Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Why Effective Headlines Are Short

In many ways, blogging is more like newspaper writing than many give it credit. The best posts are focused on one theme (as they are in newspapers). The best posts are also usually timely and/or insightful (as they are in newspapers). Finally, the top articles have killer headlines (as in newspapers).

This morning, I read Nick Usborne's free e-mail newsletter that included a piece on why short headlines win. In the article, he talks about the importance of the first five words of a headline. What's funny is that his original post is comprised of 11 words (Live or die by the first 5 words of your headline) while his newsletter had the very concise 4-worder (Why Short Headlines Win). I prefer the more concise version.

Why effective headlines are short

There are three main reasons why effective headlines are short:
  • Sharability. The shorter a headline, the easier it is for people to share your headline--as you wrote it--on social networks, especially Twitter. If the headline gets too long or cute, it becomes less sharable in its original form, and the message may get jumbled when people do try to share.
  • Scanability. I really like that Usborne brought up the idea of scanning social media feeds, because it is vitally important that people can process your headline quickly while scanning feeds and streams of information. Just think about how you swim through those waters.
  • Searchability. In the end, concise keyword-driven headlines will improve your search engine results, which can bring in significant traffic over time. Search engines like Google look to the headlines and subheads first, and they put more weight on the first 50-70 characters (even more concise than Twitter).

How to write effective headlines

Writing effective headlines is part art and part craft. I can't help with the art, because that's something unique to each of us. However, I can help with the craft. Here are my four tips.
  1. Consider your main idea. Each post should have a main idea or point. If you have several main ideas or points, then you probably have several blog posts. Break them up. Your headline should communicate your main idea or point.
  2. Think keywords. There's a great free tool for figuring out good keywords to include in your posts that is used mainly advertisers for Google's AdWords program. All you do is enter your possible headline and see if people are searching on it. The best titles have high monthly searches with low competition. But sometimes, you're just not going to find that combo--so just do the best you can.
  3. Think short. This is the main point of this post. When you're creating that killer blog post title, keep it short. Usborne suggests the first 5 words are the most important; when looking back over my top 5 posts of all time on this blog, they communicate their main idea within the first 6 words.
  4. Spend time on the headline. This might be the most important tip. Don't just dash off the first headline that pops in your head--or even the second headline. Spend at least 5 minutes thinking about the blog post title. It could mean the difference between whether people read your post or not.

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Check out previous Not Bob posts for writers:

1 comment:

Julia Tomiak said...

Robert, Once again excellent advice that I plan to share. The importance of a good headline in the current age of social media cannot be overstated. Blogging has brought back lots of memories from journalism class- inverted pyramid & all! Thanks for sharing the keyword tool!