff in the navigation. You want something that specifically tests headlines. All these do, two of them are free and one of them has a two week trial, which is pretty cool. Ideally, I would have a couple of tests that I’ve run and be able to tell you which one I like best, but that’s going to have to be for a different tutorial.

As you can see, there’s nice options and they’re not too back-breaker expensive. Those of you on really tight budgets, you’ve got three options. It’s a start.

Next thing is exploit fear. I don’t really — this is not my favorite tip at all but there is just no denying it. Fear sells. I was recently doing some AB split tests for a content marketer in the health niche and we saw increases of far more than 30% when we went with a super negative “you’re going to die” kind of headline. I think it was like 47%, it really blew the doors off the other headline. It applies to other niches. I’m sure any niche that there’s a bit of fear and uncertainty, like financial section would be a good thing that negative headlines do well. Again, it’s kind of a drag that fear is such a motivator but we’re working with human nature and we kind of have to meet it where it is.

As “location, location, location” is to real estate, “audience, audience, audience” is to content marketing. You must adjust your headline to your audience. Say if you’re writing a guest blog post, you always want to go to the section of the post, hopefully they have a most popular post list. Look at that, really pay attention to it. If you see everyone of those articles has a number at the beginning, you might want to think about adding a number to the beginning of your headline. If you see, like, two out of three of them has “the worst mistake I ever made on internet marketing” or “are you making any of these 12 mistakes,”; negative stuff, you might want to go with that. Don’t be completely ruled by this, but that’s really useful information that you should use to inform your decisions about what you do with your headline.

Finally, keyword research. Don’t be rules by it. We’ve done keyword research. It’s really essential that you do keyword research to have a good shot, but I want you to be writing for people first and search engines second. There’s been a debate in the SEO world and the content world for quite a few years about “do you write for your audience first or do you write for search engines first?” I used to subscribe to the opinion that you write for the search engines first because if you don’t get past the search engines, your audience is never going to see you. I have changed my mind about that because Google has made so many updates to their algorithm that really penalize over optimization. You do not want to be over optimizing. You still need to do it, like I said, but keep it in the back of your mind. Don’t be ruled by it.

Another thing is that Google search engine rankings are strongly determined by what they call “social signals,” which is basically social shares, social comments, how much interest there is for your content on social media. Another thing is that Google’s search engine rankings are now heavily controlled by bounce rate. How often people read. Do people come back to your site? Your click through rate, should your article show in the serps.

I’m really in the camp now that you write for people first and for search engines second. I can give you some more reasons, but that’s really where I’m at right now and I would bet $10,000 on it, frankly. I really have made it a business strategy that I write for people first and search engines second.

That is more than enough to make you guys dangerous with headlines. You’ll get a lot more results from the work you put in if you follow even a couple of these. Again, they’re guidelines, use them where they make sense. They will help you a lot. We have a fair amount of work to do to build our list, so the more we can get this kind of optimization in place and make it automatic and make it easier for you to write a solid headline in 10 minutes or less, that’s really where we start to beat the curve and start winning and building our lists and building our audiences and building our traffic and building our reputation and ultimately building our businesses.

I hope that was helpful, and I will see you in the next video. Take care. Bye.

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