5 steps for hacking headlines for traffic, shares and SEO

Whether you’re just starting or at the stage of regularly producing content on your blog, a person who is building to maximise their audience targeting has the same thing on their mind - how do I maximise the audience reach of my newly created post?

Clickbaiting is definitely not the way to go about this, as it is a clear signal of not knowing how to engage or sell a story to an audience and generally over promising something that will not be delivered.

Having a clear headline provides you the fundamental ground work in producing your best post, and you don’t have to spend significant time trying to come up with a creative headline. This post outlines a 5 step process to hacking your way (through data) in maximising your post for traffic, shares & SEO.

Step 1 - Determine the topic of the article based on keyword targets

Creating content that is valued by your audience comes down to creating content that is sought out for (on the exception of being a trend piece). If a topic is not found then it is usually not worth being created. So it is important to include words that people are using to search for specific topics, especially long tail opportunities that aren’t competitive which you can easily target and standout, especially in your early stages.

There are various tools that can be used to understand the search demand and intent of your audiences searches:

  • Google Keyword Planner
  • Keywordtool.io
  • Google Suggest / Soovle
  • Answer the Public

If you then find the right keyword/s, then it would be easily applied to across all SEO elements for targeting and evenmore reinforce the headline.

Step 2 - Determine the type of post you are going to create

Maximise the flow of the article by formatting the headline according to the format of the headline. Let’s start with the definition of the 10 types of headlines out there:

  • Direct: Tell your prospect exactly what’s coming
  • Indirect: Use curiosity to raise a question in the reader’s mind. Use this with some caution as you don’t want to attract and then disappoint visitors. Example from Copyblogger : An article might have the headline Fresh Bait Works Best and yet have nothing to do with fishing, because it’s actually about writing timely content that acts as link bait.
  • News: If your product or service is newsworthy offer it in your headline
  • How to: This is the most direct method of resolving a problem and answering a question. Try adding ‘how to’ in front of your headline
  • Question: Ask an industry or market specific question but be careful when using this one. You must know your market backwards otherwise you can blow your whole advertising campaign. The best types of questions to ask are questions which get your prospect involved.
  • Command: this tells your customers what to do – encourage action by also offering a benefit
  • Reason Why: give your prospect reasons why they should read your article
  • Testimonial: use excerpts from testimonials to write winning headlines
  • Benefit: Benefits sell, features don’t. Know your market well so the benefits you are writing about resonate.
  • Guarantee: State a desirable benefit and guarantee results or other benefits – be sure you can back up your promises

Examples of Headline Types:

  1. Direct: Learn How to Write Content Search Engines Can Find
  2. Indirect – Fresh Bait Works Best (Example from Copyblogger)
  3. News – Announcing a cure for…
  4. How To – How to Increase Conversions
  5. Question – Has Your Website Traffic Dropped?
  6. Command – Stop Wasting Marketing Dollars
  7. Reason Why – 25 Reasons to Eat Turkey
  8. Testimonial – Great Looking Proposals in Minutes
  9. Benefits – Drive Qualified Traffic at a Lower Cost
  10. Guarantee – Generate 100 Leads in 60 days or it’s FREE

Step 3 - Write the headline

The CUEP Formula can offer you an effective method for creating a readable and commanding headline by structuring your headline to grab and then keep a user's attention by starting with a word that is easy to read (and create a basic structure of a post) and end with a powerful word that evokes action. CUEP stands for Common, Unique, Emotional & Powerful.

Coschedule provides breakdown of this in detail however, here are some examples of the different types of common, unique, emotional and powerful words you can use.

Step 4 - Optimise the Headline

Once you have gone ahead and created the headline, make sure that it has been optimised to fit the guidelines offered in the previous steps.

Ensure that the post has been optimised through word length (write your headlines up to 5-6 words) and format effectiveness. Here are the top headline analyzer tools that you can use:

Step 5 - Review article performance and adjust headline as needed

Congratulations so your post is now live! So is it simply set and forget? Despite posts having a relatively long life, they can eventually decay overtime due to various factors such as competition, temporal and seasonality despite some topics having consistent searches. More than often, rather than going ahead and creating a new headline and post around a similar topic, you can upgrade the existing post to freshen the topic and continually ensure that people are effectively clicking through your article, especially from organic search.

Google Search Console is the ideal tool and method for reviewing your posts performance click through on an ongoing basis.

Using Search Analytics, like the picture below, you can see the type of queries driving traffic to a particular page and its associated.

The article referenced here indicates ‘digital publishing trends 2017’ provides a high click through rate (average 40% across all keywords). What can be drawn from this is the searches from this piece is highly timely and that sometime towards the end of the year, an updated (or new) piece would be needed to be produced to keep the interest and replenish the sites audience.

Bonus - Other techniques from leading professionals in creating headline hacks

What we have shown you is a data driven process for creating effective headlines, however how can you create a creative headline on your own right? Kapost shared some other techniques that well known writers in their respective fields use time and time again:

  • Jimmy Orr, LA Times - Write four to five headlines and then asking your colleagues for feedback
  • Carlos Lozada, The Washington Post - Conduct a socia proof test and write the headline to see how it would look like as a social media update
  • Peter Koechley, Upworthy - Literally write 25 headlines for an article and choose the best one. More than often after the 20th your ideas start to improve and you can more than likely choose one of them.
  • Chris Moran, The Guardian - The ‘how simple it can get?’ Start with a headline idea and continually rewrite it until everyone can understand it, no matter where and how it appears
  • Rand Fishkin, Moz - Create a headline loop by getting inspired/informed, narrow your ideas, rewrite the best headlines and putting your own spin on it.
  • Matthew Winkler, The Bloomberg - Templatise and conduct your headline idea in advance by writing story templates in advance of events, identifying the top ten influencers in your space and what their views on issues are, knowing how to reach sources at a moment's’ notice.
  • Brian Moylan, Gawker (no longer exists) - Put your whole story in the headline, except for the key engagement assets needed for more detail.
  • Jeff Goins, Goins Writer - Number or Trigger Word + Adjective + Keyword + Promise i.e. “How You Can Effortlessly Sell Your Home In 24 hours”
  • Michael Aagaard, Content Verve - Headlines that provide positive benefits generally outweigh the negatives. Find good things and turn it into a headline
  • Leo Wildrich, Buffer - Test the headline before publishing. This can be done using step 4.

What is your current process in creating effective headlines? Have we missed out other well known experts that can also be included on this list? What were your results when trying this five step process. Please leave your comments below.

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