Can I be honest with you?
A lot of bloggers don’t really understand the role of the headline. And it breaks my heart. Because the headline is the most important part of any blog post. Get it wrong and your entire blog post is a waste of space!
They wrongly assume that a headline’s job is to:
- Sell their product;
- Pitch their idea; or
- Explain their offer.
Sadly, trying to do any of those things in the headline will have the opposite effect of what you want to achieve!
The Real Truth About What A Headline Is
To be effective and considered a success, your headline must accomplish the following two things:
- Grab your readers’ attention or stop them cold in their tracks. It must have stopping power; and
- Get your readers to read the next sentence. It must move your readers to action.
Without a compelling headline that captivates casual browsers and turns them into readers, the rest of your blog post may as well not have been written.
Your headline is the first thing that gets your readers interested in your blog posts. It’s your one chance to make a great first impression. Your headline is your opportunity to connect with people who have a million other things competing for their attention. People who didn't wake up in the morning wanting to care about either you or your writing.
According to WIRED magazine, a compelling headline can lead to 500% more page views.
Your primary objective for your headline should be to get your readers past the headline into the first sentence of your blog post. And from there, into the next sentence. And the next paragraph. And the next sentence.
Unfortunately, drawing readers past the headline into the body of a blog post is getting more difficult every day!
Here are some fascinating statistics that show just how difficult it is to engage with readers today:
- In case you haven’t realized it, there’s an explosion in content competing for your readers' attention: 3.9 million blog posts are published daily, 400 million tweets are sent every day, 144,000 hours of YouTube video are uploaded daily, 4.75 billion pieces of content are shared on Facebook every day, 144 billion emails are sent daily and 5.3 trillion display ads are shown online each year.
- About 80% of readers never make it past the headline: According to CopyBlogger, on average, 8 out of 10 people will read the headline, but only two out of 10 will read the rest.
In the face of these alarming statistics, posting a casual or indifferent blog post with a mediocre headline just won’t cut it. You’re going to need something better. Something that cuts through the clutter and noise. It shouldn’t, therefore, come as surprise to you that writing headlines that grab your readers by the eyeballs…is hard. Very hard!
Thankfully, you don’t have to be a blog traffic genius to write compelling headlines. It’s a skill that can be learned – easily and quickly. More about that in just a moment.
The Rewards Can Be Mind-Blowing
But first, when you get it right, the rewards for writing a compelling and captivating headline are simply out of this world.
Just ask Seth Adam Smith.
Prior to November 2013, he was an unknown blogger.
But all that changed on November 2, 2013, when he hit the ‘publish’ button on his blog post Marriage Isn’t For You.
Within 36 hours, it had received 2.2 million views. Eventually, it has received over 30 million views in total!
The article was also featured on The Huffington Post, BuzzFeed, MailOnline, Cosmopolitan, MSN.com, Yahoo.com, The Matt Walsh Blog, Deseret News, Today.com, The Today SHOW, KSL News, The Blaze, and Fox & Friends. On top of all that, it has been translated into dozens of languages including Spanish and Portuguese.
Seth has even landed a few book deals on the back of this one blog post. His life has changed.
Your Headline Can Be As Irresistible As Chocolate. (Really!)
So, what makes certain headlines so inviting, and so irresistible that we can’t help but want to read, not only the next sentence but the rest of the article?
What makes them as irresistible as…chocolate?
If we know why we find chocolate so irresistible then perhaps, using the same principles, we could make our headlines as alluring and tempting to our readers…
There are at least 2 things that make chocolate so irresistible:
- The action of a part of the brain called neostriatum, which produces a natural, opium-like chemical, enkephalin. Scientists say we are subconsciously drawn to chocolate because enkephalin triggers an emotional response which we find irresistible. Similarly, studies have shown an increase in dopamine or oxytocin levels when likable or moving posts are published on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook.
- The texture and creamy viscosity of chocolate also play a role. Without even biting a piece of chocolate, you will notice how it rapidly melts on your tongue, leaving a lingering sensation of smoothness. Touch receptors present on our tongues detect the textural change, which then stimulates feelings of pleasure. Interestingly, Emory researcher Dr. Krishnankutty Sathian discovered that words related to texture activate areas of the brain associated with touch – even when their usage had nothing to do with tactile sensations.
The Amazing But Little-Used Psychology Of Headline Writing
When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but creatures of emotion.
As we have seen, there are similarities between the way we react to chocolate and the way we react to headlines. The reason for this is simple. Your readers fall into one or more of the following categories:
- They are fascinated by claims or promises.
- They are not creatures of logic but creatures of emotion. They are intrigued by anything that evokes an emotional response.
- They are curious by nature.
In his marketing classic, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Dr. Robert Cialdini provides scientific explanations for the tactics that advertisers and marketing professionals have used for hundreds of years.
Cialdini examines emotions that trigger our unconscious desire to take action. They are influence triggers. Using them will make people react to your headlines, the same way they react to chocolate – an inability to say ‘no’! Here they are:
- Reciprocity. If someone gives something to us, we feel obligated to repay that debt. This is the power of freebies. Here are some examples of words that trigger this response in us: ‘bargain’, ‘bonanza’, ‘discount’, ‘freebie’, ‘massive’, ‘pay zero’, ‘prize’, ‘quadruple’ and ‘reduced’.
- Commitment (and Consistency). Humans have a deep need to be seen as consistent. Once we have publicly committed to something or someone, we are much more likely to go through and deliver on that commitment…hence consistency. Here are some words which trigger this response: ‘detailed’, ‘comprehensive’, ‘meticulous’, ‘overcome’, ‘painstaking’, ‘recreate’, ‘essential’ and completely’.
- Social Proof. This is when people do what they observe other people doing (when uncertain, there is safety in numbers). Here are some words that trigger this response: ‘insider’, ‘desire’, ‘approved’, ‘endorsed’ and ‘popular’.
- Authority. We trust authority figures and they are inherently more persuasive because of this. Here is a collection of words that trigger this response: ‘authentic’, ‘backed’, ‘best-selling’, ‘certified’, ‘endorsed’, ‘guaranteed’, ‘bona fide’, ‘expert’, ‘definitive’ etc.
- Liking. The more you like someone, the more likely it is you’ll be persuaded by them. Words like: ‘brilliant’, ‘charming’, ‘unbelievable’, ‘mouth-watering’, ‘unstoppable’, ‘amazing’, ‘sublime’ and ‘fascinating’ trigger this response in us.
- Scarcity. The fear of missing out. When you believe that something is in short supply, you want it more. Words like: ‘hurry’, ‘scarce’, ‘discount’, ‘reduced’, ‘special offer’ and ‘urgent’ all trigger this emotional response in us.
- Unity. This was later added by Cialdini in another book: Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade. It is about shared identities and categories that individuals use to define themselves and their groups, such as race, ethnicity, nationality, and family, as well as political and religious affiliations. A key characteristic of these categories is that their members tend to feel at one with, others. An example of words that trigger this response in us includes: ‘us’, ‘family’, ‘faith’, ‘integrity’ and ‘justice’.
To these, we can add the following 4 emotional motivators. When confronted with them, we instinctively react in certain ways:
- Fear – This is one of the most powerful emotional motivators. Fear has the ability to grab and keep an audience’s attention. We react in one of two ways: fight or flight. Words like: ‘fooled’, ‘horrific’, ‘frightening’, ‘risky’ and ‘scary’ trigger this response.
- Attraction – Whatever our moral stand, sex sells. Always. Words like: ‘tantalizing’, ‘naughty’, ‘sexy’, ‘forbidden’, ‘lust’ and ‘naked’ would trigger a response.
- Self-centered – At a primitive level, everyone is a self-centered scallywag who only cares about him or herself. Here are some words that trigger this primordial response in us: ‘guarantee’, ‘moneyback’, ‘official’, ‘no risk’, ‘no obligation’, ‘no strings attached’, ‘no questions asked’, ‘try before you buy’, ‘cancel anytime’, ‘certified’ and ‘endorsed’.
- Curiosity – We are curious by nature, so we can’t help but want to find out. Research published by Harvard Business Review found curiosity to be one of the most powerful triggers for posts that go viral. Words that can trigger this response include: ‘confidential’, ‘backdoor’, ‘censored’, ‘insider’, ‘forbidden’, ‘unique’, little-known’, ‘hidden’, and ‘behind the Scenes’.
Described as the “guru’s guru”, and “the greatest copywriter in the world”, Gary Bencivenga knows one or two things about emotional motivators and influence triggers. According to him, “The vast majority of products are sold because of the need for love, the fear of shame, the pride of achievement, the drive for recognition, the yearning to feel important, the urge to look attractive, the lust for power, the longing for romance, the need to feel secure, the terror of facing the unknown, the lifelong hunger for self-esteem and so on. Emotions are the fire of human motivation, the combustible force that secretly drives most decisions to buy. When your marketing harnesses those forces correctly you will generate explosive increases in response.”
Here’s the deal. Your goal should be to harness these combustible forces that secretly drive most decisions to buy, by applying influence triggers and emotional motivators to your headlines!
4 Amazingly Easy Tips To Help You Write Irresistible Headlines
Here are some quick tips to help you write amazing, creative and compelling headlines…faster.
1. Create a virtual infinite headline swipe file. Yes, there’s a swipe file made up of tested and proven headlines written by some of the best-paid copywriters in the world. And the best thing about it? It’s free. It’s even at your fingertips. Just google Cosmopolitan magazine covers, Reader’s Digest magazine covers, Psychology Today magazine covers, Money magazine covers or Elle magazine covers; click on ‘image’ and you will have access to some of the best headlines ever crafted. These headlines are so good, they make us instantly want to pick up and buy these magazines on impulse.
As a copywriter, this is my virtual headline swipe copy file which I visit whenever I need inspiration for a headline. However, I don’t just copy and paste them. I use them as idea starters. I copy them with taste. And that’s what I recommend you do!
Here’s an example from Reader’s Digest:
And here’s one from Money:
2. Write, write and write some more! Why? Because practice makes perfect. The more headline practice you undertake, the better and more adroit you would become at writing headlines. Write 10-20 headlines per blog post. This practice will help to develop your writing muscles.
3. Use power words in both your headlines and subheads. These are action words which trigger our emotions. When used properly, they can transform a headline from mediocre to irresistible. One word or phrase can excite your readers. Or make them curious, scared, furious or even arouse them. Then they stop. They act. They read on. They click. They do whatever you want them to do in your CTA. The right action word can instantly punch up any headline or marketing copy. Every word in your headline should have an assignment. Hear writing legend, Isaac Asimov: “If the phrase is not affecting the reader, what’s it doing there? Make it do its job or cut it without mercy or remorse.” Make your words work hard!
While power words in your headlines will get your readers to stop, and read the opening sentence, they do a different job in the subhead. Here their role is to make the reader stop and read the content, instead of just scanning through it. Here are a few examples of power words:
In my experience as a copywriter, the 3 most powerful and emotional laden words in sales and marketing are ‘you’, ‘free’ and ‘guarantee’. Find a way to incorporate any of them into your headlines.
4. Use the emotional marketing value (EMV) headline analyzer. The EMV is a score that looks to assess how a group of words follows the emotional harmonics (underlying harmonics in language that are always interpreted with the same “emotional” reactions), and how likely they are to elicit an emotional response from a reader. The EMV headline analyzer is a free tool based on research that is made available by the Advanced Marketing Institute.
The EMV headline analyzer is easy to use. Simply copy and paste your headline into the box and it will give you a calculated score of your headline’s EMV Score. Here is the result for this subhead:
The Analyzer also provides an explanation of each score. Here’s the explanation for this subheading:
This score indicates that your headline has a total of 40.00% Emotional Marketing Value (EMV) Words. To put that in perspective, the English language contains about 20% EMV words.
And for comparison, professional copywriters' headlines will have 30%-40% EMV Words in their headlines, while the most gifted copywriters will have 50%-75% EMV words in headlines.
A perfect score would be 100%, but that is rare unless your headline is less than five words.”
Scores are also classified by three emotional types – intellectual, empathetic, and spiritual. The institute provides some details on each of these emotional types.
As an example, the emotional classification for this subhead was spiritual and intellectual – a perfect fit for Successful Blogging, as we are looking to promote products that both appeal to people at a deep emotional level and requires reasoning and/or careful evaluation.
Don’t Make This Headline-Writing Mistake
I’m going to be controversial here. We are told that headline templates are there to be copied. We are told the best copywriters simply steal. And that we have a license to do the same.
We’re told that there’s no reason you can’t be a headline master. Just steal from the templates. Because when it comes to writing impactful headlines:
- There are no secret formulas – Great headlines come in repeatable formats. Great copywriters have been reusing proven winners for many, many years.
- It’s easy – You can literally fill in the blanks into any of the repeatable templates. No matter who your audience is. No need to burn a lot of valuable time racking your brain for the perfect headline.
- Use them anywhere – These templates get results for email subject lines, article titles, blog post headlines, taglines, your next presentation, and any posts on social media.
I believe this is a terrible mistake. Because just copying and pasting from a template shows a distinct lack of originality.
Instead of simply copying and pasting…you can copy with taste!
Here’s what I mean.
Don’t stop at the template. Don’t just copy the template. Go further. Interact with it. And creatively adapt it for your own purposes.
Here’s what I suggest you do:
For each template, ask yourself:
- What does this mean?
- What does this make possible?
- Why should I use it?
Use your imagination. Take poetic license. Give the template a twist and write something original. Something special.
Seek to apply your defining difference to every headline you write. You can do this by adding the sum of your experiences to the template, making the product truly yours.
Headlines In Action: An Example Of A Killer Headline That Went Viral
The Unilever Dove video campaign, “Real Beauty Sketches | You’re more beautiful than you think” which explores the gap between how others perceive us and how we perceive ourselves, was published on YouTube on April 1, 2013. It immediately went viral, garnering 29.4 million views, 7,800 comments and over 660,000 Facebook shares in ten days. It now has over 67 million views.
This is hardly surprising as it combines such power and emotional words as ‘you’, ‘real’, beauty’, ‘beautiful’ and ‘more’, to create that magical, irresistible and swoon-worthy sentence, which women can never tire of hearing: ‘You’re more beautiful than you think’!
Let’s take ‘you’, one of the most powerful words in sales. Scientific research has found that the brain’s cuneus, superior and middle temporal cortex, and middle frontal cortex all come to life when you hear or see your name. ‘You’ is a placeholder for your name. It works because it represents your name!
Not surprisingly, this headline comes up with an EMV score of 55.56%! This score is phenomenal, bearing in mind as we saw earlier, that it is only the most gifted copywriters who have 50%-75% EMV words in headlines.
Over to you
What is your biggest challenge when it comes to writing headlines? And what would you say this blog post makes possible for you as a blogger? Please leave a comment.
A recovering Attorney, Pedro Okoro is a blogger, copywriter and list grow strategist. He is the founder and CEO of Astute Copy Blogging. He helps online entrepreneurs build large email lists that they mobilize and monetize so they can live the life of the dreams. Click here to download your free copy of Pedro’s easy-to-use report, ‘How to Build a Large Email List’.