My 8th grade science teacher said something on the first day of school that I’ve always remembered — “You only have one chance to make a good first impression.”  It’s a statement that’s true in all parts of life, including your content marketing strategy.  Web searchers will give your content a couple of seconds to grab their attention, and if it doesn’t, they’re off and running to the next thing.

That means your content marketing strategy is going to live and die by the headlines you create.

Sure, there are other things that have to be included in a great content strategy — like killer research, conversational writing, and the right promotion.  But it all starts with the headline.  If people aren’t captivated by your headline, they’re never going to click on your content and see all of that expertise you have.  They’re never going to find out how engaging you are with your readers.  They’re never going to want to learn more from you.  They’re never going to see your link and check out your products.

In short, your content marketing strategy isn’t going to go anywhere.

photo courtesy of Eirik Solheim
photo courtesy of Eirik Solheim

Remember, your content doesn’t exist in a vacuum.  It’s sitting on a page with countless other headlines.  Whether your headline appears on page 1 of the Google results, in a newsletter that curates content from around your niche, or on an authoritative site like this one, readers have plenty of options.

So, how do you make them choose YOU?

You have to create headlines that…

…Get to the point

Web readers are notoriously impatient.  They’re also big scanners — meaning they scan a page to see if anything catches their eye and appears to be worth their time.  So, if people can’t figure out exactly what your headline means as they scan over it, they’re never going to click on it.  They’ll see your headline as more trouble than it’s worth.

That’s why you see so many dashes used on the web (like the ones used in the headline of this very article).  In a fraction of a second, you could see that this article was going to talk about clickable headlines.  So, if you’re interested in improving your headlines, you were interested in seeing what this article had to say.

…Stand out

If you’ve spent any time surfing the web, you know it’s chock full of headlines that start with numbers — like “5 Ways to Tell if Your Social Media Strategy is working” or “10 Tips for Baking Better Biscuits”.  Sure, these headlines get to the point — you know you’re going to get a list of advice if you read the article — but they don’t really stand out.  You’ll find a near-endless stream of similar headlines in every niche on the web.

If you want readers to click on your headline, you’ve got to make sure it’s written to say, “Hey, you!  Look at me!  I’m so much better than the stuff around me!  I’m offering something fresh and different!”  So, if you were writing a headline for our two fictional articles above, you could write something like, “5 Symptoms of a Social Media Strategy on Life Support” or “Want Mouth-Watering Biscuits?  Just Follow These 10 Tips!”  These headlines get to the point, but they do it in a much more compelling way.  When you read them, you can’t help but want to learn more.

…Pose a question

You don’t necessarily have to turn your headline into a question, but you need people to have a question when they’re finished reading it.  For example, if you saw the headline “5 Symptoms of a Social Media Strategy on Life Support”, you’d probably think, “Uh-oh!  Does MY strategy show any of these symptoms?!”  Now you’ve got to click on the article and get an answer.  Boom!  Just like that, the author has reeled you in!

…Make a legitimate promise

Remember, people are searching the web because they need answers to their questions and solutions to their problems.  If your headline promises to give them the valuable information they need, people are going to click on it — as long as your promise looks legitimate.

Let’s say you’re trying to attract readers in the make money online niche.  If you have an article with a headline that says “Starting an Online Business?  Follow This Blueprint”, you’re promising to offer step-by-step instructions to anyone who wants to start their own online business.  That’s a promise that’s certainly worth a click!

However, if your headline says “Starting an Online Business?  This Blueprint Will Have You Making Millions by Next Tuesday”, people are going to think you’re ridiculous.  After all, common sense tells you that you can’t make millions of dollars by next Tuesday, so any information you offer to try and support this assertion is a complete waste of time.

There’s a huge difference between standing out and being sensational.  If you create insane headlines to try and attract attention, you’ll get it all right — but it won’t be the kind of attention you want!  If you want to be known as a bonafide expert, you’ve got to create headlines (and content!) that offer legitimate answers and solutions.

Everything else is going to be seen as word vomit.