It’s estimated that on average, 8 out of 10 people will only read your headline. The other 2 will actually scroll through and read the article. Seems insane, right? The take away here is not how short humankind’s attention span has gotten (that’s for another piece), rather it’s how important the headline is for read rates.
We’ve discussed headlines here before, so today is going to be a little different. What we want to do is talk about the different varieties of headline styles you can choose from. For every article you write, you have to not only write the best headline possible to capture your reader's attention, but you also have to decide what style to write it in to also capture their emotion. Each style has its strengths, when it’s appropriate, and its weaknesses, when its better avoided, and we’ll be going over each situation. What we’re not going to do is tell you which style to use when. That has to be your call.
Finding the style that matches the tenor of your article, is true to your brand voice, and will resonate with your readers is something only you can determine. A/B testing is highly recommended, at least at first, to help with this determination as you can try the same heading in different styles and see which has the better read rate. Some questions to ask right out of the gate:
- Is your company vibe laid back? Or more black tie?
- Business casual, or just casual?
- Are you more the “:” sort of company, or the “—” kind?
With that in mind, we offer our top 9 headline styles that can help you grab, and reel in, readers attention, and one to be sure you steer clear of. This list is an amalgam of sorts, with some concrete style recommendations and some concepts to use when formulating your own branded style. Don't have a branding style guide? Get our checklist here and you'll be well on your way to creating one.
1. "The Best…”
Zero in on a pain point you know your audience deals with, then give them a straightforward way to solve it. If that happens to involve your product or service, bonus. And if not, don’t worry about it, the point of content marketing is to show authority in your industry and engender trust in your audience. The key to this style of headline is to draw readers in and give them information they can use. That’s what boosts trust in your brand and will keep them coming back for more.
2. The List
This is the “Top X ideas for..." style of headline, and it’s a proven winner. People like numbers, and they love short entry lists that give them ideas to work with. Find a craft or hobby you know your audience is into, then give them a post that lists the 11 best places to do it, or the 9 top social media accounts they should be following. This headline style shows your human side and makes your content more relatable when they start scrolling to read more.
3. Personal Anecdote
If your content piece is about how you learned to do what you do, your headline should say just that, clearly and straightforwardly. “How we learned to code.” “How I figured out what to do with my life.” And so on. This is another way to show your human side and make your audience feel like they already know you before they even read the story. This style also plays on the fact that people trust people, so you saying that you did this thing this certain way will endear you to your readers and make them trust you even more.
4. Personal Afront
Also known as “throwing shade” headlines, this is a tricky one. When used correctly, it can do wonders for your authority on the subject you’re writing on. However, done poorly it can just turn your audience against you. Styled like “Doing this makes you look like an amateur,” or “The mistake you’re making that’s costing you clients,” this style is an immediate attention grabber. After all, nobody wants to look like an amateur, right?
5. The DIY
This is your standard “How To” guide headline. When your content is a straightforward tutorial or quick start guide, this is the way to go with your headline. It’s clear from the start what you’re offering, there’s no way to not know a tutorial is coming up when the headline says “How to Install Your New Widget.”
6. The Ultimate Guide
When you’ve combined your evergreen How To guides into an all-encompassing guide to…(enter your subject here), this is your go-to headline. Be sure to use words like:
7. The Confidant
“You’re doing great, except for this one thing.” This headline will catch readers attention for similar reasons as “throwing shade,” nobody wants to be called out for doing something wrong. And for similar reasons, this is a touchy style to use, we wouldn’t recommend using either of these too often to avoid alienating your readers. That way, when you do, it will really grab eyeballs and draw readers in to see what could possibly make you so strident.
8. The Emotional Contagion
Words are powerful. Using these or similar words in your headline strike an emotional chord that people find extremely hard to resist. They’ll click or scroll through to find out what triggered such strong emotion in you:
9. The Psychological Trigger
Remember Maslow? Speak to your audience’s need for self-esteem and standing in their community or office, and watch the read rate skyrocket. Assuming your audience has their basic needs met (food, shelter, etc) it’s safe to say they’re ready for a self-esteem boost to help bring them one step closer to self-actualization. And if you can trigger that in your headline, you’ve got ‘em.
BONUS 10. Clickbait
Don’t. Just don’t. No matter how strong the desire to just get people to click through to your content, do not use clickbait-y headlines. If a person sees a sensational headline and clicks through, then they find a standard, boilerplate piece of content instead, they’re never coming back.
Headlines need to be written to draw attention and styled to hold on to it. Now it’s time to experiment with your own headlines. For extra credit, try combining styles to really have an impact:
- “The X Best Ways to…”
- We Did These 7 Things and Increased our Output by X%”
- “How To NOT Look Like an Amateur When You…”
Have fun with headlines, do your research and your A/B testing and you’ll find the right style for your content, your audience, and your brand voice.
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