Headsmacking Tip #21: Write Better Headlines Than Anyone Else

Posted by randfish

This tactic is so simple and obvious, it's probably illegal somewhere.

Every day, the web produces millions of pieces of content. Several thousand are almost certainly of interest to folks in your niche – those who might be reading your blog or sharing the content you produce. Creating unique stories requires creativity, research and time that many in the field don't have. But… writing the best piece, or even just a decent piece of content about an interesting topic and giving it a fantastic headline? Well, let's just say there's no such thing as a free lunch, but this one costs just pennies.

Here's how it works:

Step 1: Get Informed

  • Follow the right accounts of Twitter for your niche (those that share a lot of good stuff)
  • Set up some smart Google Alerts (particularly "news" and "blog" alerts)
  • Subsrcibe to Google News' subsections if there's an appropriate one
  • Use aggregation services like Reddit's subreddits, PopURLs, Topsy, StumbleUpon, Delicious, Metafilter, Alltop, etc.

E.g. The other day I found a research paper from Cambridge (via Reddit) on how negative thinking adversely impacts problem-solving ability.

Step 2: Choose the Best Pieces Each Day/Week

  • Find stories that have high overlap with your audience's interests
  • Don't exclude things that aren't "on topic!" Your goal isn't to only talk about your exact niche; it's to provide value to those who might be potential customers (big difference, probably deserving of its own blog post and illustration at some point)

E.g. That research paper had been written up in some small press pieces (as seen via this Google News query), but had yet to receive any major writeups, suggesting it's a perfect target.

Step 3: Rewrite the Headline Phenomenally Well

  • Get two solid writers in a room and have them brainstorm 10 ideas and angles for the headline
  • Have those two folks hash through and come up with the top three
  • Share with a wider group and get feedback about which will earn a click
  • OR if you have time, you can A/B test by sending an email to a small group with click tracking on each one and see which performs best (make sure to control for or randomize position in the email, as the first link often gets the click)

E.g. "Stay Away from Negative Thoughts to Improve Problem-Solving Ability" could be transformed into headlines like "Scientific research suggests haters really are harming your productivity," or "Is distraction a better problem-solving technique than deep thought?"

Step 4: Cover the Story from Your Angle

  • Relate the story back to your audience, but cover it accurately and be sure to cite your sources (linking out to these folks can have positive benefits all its own from trackbacks, traffic driven, future reciprocity, etc)
  • Include a graphic or image if at all possible (but stay far, far away from most stock imagery)
  • If possible, gather input from folks in your field via social channels or email; a few well-placed quotes can help the reach get wider and creates incentivized sharers

E.g. If I were writing for the marketing world, I might take an angle focusing on what gets marketers stuck in ruts, provide suggestions for distraction and draw on some of my own experiences (like those frequent ideas in the shower moments).

Many folks will presume this only works for news-focused sites or news-focused content. False! You can relate news and events to nearly anything you desire and make it function with the brand and voice you're trying to craft. E.g. "How the Facebook IPO Will Change Commuting Patterns in the Bay Area," "Will Rising Sea Levels Affect Your Favorite Beach Getaway?" "Dental Implants May Be a Thing of the Past Thanks to Gene Therapy," "The Privatization of Space Flight Will Come at a Cost for Floridian Home Owners." I'm not suggesting any of these are particularly excellent, but hopefully you can imagine how to extend the concept of headline-writing into your field.

p.s. If you're looking for some headline advice, I particularly liked this piece on Why Gawker's Writing Better Headlines Than the Rest of the Web and this section on Copyblogger.

Oh – and don't miss Dan Shure's excellent "Are Your Titles Irresistably Click-Worthy & Viral?"

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July 1, 2012  Tags: , , , , , ,   Posted in: SEO / Traffic / Marketing

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