“On average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy.” – David Ogilvy

One might spin that positively and note that there are many more people who are at least seeing your article title and perhaps brand name. But the fact is, only a fraction of the number of people who see your title are going to feel compelled enough to read more.

And Ogilvy was referring to print. With the advent of social media, headline writing is even more challenging.

The pressure’s on now, isn’t it.

You’re ready to publish a new blog post, and you know how important that title is, yet everything you come up with seems no better than your fourth grade writing assignment, cleverly titled, “What I Did Last Summer.”

Unless you’re a headline writing savant, the way I see it, you have two choices. On the one hand, you can count on your budding reputation and authority in your niche to keep your followers clicking through to your content, or, you can invest a few more minutes and steal adopt my process for coming up with magical headlines.

What Headlines Are We Talking About?

Before we get into the process, it’s important to note that “Headlines” aren’t just for blog posts. In fact, the use of headlines extends well beyond the routine article, though it’s certainly a critical element of them.

Headlines today apply just as much to Pages as to Posts, as well as social media updates, image descriptions, videos, and more.

You see, the point of a headline is to give the viewer and reader a one-sentence hook to get them to continue reading. Which means that any piece of content, any kind of content, which can be shared to social or appear in search results, requires a compelling headline.

So yes, labor over your blog post titles, as those are critical headlines. But also pay attention to page titles, image descriptions, video titles, the first sentence of social media updates, and so on.

Here’s the process I use.

Use A Working Title To Start

Start with a working title. Don’t try to craft a magical headline before you’ve finished or even started writing your blog post. It won’t work! You will not have a clear understanding of what you’ve written about – only what you want to write about – and those two things are sometimes wildly different.

Mine usually starts as the title of the Evernote note or Google doc that I’m using to write my content. It serves as a great placeholder for to remember the post. “Oh yeah, that’s my article on headlines.”

In this case, I knew I was going to write about headlines, and I knew I wanted to work “magic” into the post, so my note was titled simply, “Headline Magic.” The article was written and revised over the span of several weeks, so that was a perfect indication to me at a glance what the content was about.

Give Yourself Time

For important blog posts, landing pages, advertising copy, and similarly critical headlines, you must give yourself adequate time to consider and revise the headline to achieve maximum effectiveness.

Some advice that good headlines take almost as much time as the writing of the rest of the copy.

Ogilvy, the advertising master, once rewrote an ad headline over 100 times.

“At 60 miles an hour, the only thing you hear in the new Rolls Royce is the ticking of the dashboard clock …”

Did you immediately picture yourself immersed in the luxury of a powerful Rolls, cruising down the highway?

Effective copy takes time, and that’s doubly true for headlines. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to brainstorm, revise and edit to come up with a magical title.

It’s also helpful if you can allow the focus and depth of your article to sit with you for a while, letting your creative subconscious mull it over.

While at Content Marketing World, I listened to the famous John Cleese of Monty Python explain how this worked for him.

In the above synopsis John speaks to the need for getting in your creative space, which we’ll talk about shortly. And you can see me at 3:50!

John had once spent hours working with Graham Chapman on a script for a new skit. But then the unthinkable happened and the notes were misplaced.

John went to bed that night furious at himself and frustrated, of course. All of that work was seemingly wasted.

But then the next morning, he got up and set out to try and recreate the script from his memory. Not only was he able to re-write it, but the new version was actually better than the original!

John’s subconscious worked on that skit’s idea and improved it without him having to actively direct his thoughts in that way.

While I don’t recommend deleting entire articles, I do think there’s something to be said for giving yourself, and your mind, time to work.

That may also mean giving you space to work – an environment that’s distraction-free, and which helps to spur your creativity. Try turning off your phone and notifications. Going outside. Blocking off a specific amount of time to just sit and think and be creative.

Once you’ve done that, there are three questions you should consider to help wizard your title into a powerful one.

What Will The Reader Gain?

First and foremost, your title must be clear about what the reader will gain. What will they learn? What will they come away with after reading your page or post?

And this principle should apply equally to any sales copy that you’re writing as well. Readers want to know Benefits, not Features.

The challenge here is to create a title that accurately communicates what you’re writing about, while doing so in a way that entices people.

Sometimes, that may mean making a decision up front about who you wish to target, and who you’re willing to exclude, in order to reach the optimum audience. I’ll explain.

Suppose you’ve written an article that’s a primer for using the live streaming platform Blab. You could title it simply “How To Use Blab” and you would go after the set of users who are new to Blab and researching how to start.

But what if you wanted to reach an audience of people who have never heard of Blab and don’t know what it is? How to use something they’ve never heard of will be of little interest to them. So instead, you might title the article, “Learn How I Exploded My Business in 30 Days.”

The point here is that there’s no right or wrong answer, so long as you’ve asked the question and made the determination.

What Will The Reader Avoid?

An alternate approach is to consider what the reader will avoid by reading your post. I say alternate because it’s unlikely you will be able to convey both a benefit and a detriment to be avoided in the same title.

That’s only to be considered if you have one clear positive and one clear negative that you focus on.

“Learn How To Exponentially Grow Your Business and Eliminate Churn”

Sometimes that can work really well, particularly if you can create dissonance between the two elements. Note in this example of how I used “exponentially grow” and “eliminate.” The alliteration creates a cognitive connection for the reader, while the wordplay first suggests an upward movement followed by an opposing downward trend.

While there’s no magic wand to wave over your titles to charm them into something truly magical, all it really takes is study and creativity.

For example, two years ago I was spending a lot of time on Google+ and began to notice a lot of the same mistakes being made over and over. Sometimes by me, sometimes by others.

I began writing an article on how to use the platform without making these mistakes, and then it dawned on me to flip the title, and the direction, of the article around.

Instead of writing what to do, I began writing what not to do. “How Not To Use Google+”

The result was one of my most popular posts ever. Not only did it resonate with Google+ users, both then and now, it was shared by the head of Google+ himself. (A share that literally broke my website.)

So when coming up with ideas on what your readers might gain from the article, also consider what they might avoid. It might for a more impactful title.

What Is Your Target Keyword?

Third, we need to talk about keywords and ask what it is we’re targeting. While some consider it a taboo subject and say things like, “Write for humans, not search engines,” the fact is, smart use of keywords IS writing for humans.

It is true that we want to rank highly for our target phrases, and that using those phrases within our titles helps tremendously.

But it is also true that when a human (that’s us) does a Google search for something and we see that something in the title of the search result, we’re more apt to click that result.

(Which, incidentally, is why Google puts more weight on keywords in the title.)

So taking the time to ensure that you’re targeting a keyword in your post, and trying to work that keyword into your title is a good use of time.

Of course, that means that you need to have a keyword that you’re targeting.

More Magical Moments

Up to this point, we’ve talked about using a working title, giving yourself plenty of time to think about the title, and some critical questions to ask yourself when crafting that title. What are the benefits? What’s to be avoided? What keywords am I targeting?

When you begin to take these steps and spend that kind of time on your title, what you’re really doing is giving your creative side inspiration and motivation. Our brains naturally try to create relationships and connections between everything we take in and process. And we start thinking about who we’re writing for, and what it is we want to them to get out of this article, new ideas will begin to bubble up.

And every once in a while, there’ll be a truly magical moment where an idea will strike you that just seems perfect and you sit back and say, “that’s the one!”

To help that process further, let’s consider some additional questions and perspectives which might help create more of those magical moments.

  • Is there an emotional connection that we want the reader to make which we can use in the title?
  • Consider addressing your readers in the 2nd person so that you make the headline about them.
  • Is there a controversial angle to your article?
  • Can you use stronger words than what you’ve chosen so far?
  • Would it benefit from a number?
  • Is every word that you’ve chosen so far completely necessary?
  • Is it 70 characters or less?

For more heading writing tips, read “5 Headline Writing Tips To Make Your Headlines More Effective.

Back To You

All of these suggestions and questions will help you to turn your boring, normal headlines into exciting, magical headlines. But don’t expect that to happen overnight. This isn’t an enchanted apple, but rather, a formula that provides you the basis for practice and experimentation.

Every article is different, so the lessons you learn for one might not apply to the next. And the technique you use successfully on one post may fall flat on the next.

So we need to test, observe, and then test some more.

Go back to some of your old articles, particularly ones that didn’t seem to perform as well, and try re-sharing them to social media using a different headline. This is one area where Twitter excels as a writer’s tool. You can tweet out 3 – 4 different headlines a day, all linking to the same article, and see which ones perform better than the others.

Not only will that give you great practice in writing and testing headlines, but it brings better exposure to those old posts. Give that a try and let me know how it goes for you.