One of the biggest mistakes (amongst many) I made when I first started blogging was to not think carefully about the headline I chose.
The same applied to my newsletter to the extent that I really upset a number of people on one occasion.
We had had a case of 60 copies of “How To Be Rich and Happy” stolen en route to a charity in South Dakota and quite honestly, I was pissed.
I wrote a post for the blog entitled ‘Thanks For Stealing From A Charity’
I explained to our readers what had happened and how frustrating it was, especially as I’m pretty sure nobody would want 60 copies of the same book.
I then sent the post out to my newsletter list using the exact same title.
With a blog you are talking generally and headlines are designed to to attract interest.
However, with a newsletter you are sending an e-mail to an individual and the approach needs to be more personal.
To receive an e-mail saying, ‘Thanks For Stealing From A Charity’ is likely to have you thinking the person is accusing you personally of theft.
The e-mails of complaint soon let me know I’d screwed up.
Why Is A Strong Headline Important?
A good blog or newsletter headline can be the difference between the former being read widely, shared on social media and maybe even going viral, and the latter simply being ignored.
Think of the lengths newspapers (especially the tabloids) go to to grab your attention.
And they do so because they know there is a lot of competition and if they cannot stand out they won’t attract the casual reader.
Not only that, but every blog post is an opportunity to speak directly to Google so that you can potentially be found under that search term for months and even years to come.
I conservatively estimate that I get 10 new clients per year who found me in an online search from an old blog post that popped up.
In this post I’m going to take a look at the different approaches you can use to help you maximize every article you write.
However, what i’m not going to do is give you headline hacks per se.
Blog Post Hacks Can Undermine Your Credibility
The reason being is that there are numerous resources online suggesting you use titles like, “The 9 Lies The Self Development Industry Don’t Want You To Know About’ because for the large part I’m just not keen on them.
One very well known blogger sends his newsletters out with very intriguing titles using clever language designed to get you to open immediately for fear of missing out on something crucial.
That is fine up to a point, but it’s a little bit like being told after every episode of your favorite TV program that next weeks will be the best ever when you know damn well it will be about the same.
After a while you realize it’s bullshit and (in my case anyway) start doubting the integrity of the source.
It’s not dissimilar to high pressure sales in my opinion and relies hazily on instilling fear in the reader that if they don’t open they are missing out.
Instead I’m going to take a look at some titles I have used and explain why I used them and why they worked.
And by the way, they don’t always work and I do publish posts where I use ambiguous or even vanilla headlines because I simply cannot think of anything intriguing.
I won’t go to extremes to contrive headlines that Google and my readers will like every single time.
When I launched the new design at A Daring Adventure (by the way the new design here will be with you very soon), the title of the post was ‘Welcome To Our New Home’
Google Friendly? Absolutely not.
But I didn’t really care, I wanted the post title to give people a clear idea that we had changed the design of the site and that they were very welcome to take a look around…..if they wanted.
I suppose I could have opted for, ‘Why My New Web Design Will Make Me A Fortune”, and without doubt got more page views, but it would have been arrogant and purely speculation, so I preferred a low key approach.
So let’s take a look at some options that can work for you without you turning into Fox News and scaring the shit out of everybody.
The ‘How To’ Headline With Google In Mind
Let’s suppose you want to write a post on how to stop procrastinating, which do you think is better?
How To Stop Procrastinating or
How Do I Stop Procrastinating?
The former makes more sense and will read better on Social Media etc. However, it has one major drawback that the second one doesn’t have.
Google loves relevancy and, all things being equal, is way more likely to send people to a blog post with an exact search term match than one that is just close.
People aren’t going to type the former into Google as they are focussed on themselves and so, “How do I stop procrastinating?” is far more likely to return an exact match and have Google kindly sending people in your direction.
Only last week I had an inquiry from a women who wanted me to coach her son. She had typed, “Self Development For Kids” into Google and low and behold got sent to a post that I wrote with that exact title.
And that is not a one-off, I have such inquiries on a regular basis from posts written years ago.
When I ran a guest post series on topics I knew little about like EFT, Sedona Method and Binaural Beats I made sure they were titled, “What Is EFT?” “What Is The Sedona Method?” etc
Again that’s because that is what people will type into a search engine and the post on the Sedona Method brings me a steady stream of traffic years after it was published.
The Who Cares About Google, Look At The Traffic Headline
When I wrote a post called, “Cannabis is Better For You Than Multi-Tasking“ I realized it was unlikely to show up in any Google search.
The reason is that people who already knew that wouldn’t be searching for it, and those who didn’t wouldn’t be aware to even look for it.
It was intended to gain Social Media traction as it’s very much a title that could get shared on sites like Digg, Stumble Upon And Reddit and potentially provide heavy levels of traffic.
Although 100,000 curious stoners visiting my site to validate their habit was of dubious value in terms of clients, it did help my Alexa ranking.
The A Little Bit For Google, A Little Bit For Social Media Interest Headline
On 3 occasions I have written posts on quotes and all have gone viral, and by that I mean had at least 250,000 unique page views.
I know people love quotes and promoting the posts in the right place was always likely to have people scurrying to share them.
After all, who can resist a post entitled, “The 20 Greatest Motivational Quotes Of All Time”, even if it’s only to see if your own favorite is in there, or to disagree.
Not only that, but people do search for things like ‘great motivational quotes’ and all of those posts still bring in regular traffic.
The Social Media Will Love You Headline And List Posts
My latest post “20 Unusual Facts About Self Development” is really aimed at Social Media and shares from my blog readers.
The key to the headline is the word ‘unusual’.
It creates curiosity and people are intrigued to know what makes these facts unusual and way more likely to click on than the rather more vanilla, ’20 Facts About Self Development’
My post, “Motivation In 12 Easy Steps” works on a number of levels.
Firstly, and something I have not mentioned before now, the focus keyword of ‘motivation’ is at the front of the title and Google likes this as it gives more prominence to the words at the beginning of the title.
That by the way is the reason why I may sometimes write posts like ‘Life Coaches: Ten Bad Reasons For Not Starting A Practice’, simply because I want the keyword of ‘Life Coaches’ at the front of the headline.
Secondly, people know there are 12 steps and as such they can probably scan the subheadings and decide what is relevant to them.
And finally, I’ve told them it’s easy so they don’t need to invest too much energy.
The Topical Headline (also called Newsjacking)
I back off from doing this too often (even though it can be effective) as it can come off as being exploitative if you’re not careful. Especially if it’s around somebody’s demise or a natural disaster etc.
The death of Nelson Mandella spurned numerous blog posts looking to cash in with higher traffic with millions of people looking to read about the great man.
I have no doubt most were genuine and written to show their admiration and support, but I have equally no doubt that many writers knew they would probably get more views than if they’d written a post on the death of Milli Vanilli’s career.
I did write a post on the media uproar when Michael Sam became the first openly gay athlete to declare for the NFL draft because I felt strongly about it.
However, the title I used of, “I don’t give a shit of you’re gay’ was hardly exploiting the situation because I didn’t even include his name.
Having said all that, there really is no harm in using something like an A-list celebrity marriage, the launch of a blockbuster movie or hearing Rush Limbaugh saying something remotely sensible as long as it’s relevant to coaching or self development.
I once read a post (and I forget where now) called something like, ‘What Most People Can Learn From Kim Kardashian When It Comes Marketing’ and it really was very excellent.
It was informative, relevant with a highly clickable headline that was in no way deceptive because she really has pulled off some marketing masterstrokes.
The Controversial Headline
These types of posts are really aimed at stimulating blog comments and hopefully Social Media exposure.
However, it’s no good using a controversial headline and then losing your bottle with the actual post and pussy footing about.
When I wrote, “The Law of Attraction Is A Con“ I did not hold back with my opinions. In fact I ripped the theory apart with the eagerness of a highly caffeinated 8 year-old opening his Christmas presents.
These posts are designed to polarize. Many people agreed with me and got my point, many did not, but that was the point.
I’d rather have 1,000 loyal followers who ‘get me’ than 10,000 who want me to appease them all the time.
Oh and by the way, that is a post that many people have found me by when searching about the Law of Attraction.
Newsletters require a much more personal touch as I explained in the intro.
People tend to visit blogs because they want to read them.
However, with newsletters, (unless you use segments) the person signed up gets everything irrespective of its relevance to them.
When I send out a newsletter purely designed to sell Life Coaching or Life Coach training I make it abundantly clear.
I have gone as far as to use headlines such as, “Only open if you’re interested in becoming a Life Coach”
I know this will result in much lower open rates, but it will also result in much lower levels of people unsubscribing because they think I have conned them into opening a newsletter that they think is irrelevant to them.
At the end of the day, whatever options you choose the proof is in the pudding in terms of, are people opening and reading?
If they are, then irrespective of anything I have just said, you’re doing something right!