By Anna Condon, Junior Copywriter
Crafting compelling headlines is both an art and a science. You need to convey the essence of the content in a way that entices the reader to crave more, without giving away the meat of the story. Plus, in the age of web 2.0 headlines, you must also consider search engine optimization and character limits.
There are quite literally hundreds of Copywriting 101 tips for more engaging headlines – everything from leading with the benefit to exploiting your audience’s curiosity. We’ve selected four common “best practices” to help you get started, and keep readers from scrolling past your content.
Use numerals. If you take inventory of the articles trending on your Facebook feed, it won’t take long to find a listicle. Buzzfeed has created an entire platform around their popularity. We’ve discussed the power of numerals in the past, but it bears repeating. Readers are so bombarded with content that they can’t possibly read it all. Listicles make a clear promise about the amount of content and lend themselves to easy skimming when your audience is pressed for time.
Harness the power of negativity. No, we don’t mean tapping into some black magic to force readers to click on your content. Studies have shown that positive headlines (containing word like “Always” or “Best”) perform 50% worse than negative headlines (containing words like “Never” or “Worst”).
Still, you don’t need to fill your social feed with doom and gloom to increase engagement. Think of ways to use negative words in a positive way to bolster your shares, e.g. “10 Things to Stop Doing Today for a Happier Life.”
Turn announcements into stories. PR pros know the power of story. Traditional press releases contain important information, but crafting a compelling story to accompany the basic facts can help extend the life of your press release — since its estimated that stories are 22 times more likely to be remembered than facts alone.
For example, issuing a press release about your company celebrating 15 years of operation isn’t particularly interesting for anyone outside your office. Coupling that information with a story about the 15 years of community service your employees have dedicated to the local community — complete with a timeline of service initiatives and photos throughout the years — is compelling.
Take action. Surprise, surprise. Heeding your high school English teacher can go a long way toward crafting sharable headlines. The best headlines cut down on the fluff — superfluous nouns and adjectives — and incorporate specific action verbs.
Journalist and content writers alike know that verbs are the engine that drives the headline, which is why they typically use the historical present tense for headlines — meaning they use the present tense to describe actions that happened in the past. It conveys a sense of immediacy, in the same way many people normally speak in the present tense to describe exciting experiences to friends.