How do you exercise that headline writing muscle?
Stretching and exercising the headline writing muscle is the most effective way to make it stronger. One way to do this, which has usable results, is to take the topic of the article you are writing and apply different themes to it.
You don’t get better at writing headlines by simply reading about how to write headlines, you get better by writing and rewriting headlines. You apply as many different types of headlines to a specific topic as you can, and build your critical ability in being able to see what’s “good” and what’s “bad”.
This section enables you to see the variety of headlines that can be created around one topic. Thus creating numerous, potential headlines.
Reduce a headline down to its elements
The two elements of the topic are “saving money” and “diet”, which are both hot button topics, but when put together in the same headline, they create a dynamic that makes the headline even more attractive. Our brains constantly scan for things that can make us live longer, attract sexual partners, acquire more wealth, etc. “Diet” and “money” both effect these deeply embedded desires which have evolved throughout human development.
These headline examples are intended for article based blog posts for use in content marketing.
They are not intended for sales copy, which obviously is another type of copywriting. Similar principles apply and there is a natural overlap, but this book is concentrating on a more information based element than a sales element.
Some of these headlines make seemingly wild statements, this is to illustrate the power of such headlines, which attract us daily. The body of the content must fulfil the promise of the headline else the content will fail. You can get away with this if you are a powerful publisher with a large fan base, but not if you are a lowly blogger just starting out. You build your authority, blog post by blog post, each piece of content building reputation and a fan base, only when you have enough can you loosen the reigns a little.
Powerful, attractive headlines tend to make bolder statements and should only be used when they represent the body content. It’s important to remember that the headline gives a whiff of what the body content is about, it makes a promise. If you break that promise you will need a good reason.
One headline topic, many headline themes:
Making a clear statement
“You can save money by eating less”
A “how to” headline can increase the power of a clear statement and indicate the promise of learning about a benefit
“How eating less can save you money”
You can increase the power further by adding a dash of personal authority
“How I ate less and saved money”
Introduce an incongruous juxtaposition
“An incongruous juxtaposition of the seeming unrelated,” is a powerful technique in headline writing and is used a lot:
“How eating less helped me buy a tiger”
The headline should not reveal all and should leave a question in the mind of the reader. The question here would be, “What was it the wife needed?”
“How eating less let me give my wife what she needed”
Take what you see works elsewhere and introduce it
It may work, it may not, but this process is about trying as many themes as you can. Have you seen those low quality diet ads around the place, “one weird trick”, they use it because it works:
“One weird trick had me eating less and saving money”
Also known as the divisive, listicle. Applying a number to the headline is a common, some would say overly used method of headline writing. Your task is not to worry about the whole body of headline writing and how the art of headline writing is perceived, it is to make this specific headline work and if adding a number and turning the article into a listicle works in this particular instance, then that must be what you do:
“23 ways eating less can save you money”
Switch the elements in the headline
Same meaning but sometimes it scans better, always worth trying to see if it works:
“23 ways to save money by eating less”
Make it exclusive, but leave out enough to induce curiosity
“23 ways to save money you will not read anywhere else”
Introduce the promise about a personal story into the headline
Making the headline about a real person gives it more power. There is also a curiosity element. We need to know why the girlfriend left:
“23 ways I can get my GF back and save money”
You can mix in the numbered theme quite easily with this one, discovered element
This is why this process is powerful, you may start with something quite bland but as you work through the stages you develop stronger ideas. This is why it is useful to write down ideas that you know you cannot use, but can move you forward to a headline you can use:
“23 reasons why eating cat food will save you money”
This is “an incongruous juxtaposition” of the seemingly unrelated. Therefore, it doesn’t have to be to be too controversial to be effective:
“How eating cat food can save you money and taste good”
A controversial headline can be created by questioning perceived wisdom, you don’t necessarily have to offend
By including a controversial food, such as caviar it increases the power of attention:
“Why cat food is tastier than caviar”
You could “Buzzfeed” the headline
For those who don’t know (I never like to assume) Buzzfeed.com is a curation site which made its name in crazy, curated content with highly effective headlines. It is currently moving into more serious journalism:
“23 videos of cats eating money”
This is an overt way to induce curiosity in the reader. It’s less powerful if the answer to the headline is binary one, as in, yes or no:
“Can eating less really save you money?”
If the question is non binary and directs the reader to list off the answer, it becomes more attractive to click through and read the body.
“What foods can you give up to save money?”
Adding something of deep interest to the question and the power builds
“Can you live longer when saving money by not eating?”
Factual with a stats headline
“I ate 54 donuts a week and saved money”
Even heavier statistics
“How I ate 500 donuts and still lost 15 kilos”
“I have eaten less and saved money”
“You will be surprised to learn what foods can save you money”
Counter intuitive headline, with built-in curiosity
“Why eating more can save you money”
Celebrity endorsement headline
“5 celebrities who tried eating less and saved money”
Absurd headline switching the elements
“Why eating money will not help you put on weight”
At the end of the process you can see that you have collected a large amount of headlines, some you will never use but they can still give your ideas for other headlines which you can.
You must be as free thinking as you can, when applying this process and understand that no one will read any of your ideas if you don’t want them to. The published headline will need to be within certain parameters to reflect the brand, but at the idea stage it’s more useful to go wet and wild.
After an hour or so of this process, you will be surprised at the quality of headlines produced. Your mind will start to connect pieces of information and bits of writing you have read along the way. When you get into the flow, the ability to create unique and usable headlines will be quite exciting. However, before you get to that point, your brain does have to be warmed up by going through these headline exercises.
You will learn to realise that the secret to writing magnetic headlines is to start writing with a structured process and let your brain do its job.