The art of snackable storytelling
Many brands have started to recognize the effectiveness of content marketing and are investing a great deal into the development of compelling content. Yet many brilliant pieces are getting lost in the digital ether simply because insufficient attention is being paid to one of the most critical components: the headline.
The vast majority of readers will read only the headline without ever clicking through to the full article, especially in the age of social media where innumerable links and posts whiz past in peripheral vision. A good headline for brand-owned content should:
- Convey the gist of the article
- Tantalize prospective readers into clicking through
- Make a good first impression
- Lay the foundation for the piece to drive business results like leads and create a positive brand image
- Incentivize them into sharing the content with others
It might be a tall order to achieve all five points within a single headline, but here are a few quick tips to ensure that you hit at least three or four of them:
Balance snappiness against meaning
Many writers make the mistake of trying too hard to create a witty title, and they end up with a headline that is intellectually stimulating, but not very useful to potential readers.
A headline should immediately convey to any reader the benefits he or she will receive for reading the full article, and exactly why the content is relevant for them. Otherwise, it will simply be passed over for other content that seems more relevant or interesting.
Writers should be mindful of the platforms on which the content is likely to be shared. Headlines should be between 55 to 60 characters at most to avoid being truncated on Google searches; many other platforms, such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Skype and so forth offer even less space.
Furthermore, potential readers simply might not even read past the first few words of a headline. As such, every word counts, and one should avoid putting key words at the end of the headline to avoid having them cut off.
Don’t be afraid to use superlatives and adjectives such as “easy”, “strange”, “unique”, “incredible”, and “fun”, to help convey the impact your content will have on the reader. This makes it easier for the potential reader justify the time investment that would need to be spent on clicking through.
Use an assertive tone to position your brand as a thought-leader in the topic through the use of the active rather than passive voice. Avoid ambiguous terms, such as “7 things,” in favor of alternatives like “7 tips” or “7 tricks”.
Make Sure It’s Accurate
Many of us are familiar with click-bait articles, where the body of the content fails to live up to the promise in the headline. While such headlines help drive the single metric of click-through rates, it also results in very high bounce rates, while also leaving many readers with a bad taste in their mouths. As such, these headlines are actually counterproductive and should be avoided.
On a similar note, many articles naturally evolve throughout the writing process, and it is always worth revisiting the headline at the end to ensure that it encapsulated the entirety, or at least majority, of your content.
People respond well to numbers within headlines, which goes a long way towards explaining the popularity of listicles. Numbers in listicles (e.g. “7 tips”) give potential reasons a way to estimate the time investment required, as well as keep them reading after clicking through. Numbers can also immediately convey the business benefits of reading your content (e.g. “Increase revenue by 30%”).
Don’t give potential readers something to disagree with from the start
While controversial headlines might work for political blogs, giving readers something to discuss, they rarely benefit brand-owned content and simply dissuade potential readers from clicking. You may choose to include startling and potentially controversial insights in the body of the content, however the headline should instead focus on the end point: the benefits which readers will take away from the content.
Finally, having said all of the above, feel free to have fun with your headline, so long as it fits within the image of the brand you’re writing for. The right witticisms and wordplay help develop a more positive and relatable brand image, and can go a long way towards in encouraging readers to share the content with their family, friends and colleagues.