How to Write Blog Headlines People (and your Goals) Deserve

You can write the most interesting and best content in the world but if your blog headline doesn’t attract attention, appeal and convince people to read on, why even bother? You wouldn’t be doing yourself, your content and your readers a favor, right? Brian Clark says that “on average, 8 out of 10 people will read headline copy, but only 2 out of 10 will read the rest.” Discover how to write blog headlines – with a twist.

Your blog headlines serve different goals and there are various elements to take into account before you start: your ‘targeted readers’, your goals, relevance and how people look for content.

Write blog headlines as a promise

In most cases, search engines are the main drivers of traffic towards your blog post. Understand what people are doing on search engines before they discover your blog post. On search engines people predominantly seek an answer to a question. When they enter a search phrase, they expect the results to correspond with what they want. Your blog post title is a promise that ensures them your post provides an answer. That’s relevance and search engines care about it a lot as well. There is nothing worse than a title that leads to content that doesn’t live up to the promise in the title.

Be clear about your goals

Blog posts don’t always aim to provide answers but can also focus on sharing stories or spark debate, for instance. The questions search engine users want answered are not always answers to business questions either. They can look for more information on your business, interesting use cases, data for a report they are writing, discussions on any given topic, etc. Make sure your blog headline is clear about that too. Add words that describe the scope of your blog post and match the intent of the people you wish to reach. If it’s a blog post containing good research data, use words saying so. Again: it’s about relevance.

How do different segments look for information?

Identify how your ‘target audience segment’ looks for the type of content you provide in your blog post. Don’t assume you know how people search for information on search engines. There is a discrepancy between how you think they search and how they actually do it. Keyword research helps you to find out what phrases people use. Put yourself in the shoes of people looking for information (better: analyze it). How would you search for information related to the topic you’re writing about? Or in other words: how relevant are you for the customer and searcher’s toptasks? Keyword research is always important if you want to write blog headlines, where you would typically mention one, and in blogging in general.

A list of some keyword research tools:

There are also keyword research and suggestion tools built into SEO tools, such as blog plug-ins (for instance, the SEO plug-in of  Joost de Valk) and in external search engine marketing solutions. A tool such as Inbound Writer even allows you to write SEO-friendly posts with keyword suggestions and tips for improvement as you go with the possibility to define the “strategy” (goal and SEO approach) of your document (post).

Dare to be specific and drop the traffic mentality when you write blog headlines

If it’s not relevant to what you aim for, it makes no sense to blog at all. You optimize for the way people search and for the way search engines work. However, you also look at your goal. If your purpose is very specific, for instance, reaching out to a very particular niche target audience, chose keywords and titles that help you achieve that instead of looking at broad terms. Attracting the right readers for your goals is more important than just driving traffic. Use keyword research here as well. Even if you know what terms people will use to find your content within that niche, you might find surprising variations that work better.

The balance of personality and results

There is a trade-off between results, personality and tone of voice in blogging. There are also different styles of blogging. Although this is more related to the content of your blog, set the tone when you write blog headlines too. While most blogging experts look at driving traffic providing very specific tips on how to write blog headlines that score well in general, sometimes it’s better not to follow such rules. Be authentic and keep your personality and that of your brand in mind, including the tone of voice. After all, how many blog posts can be written providing “7 Tips to Boost your Twitter Following”? Choose a somewhat different approach allowing you to stand out. Competition is high on search engines and a “me too” approach is not the best.

Where is the difference in this blog post, for instance? It’s the focus on relevance, behavior, goals and different segments. For me, blog posts and content are means to an end. Furthermore, I prefer to engage people that want more. This is what I stand for. This is also why I tend to write blog posts that break all the rules of length of the copy (it should be short and according to some extremely short). Because that’s me and it’s what my most loyal and valuable readers know me for. If your aim is to explore a topic more in-depth to spark debate and make people think or go further than ‘the others’, do so. Just find a balance that fits you and works. How do you know it works? Write blog headlines, test and measure.

Get some social interaction in your blog headlines

Blogging is social media. Dare to go beyond keywords as you find them with keyword tools. Look at what’s happening and trending in the social space by listening and understanding trends when thinking about your headline. Search and social are increasingly connected and interaction becomes more important. As said, search engines do everything they can to show more relevant results and social interaction is part of that. Your goal is to be relevant as well.

Some social search tools:

On top of the various paying solutions (you should have one), there are many ways to detect trends but also analyze how people search. On top of some of the mentioned keyword research tools; some examples are:

Persuading with blog headlines

Your blog headline aims to attract but also to persuade. Knowing that many people don’t look beyond the headline, one of the roles of the headline is to convince them to read further. It’s an essential part of the ‘inverted pyramid’ style that is used in writing for the Web: key points and conclusions first, the rest after that. Persuasion is about the intent of your ‘targeted readers’ as well. Taking into account different scenarios, it’s a mix of rational and – mainly – emotional elements and words. There’s a famous saying: “words tell, emotions sell.” Promise to fulfill an emotional benefit. There are thousands of lists containing rational or left-brain words and emotional or right-brain words. If you have the time, learn some of them and inject them in your headline (and blog). However, first of all, know what persuades your specific ‘target audience’.

Why your blog headline really matters

Probably, you’ve heard the famous words of David Ogilvy before: on average, five times as many people read the headlines as read the body copy. His conclusion: unless your headline “sells,” you have wasted 90% of your money.

David Ogilvy talked about sales and letters. These days, the sale is often indirect. Blogs serve many other goals. However, if it’s not met, you’ve wasted money as well. More importantly: if it’s not relevant, you’ve wasted time of the people you want to engage and trusted your blog headline.

Do you want the better-known tips, tricks and blogging rules? You’ll get them. However, first make sure you understand the importance of relevance when you write blog headlines.

Did you expect more? I don’t want to dissapoint you.

Here are some blog posts on how to write blog headlines in general:

If you want to learn everything about the real power of words and how to put the goals of readers first, check out the work of Gerry McGovern.

PS: one of the rules is to carefully weigh each word in your content and headline, write several ones and pick the winning one after a while. I didn’t apply any of these rules. I just write and post. If you’re a corporate blogger, you should apply some of these rules and the ones you’ll discover later.