By Leslee Russell
Jan 27, 2014

Puppy Rescues Infant from Attacking Alligators

Do I have your attention? Did you just get duped into clicking by the catchy headline? Let me first apologize for the bait and switch tactic. We’re going to talk about headline writing and not tell the story of this brave little puppy.

Headlines are nothing new, but the impact of headlines has grown exponentially. You know the headlines I’m talking about. Everyone wants to know what kind of fart they are (I did not make this up, go find out for yourself. I got Loud and Proud!). But what are the keys to success in writing a good headline?

Before you start writing, take the time to do some prep work. Go back to basics and answer the Who, What, Where, When, Why and How questions.

Who is your target audience? Is your digital target audience different than your brand’s general target audience? Do you have different target audiences based on the social media platform or your own website?

What is your tone of voice? It is critical when you are communicating to your clients, customers, or supporters that you know exactly what “your” personality is on digital platforms. A recent Forbes article goes into more detail about finding your brand’s voice.

A good test you can do on your own is to cover your company name or logo on the digital platform you are writing for. Can you tell that the content is from you?  Would a fan recognize your brand’s personality? This can be hard when multiple employees are writing for your organization’s digital platforms, which is why it’s so essential to formally define your brand characteristics and tone of voice in a document. This personality should be an extension your brand’s overall strategy and goals. Are you an education institution that needs to keep a serious and professional tone? Nonprofit? Perhaps you be more conversational and friendly.

Where are you publishing? Are you posting this headline on social media or your own website? Is it for an email campaign or is it a blog post title? This also ties back to your target audience. Tailor your message appropriately to the platform you are writing for. Some platforms you can write longer headlines, and others like Twitter, you may need to create a shorter, more succinct headline.

I’ve combined these last two. Why should the user click on your headline? How are you going to get the user to click?  Is it to entertain or educate them? What is a compelling call to action that you can fulfill? Unlike my blog post heading about the puppy, you should avoid blatant click-bait headlines. A few years ago, it was pretty much morally wrong to use click bait, but now it’s become more acceptable. Stay creative in your headlines but don’t promise something you can’t deliver on.

Next are your brand guidelines. A ‘What Kind of Fart Are You’ quiz might not exactly fit for your organization’s brand, so know your limits. How edgy is acceptable? Are there topics that you should avoid? Is there a specific way you have to talk about your products or mission? Identifying your boundaries and any off-limit areas early on will save you headaches (maybe even nightmares!) later.

Now the fun part – crafting your headline! Here are some strategies to consider:

  • Create a compelling question. Instead of being so literal with the headline, ask a question that requires the person to think.
  • Be specific by using words like you, your, and this.
  • Make a definitive, authoritative statement. Promise a payoff that is compelling and worthy of the person’s time.
  • Use a strong call to action.
  • Take advantage of holidays and celebrations – check out federal holidays and other common celebrations. There are many other less common holidays you can look into as well. Did you know October 2nd is National Poetry Day? Is there a clever way you can tie your message to it?
  • Create connections between your content and relevant, timely news if possible. Follow industry blogs or email newsletters to easily keep updated with news in your industry.
  • Test! Write two headlines and do some A/B testing on your digital platforms. Send 25% of your email subscribers a different headline. Then send the most successful headline to the remaining 50%. On social, share your content with headline #1, and then try sharing headline #2 within a short time period to see which one performs better.
  • Get to know your audience. Testing will give you insight, but don’t forget about the power of analytics. Review your digital platform’s analytics to see what’s clicking and if do it long enough; you’ll begin to see a trend. Create a trial, testing period where you try publishing different types of headlines to go with different types of content and see what resonates.

If you’re lacking inspiration, just head over to Twitter or a media organization. There are loads of brands doing a great job at headline writing.

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