Convince and Convert: Social Media Consulting and Content Marketing Consulting

A Marketer’s Guide to the Perfect Headline

Editor’s Note: This post is one of Convince & Convert’s Top 10 Posts of 2015.

Let’s start with a fundamental question: How are posts shared?

It’s not the blog post, tool, or resource that gets shared. That might be what motivates the person who is sharing it, but all that ends up getting shared is the headline. The headline is what you share with your subscribers, it’s what people see in search results, and it’s what gets passed around.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that a good headline is going to help your traffic prospects.

What’s less obvious is that sometimes the best way to come up with an idea is to start with the headline. Here’s why: If you start with the resource, you might end up putting a lot of time into it before you realize that there’s no way to summarize it with an irresistible headline. This is a lot like the death sentence most products face if they don’t have an “elevator pitch” on which to build.

The Ingredients of a Good Headline

According to a study published in The Guardian, these changes help your headline’s click-through rate:

Strategies the Best Blogs Use

Using a script, Startup Moon scraped several blogs and organized the posts from most to least shared on social networks. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they are the most shareable headlines, but it’s probably a good indication that these posts attracted more traffic than usual. Posts in the top 20% tended to use the following tactics:

Finally, if you want better headlines, your content needs to be built on a broader base of subjects and topics. This is where you look for inspiration from the top brands and widen your content strategy to include as many themes and ideas related to your industry as you can.

In another study, Ripenn analyzed 2,616 headlines on sites known for their ability to elicit clicks: BuzzFeed, UpWorthy, ViralNova, and Wimp. Here’s what they recommend as a result of their findings:

Working together with Ripenn on that study, BufferApp was able to discover that these were some of the most popular phrases in successful headlines:

Image via BufferApp

Image via BufferApp

What to Do When Sales is the Goal

While these are great tactics for sparking interest in a subject, many of them will backfire if you’re trying to target users who are already looking for something specific. Several case studies from ContentVerve at Unbounce demonstrate that, when it comes to landing pages:


The business of writing headlines for landing pages is very different from the business of writing headlines for blog posts. With landing pages, you’re trying to capture the attention of people who are already looking for something specific. Clever headlines just force them to think harder about what you’re offering.

With blog posts, on the other hand, you’re usually trying to elicit interest in a subject.

Focus on Your Goals

Think carefully about which goal you’re trying to accomplish before you write your headline.  In fact, this will probably depend on the platform. You’ll usually want to write more creative headlines for platforms like Facebook and Twitter, while you will often want to use more straightforward headlines for paid search or email.

It all comes down to the question of serendipitous discovery versus goal-oriented search.

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