Be honest: You clicked on this story because of the headline, didn’t you?
Headlines are the single most important piece of a blog post right now. Just as you wouldn’t dream of going fishing without baiting your hook, you shouldn’t post a blog entry without a great headline. Think of it as the bait that encourages people to click. A hook baited with something unappealing, like crickets when the fish wants a worm, won’t get any bites. A hook baited with a big juicy worm is exactly what the fish desires and it will score plenty of action.
Great headlines are what people want. The proof is in the huge success that sites like Upworthy have had in using headlines like this. Upworthy has seen stunning traffic increases and other sites are now trying to adopt the same method.
Read on for more on the case for great headlines, how they can help your blog and what constitutes an outstanding headline.
Why Headlines Matter
The era of social media is responsible for a large part of the headline’s growing importance. Sites like Twitter and Pinterest have character limits that allow people to only share a taste of their latest post. So, it makes sense to simply post the headline and hope people find it interesting enough to click on.
When you have a dull headline, you’re out of luck on social media. You could have an A+ post lined up that details the advantages of using solar power. Yet, if you headline the post “The Many Benefits of Installing Solar Panels,” no one is going to click because it sounds like a college term paper.
Instead, you have to think creatively. How about “How I Saved Thousands on My Power Bill: The Answer Will Shock You” or “You Won’t Believe How One Simple Change Can Chop Your Power Bills”? Those headlines are guaranteed to generate big traffic because you establish two things:
- Mystery: Everyone wants to know the reason why you’re saving money.
- Benefits: Whenever you tease something that saves money or time, people want to know how they can do it, too.
A great headline also functions like a terrific accessory. You can dress up a T-shirt and jeans with a spectacular necklace, just as you can draw people to an otherwise dull post by baiting them in the right way.
The Benefits of Great Headlines
Of course, the biggest benefit to a great headline is that it gets people reading your content. Once you’ve gotten people to click on your post, you’ve won the battle. Even when your story doesn’t support exactly what the headline says — and yes, there has been kickback on Upworthy for this offense — you’ve still reeled in your reader.
There are other benefits, too and perhaps the most important to understand is relevancy. This is clearly the direction the web is moving in and if bloggers don’t hop on the headline express, they’ll be left behind. The sooner you become comfortable with this form of writing, the better. Ignore the trend at your own risk.
Practices for Writing the Best Headlines
Here’s a quick rundown on what constitutes a great headline. You should always be thinking of the curiosity gap: Make your reader want to bridge that gap by clicking on your post. Your headline should:
- Be longer than one or two words to help convey your point.
- Have an element of mystery, which makes the reader want to learn more.
- Be unique, so you’re not copying other bloggers.
- Make a big promise, such as revealing a secret or unexpected fact.
- Be relevant to a wide audience to spark more social media sharing.
A Word of Caution
With all this said, there are some times when an Upworthy-style headline is simply not appropriate. Don’t use them in the case of tragedy or violence; it just makes you appear to be going after cheap clicks and people will get rightfully annoyed with you.
Learn from the example of CNN, which tried to use a bait-y headline for a story about a teenager who stabbed her younger sister 40 times. When the news network tweeted a link to the story with a little teaser saying “The reason why will shock you,” the protests on Twitter were swift and furious. If you have a nagging doubt that a headline is inappropriate, don’t run it. Save it for a safer topic.
Great headlines are the future of linkbait. Stay with the times and embrace your inner Upworthy writer. You’ll see the benefits in your increased traffic.