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Why Is Creating Headlines So Darn Hard?

Sue Dunlevie

Writing catchy headlines is both an art and a science.

On one hand, there are tons of writing principles you can use to catch attention, to get people to read, to build connection and to stand out.

 

On the other hand, the great blog names subject lines you write ultimately have to come from you. They have to stand out because they’re an expression of you and your brand.

The best way to learn how to write a good title for a blog post isn't to copy other people’s titles. Instead, use other people’s creative blog name titles to learn what works. Then use those same principles to help guide you in writing your own titles.

With that in mind, here are ten blog subject line tips, along with examples to illustrate them.

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Tip #1: Have a Clear Benefit

People should instantly understand why they should read your article just from the title.

Vague and mysterious titles that don’t tell people why they should read are generally a bad idea.

Direct response marketers and newspapers have tested this principle time and again. Shocking titles, newsy titles, curiosity titles and other types of titles that don’t have a benefit in them almost always get lower readership than titles that imply a benefit to the reader.

For example, readers who see this guest post on Boost Blog Traffic will clearly know that they’ll learn how to improve their writing, just by reading the title:

blog-name-ideas

Both Jon Morrow and his guest posters come up with good blog titles each time!

Tip #2: Add a Power Word

A power word is a word that adds emotional punch to your title. Sometimes all you need to turn an otherwise dull title into an eye-catching title is a power word.

Take this article from Adrienne Smith, for example. Without the power word, the title would just be “The Seven Deadly Sins Of A Website A nice benefit, sure, but nothing to write home about.

But with the power word added in, the title now has some real juice. Most bloggers would have a hard time seeing a title like the one below without clicking on it, even if just out of curiosity.

Adrienne

Tip #3: Use Numbers – And Use Big Ones!

People love numbers. Blog post titles with numbers tend to get more clicks. Why? Because numbers are specific and tell people how much information they’re about to get. It suggests that they’re about to learn several things, and not just one.

Large numbers in particular, suggest that people are about to learn many ways to solve a problem in their lives.

Take our popular post on the “51 Steps To Launching A Hot Blog”. If the title were just “Steps To Launch A Blog,” it’d sound pretty dull. But the title “51 Steps To Launching A Hot Blog” sounds infinitely more interesting.

51_Steps

 

Tip #4: Boldly Add Your Personality

There are enough “me too” blogs on the web. Why not really let your personality shine on your blog for a change?

People who really let themselves out on their blogs tend to stand out. They tend to draw a crowd.

People will often come to read your posts not because they need to learn what you’re teaching, but simply because they want to get a dose of your personality.

Take “The Middle Finger Project”. Just one glance at the website’s header image and you know you’re in for an interesting read. Every post title on the blog is similarly interesting and attention catching.

MFP

Tip #5: Be Controversial

Say something that shocks your audience a little. Say something that gets people a little riled up, or a little defensive. Say something that risks alienating a small part of your audience. Do so while taking a stance on something you believe in.

MY PERSONAL RECOMMENDATION FOR YOU  Brave Business Blogging Success Story with Jen Gresham

Be controversial. When you go against the curve, people listen.

Take the post below from Firepole Marketing. The title proudly proclaims: “Why You Can’t Create Epic Content Every Single Time And What To Do About It” The premise of the post is to get bloggers to just write a post, instead of getting it perfect.

There were a ton of different ways Danny Iny could have worded his title. He deliberately chose a title that could make people a little defensive. And it works. It catches attention.

 

Firepole_MarketingTip #6: Put Relevant Information First

Just like Beth Hayden's post, the good stuff is in the first part of the title. "Peppy Podcasts For A Winter's Day" could be shortened to "Peppy Podcasts" and you already know what the post is about.

Even her book on Pinterest (Pinfluence: The Complete Guide To Marketing Your Business with Pinterest) explains the title in the first word !

beth

Tip #7: Pose a Question

Asking your audience a question is one of the best ways to get a ton of comments. It helps you build more of a relationship with your audience by making your blog a two-way communication channel.

You can use this as a one-time title for a specific post, or you can make a habit of asking your audience a question every month or so.

For example, in the post below, Bryan Harris of VideoFruit asked his audience if they want to have an expert write for them. Who wouldn't, right?

VideoFruit

 

Tip #8: Try Going Negative

You don’t always have to promise a positive benefit. Another avenue you could take it to help people avoid something they don’t want in their lives instead.

Talk about common mistakes. Talk about pitfalls. Look into how you can catch attention by addressing the don’ts instead of the do’s.

For example, from the “Social Media Explorer” blog:

SME

 Tip #9: Use the Right Amount of Jargon

What’s the right amount of jargon?

If you use too much jargon, people might have a hard time understanding you. Newbies who’re new to your industry but still fall into your target market could get turned off.

On the other hand, using jargon allows you to speak in the same language as your market. People feel like you’re on the same side. Jargon also often allows you to get more specific than if you had to use generic words.

In this blog post, Danny Brown illustrates it perfectly. To a non-blogger, this headline makes little sense. 

Yet it doesn't use so much jargon as to turn people off. Instead, it makes you feel you are "in the club".

 

 Tip #10: Give Real World Data

People love getting real-world data. If you’re in the health niche, share your exact meal plans and your before and after photos. If you run a blog about weight loss, share your real case studies and what the results were.

When you give real-world data, people get more of a sense of what it’s like to be you. It also seems more tangible than just tips or lessons extrapolated from your experiences. It also helps build your credibility, by showing people that you’ve actually done what you’re talking about.

For example, in the post below, Matt Woodward shows exactly what he earned in a month and how he earned it:

 

These ten blog title tips will help you write titles that get people to pay attention, titles that get your audience excited and titles that help you stand out from the noise. Which is your favorite?

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38 comments on “Why Is Creating Headlines So Darn Hard?”

  1. Hi Sue!

    I think all bloggers could use tips on creating fabulous headlines. I mean, we get a few headlines in our head that appeal to us, but will it appeal to others? If you see it in your Twitter feed, are you likely to click the link to go read it?

    You share some fabulous ideas that I'm saving for future reference. First timer to your site and definitely adding to my feed. Thanks for the tips!

  2. Hi Sue,

    Again a post worthy to read and follow.:)

    While writing a blog post the main thing to do is creating a blog post title which can attract your readers towards it. Having a title which can make people think about your post.

    It's always recommended that bloggers should take care that title of their blog post must make it clear about what the post is about. I have seen many bloggers from whose title I never had the idea about their blog post. I mean how can they use the title totally different from their blog post?

    All the points are really remarkable.

    I hope you are having a successful week.:)

    ~Ravi

    1. Hi, Ravi, Thanks for your thoughtful comments!

      I agree with you that the headline needs to attract readers, both in your blog post, your email and in social media. I also put in a keyword for SEO, but I'm testing that this month and will see if it helps.

      Happy blogging, Sue

  3. WOW!

    This was a fantastic article to read.

    Corbett Barr from Fizzle.co has actually been known

    to go down to bars and ask the locals drunks which

    headlines caught their attention.

    REAL-WORLD data is a must.

    Better yet, real-world EXPERIENCE.

    I write every blog post out of experience,

    not based on what I think.

    (I can't stand reading blogs where people are

    teaching you something that they've never done!)

    -Josh

    1. Hey, Josh. LOVE the story about Corbett!

      Data is key and a lot of us bloggers don't like looking at data, but it's a must (at least once a month!)

      Sue

  4. Hey Sue,

    I use to be SO bad with headlines. I just wrote what I wanted and that was it. I even have a hard time now finding some of my old posts because I didn't put the main subject in the headline. I was such a dummy but I really didn't know any better. I'm not a writer!

    It was actually the first part of this year that I started paying more attention to it. I mean I have such a loyal community that they would read my content anyway but new people probably weren't very impressed because my headlines were definitely not standing out.

    I remember what Jon Morrow said some time back. Don't reinvent the wheel because there are never going to be "new" things cropping up. It's just a new way to spin an old thing so take the headline and make it your own. Ever since then I have been doing my best to do better. Some I do pretty good on while others are probably still rather questionable.

    I appreciate you using Kevin's title as an example. He did a great guest post for me and I agree, great headline too.

    They are really the most important part of the content because without them people might not be eager to read it.

    Great share and thank you again for the mention.

    ~Adrienne

    1. It's a pleasure, Adrienne, to have you comment on the blog! Headlines are so tricky - you can try to avoid them, then you don't get as many shares, tweets, opt-ins, etc. It can be very frustrating sometimes, right?

      Happy blogging,
      Sue

  5. I know we're talking about post names but subject lines are very similar and I just split-tested the following two email subject lines this morning and, after 12 hours, I have the results. I was going to share the open rates but I thought it would be fun to ask which one is better if anyone is game. 🙂 I hope that's alright Sue.

    Subject line #1

    There's a good chance you're making this SEO mistake and don't even know it

    Subject line #2

    Are you making this SEO mistake?

    Which would you use/open?

    1. Ohhh, I love a good game 🙂 I just read a study where questions do well but not as well as the tester thought. So, I'm guessing #1.

      What do YOU thing, Successful Blogging team??

      Thanks for playing, Brian!
      Sue

  6. Hi Sue, I have to be honest, I've never been good with headlines like you are (especially when I blog about boring topics) which is why I always keep reading posts like yours.

    In a few words, you just caught my eye, and I ended up here 🙂

    Just to contribute to the topic, I use buffer to test out different social media headlines/messages. I apply what I learn there to my next posts OR when repurposing content OR resharing past content again. Works wonders 🙂

    1. Hi, Dennis,

      Thanks for reading the blog post and stopping by to comment! I LOVE your idea of using a service like Buffer (only $10/month) to test out different messages/headlines in social media. Great idea that I'm going to use!

      Happy blogging (and title creation!)
      Sue

  7. I LOVE disclaimers, Ryan! And your current blog post headline is a doosy!

    That is a great lesson about double-digit numbers and one I'm going to use more in my headlines.

    Thanks for commenting!
    Sue

  8. Hi Sue Anne,

    Really good post here. First off, let me start off by saying, I spend probably 2 - 6 hours trying to come up with headlines for my blog posts. I truly understand the importance of it because if you don't have a headline that captures attention, then NO ONE will read your blog post, your sales letter, etc.

    Your tip about using BIG NUMBERS is huge. Too many times there are "7 Ways to do ..." or "15 Tips For ...". While those are fine, they don't have the same impact as "52 Ways To Do ..." or "101 Tips For ..." That's just my opinion.

    Your tip about being controversial is a good one but at times you have to be careful with it. I remember a post by Neil Patel "Why Successful Entrepreneurs Are DouceBags" or something like that, and it sort of backfired on him and he ended up losing some subscribers from that. But on the flip side, he was able to get some new subscribers from that as well. So controversial blog posts are good, but you just have to be willing to deal with the fall out - if any.

    The tip I'm really focusing on, or that I'm trying to, is Negative Headlines. I've tried a few of those and they out-performed the positive ones. So I'm going to try using it a little bit more.

    All in all, superb post here. Will definitely be sharing this.

    Hope you have an awesome weekend.

    - Andrew

    1. Hi, Andrew,

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting! You are doing the right thing - spend most of your writing/thinking time on creating the headline.

      I also saw that Neil Patel post - controversy is controversial, right? And I also do very well with negative headlines - especially on my email subject lines.

      Happy blogging,
      Sue

  9. Sue Ann,

    I feel like this post and the headlines post I wrote earlier this week need to hang out together. You seemed to think of every last thing I missed in mine! You're so right about each of these points and I love (and have already read) almost every post you used as an example here. It seems like we have a lot in common!

    I made sure to add your blog to my feedly list so I'll be back for more of your awesomeness!

    Thanks for sharing this helpful info!

    Brittany

    1. I totally agree, Brittany! I love your 1st point "Hook 'em from the get go That's what we bloggers are all trying to accomplish, right?

      Thanks for coming to the site and commenting today. Don't be a stranger!
      Sue

  10. Hey Sue!

    I love, love, LOVE this post. Headlines always have me in a tizz but they can also be an excellent way of setting out the content for an article.

    I'm probably a little bit unconventional but I find it sooo much easier to get the copy of a post flowing, once I've got a killer headline. Perhaps it's because it narrows down and focuses my original idea - either way it works.

    Sadly headlines can be THE most difficult little critters to nail down, while trying to be as original as possible. I'm going to be trying out some of your suggestions to see if they can help me out!

    Thanks so much for sharing,

    Stacey.

    1. Hi, Stacey,

      I totally agree that once you have the headline, the post itself is easier to write. I really like the headline of your last post - it has a question and it builds curiosity - just what are those 15 tools?

      Thanks for stopping by the blog today!
      Sue

    2. Hi, Stacey,

      I totally agree with you - once you have the headline, it's easier to write the post itself. I like your most recent headline - it has a question AND builds curiosity - just what are those 15 tools?

      Thanks for stopping by the blog today!
      Sue

  11. I just found you and your marvelous blog! Wow. I am so happy.

    Still floundering about like a fish that fell out of the tank. Reading blogs all the time. Studying courses, studying this and that. I love to write and have produced newsletters for years.

    I want a blog. I can do it I know. Just need a push. Seeing all these great writers who are doing it gives me hope.

    I'm going to do it this week. You will notice I don't have a website address. Yep, that's me. Never quite get it good enough to go.

    Now that I found your blog and all the help I know I'll get it going. Why did your blog touch me so much more than others I've read? I don't know.

    Thank you Sue Anne. Thank you.

    1. So nice to hear that, Barbara! You are a very good writer - you tap emotions and are clear and concise. You CAN do a blog!

      Here is a guide for you: How To Start A Blog

      Keep reading and coming back and sharing your thoughts. I appreciate you for that!

      Happy (new) blogging,
      Sue

  12. Wow Sue, look at all those blogging heavy hitters commenting on your article. Awesome work and great article, will be sharing.

    So I have the following problem, I have kind of a non-traditional blog in the sense that my topics are many times a bit less tangible. They're about complimenting yourself, or saying thanks, or helping others. Here are some example titles:

    Let's Keep Learning, Have a Great Day!, Be a Leaf, 3 Lessons from the Lake, Get Grounded through Nature, Inspire Yourself, Stay the Course, Can you Help One?, Let's Practice Peace, Rise & Shine, etc.

    So I've read a number of articles about headlines, but always feel like my topic is different enough that it makes it a little tricky. I could go the route of naming everything : "5 ways to feel better about yourself", "10 ways to say thanks", etc. I do sometimes use numbers, but if I did that all the time, it would feel very much like click bating, when that's kind of the antithesis of my blog. Do you have any ideas or thoughts?

    Thanks again, keep up the great work!

    Zac

    1. Hi, Zac,

      I just dropped by your blog - nice site with a good sidebar opt-in box!

      Your latest title, How To Offer Advice Without Ruining Anyone’s Life. (Or Your Own.) is terrific. I love how you put the negative idea in there and it isn't sweet and syrupy!

      Looks like you are on the right track to me. If you have any specific questions, drop me an email or leave another comment. Thanks for coming by today.
      Sue

  13. Woops! Looks like you checked out somebody else's blog with sweet opt-in sidebar and nice title.

    My title's are usually short, motivational phrases between 3 - 7 words long.

    I don't write generally write things like - how to turn your life around, how to make new friends, etc. It's more like: Cheer up! Have a great day! Be you!

    Last 3 entries were titled:

    Give it Your All

    Let's Keep Learning

    and Blessed to Bear Witness (poem)

    I actually created my site to be a very nice, relaxing place to go, free from pop ups, side bars, and 10 things screaming for your attention. I'd like to do some redesign as I move to self hosted this month, but I will try to keep it as simple as possible. Easy on the eyes.

    I have the comment luv link below or you can go to Quick Me Ups .com (without spaces obviously)

    Have a wonderful day!

    Zac

    1. Oh my gosh, Zac, I'm so sorry! Is "it's been a crazy week!" a good enough excuse??

      I'm actually going to your real site now.

      Question: How is your click-through rate on each post compared to each other? Does one type of headline get a better CTR or better email open rate? That's a good way to test them.

      I will not confuse you with anyone else from now on, I promise!
      Sue

  14. Yoast WordPress SEO lets you add titles and descriptions for Search Engines that are different to the actual blog post title and intro.

    I see the benefits if your post title is long and doesn't fit within the Google character limits but I think changing a title completely is misleading. I have no problems with adding a meta description different to your first sentence(s) to instruct Google to use your words and not what it chooses as it often doesn't do this too well.

    What do you think?

  15. Hey Sue,

    Well, Blog name and Post title, both depend on your creativity. I will surely use a Power Word with some relevant information for the Post Title, but when it comes to Blog Name or the domain, I will always go for a unique, creative and branded Name, whcih will help me in Long Run.

    BTW, Awesome Post :).

    1. Hi, Atinder,

      Unique and creative for a blog name works if you have a tagline that clearly explains who your audience is and what you do for them.

      Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment!
      Sue

    1. Hi, Sania,

      I see your blog is brand new. The change in your blog description may take awhile to change in the search engines. I also recommend using the free plug-in called Google XML Sitemaps. T

  16. I like number 2 better, it's shorter and more direct. I didn't finish reading number 1 the first time.

    Thank Sue for an excellent article on headlines.

  17. Writing headlines isn't rocket science , but it sure is a lot of work and practice. A good way to write headlines is to shoot for around 30 of them.

    I usually do keyword research on the front end and then use those keywords as "brain food" for ideas.

    If you get stuck and really can't figure out what to write, you can always use an idea generator like the one at Portent. (Just Google Portent's Content Idea Generator.)

    At the very least it's fun to play around with.

    Once you've written 30 or so headlines, go back and highlight the ones that you think are the best fit. I would suggest using a blog title around 60 characters so it can fit into address fields better. This also helps when you want to post to sites like Twitter that only allow 140 characters in their messages.

    If you are writing advertising copy, you can make your headline copy and deck copy ad long as necessary. Dan Kennedy once sent me a sales letter where the headline went down half the page.

    I hope this helps!

    God Bless,

    'Elmo

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