Lead in with Juicy Headlines

Due to the overwhelmingly positive feedback on our blogging tips for commercial printers post, I decided to extend this topic into an article series. Most of the responses I got came from folks in the printing industry who are pretty green when it comes to copywriting and content marketing in general. I applaud those of you with the courage to admit your inexperience. We all start somewhere, including yours truly.

I figured it would be helpful to break blogging down into parts and share some of my top trade secrets in the process. For my money there’s no better place to start than from the very top— your headlines, otherwise known as your post titles. Just like last time, I’m going to assume the role of you (the printer) and answer a series of questions I imagine you have about writing irresistible headlines.

Commercial-printers-guide-to-writing-blog-post-headlines

Pro headline writing Q & A for printing bloggers

I’ll try to cover all your questions, but I’m sure I’ll miss something. I guess that’s what the comments are for at the bottom of the page. Here goes…

Why do blog headlines matter?

I’ll defer to the Father of Advertising on this one:

On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar. -David Ogilvy

According to Ogilvy and the rest of our marketing forefathers, headlines matter most of all. I’m inclined to agree; I’ve seen a huge difference in my writing since I started focusing on catchy titles instead of pure SEO stuff. I used to add a couple of keyword phrases I wanted to rank for, throw them between | (horizontal dash) marks, and hit publish.

That’s completely wrong.

Say-no-to-overoptimization-in-title-tags

I’m telling you this in the hopes that you’ll learn from my mistakes. Here are 4 reasons why you must obsess over tantalizing titles.

  • Headlines act as the first impression. Ok, this goes back to the point about SEO. Before I wanted to impress Google’s bots because hey, they’re the ones serving up my content to readers, right? Well, that’s a pretty small part of the traffic equation in this case. The most SEO friendly title tag in the world doesn’t generate traffic if no one clicks on your link. Try thinking of your headline as an invitation to an event. A good invite tells you everything you need to know about what you’ll be attending, and gets you pumped up in the process.
  • Most people only read the headline! Ogilvy’s quote rings true as ever in the digital world. Compare your Twitter shares to the bounce rate on one of your most popular blog posts and you’ll see exactly what I mean. Tons o’ tweeps RT, favorite, etc. based on your headline alone. Very few folks stick around to actually read the rest of your content.
  • Great headlines increase CTR & social sharing. Speaking of sharing, headlines make a HUGE difference in search and social. As I said before, users determine whether to share your post or pass by the headline. The headline also appears prominently in search engine results pages. Your headline directly entices readers to click thru to read (or at least skim) the rest of the story. Compelling headlines will naturally increase traffic to your website.
  • Headlines = Conversions. Research suggests that 73% of all buying decisions are made at the headline. Let this statistic motivate you to increase sales with copy.

Should I include keywords in my titles?

Yes. Sparingly.

I’m sure you’ve heard the mantra, “write for people, not search engines.” There’s just one tiny problem with that: search engines are a barrier between you and readers. In other words, ignore them entirely at your own peril. This advice may not be as important to folks who blog purely for pleasure. But you’re blogging for your business. Huge difference.

Keyword phrases in title tags are a big ranking factor as are keywords in your URLs. Nevertheless, you want to strike a balance because keywords alone usually sound beyond boring. For example, which article would you rather read:

Business Card Printing | Print Business Cards Online or 15 Awesome Business Card Printing Projects?

I’m guessing you chose the latter. Notice how the 2nd title uses the keyword along with a number and an exciting adjective? That’s how you avoid overkill, by selecting a primary keyword phrase to nestle in between interesting language.

I’ve heard that bloggers write headlines first, is that true?

I can’t speak for everyone, but my blogging routine begins with the headline. Ditto my press release writing process. Now that I think about it, all my writer friends and the leading copywriting authorities, such as Copyblogger’s Brian Clark, recommend starting with the headline. Here’s a very convincing quote from the man himself:

Brian-Clark-copyblogger-headline-writing-quote

Yikes! No wonder you can’t move forward until you’ve nailed your headline.

Personally, I feel this approach allows me to zero in on the main point, which organizes my thoughts for me in a way. I find that when I craft the headline before I move on, the rest of my project falls into place. Plus I have a good reference point in case I get stuck or veer off topic.

How much time do I need to spend crafting the perfect post title?

While I can’t give you an exact time frame, I will tell you that I devote at least 10 to 15 minutes to my headlines. I come up with a topic based on research or in the moment inspiration, and then I slave over the best way to convey the article’s main message in as few words as possible. The only exception to this rule would be a long tail keyword phrase I’ve unearthed discovered after weeding through a pile o’ data.

Do my headlines have to relate to my articles? Can I just write whatever will get the most clicks?

You can…and surely you’ve noticed that numerous high PageRank sites (Huffington Post, Mashable, BuzzFeed, etc.) are guilty of posting downright ridiculous lead ins daily. I strongly urge you not to follow their example. At least not to the letter. Readers consider this behavior irritating from major publishers, yet those sites seem to get a permanent pass. Your small brand won’t survive a potential public backlash because you don’t have exclusive access to news stories or other stuff that almost makes up with the big brand garbage.

Bad-headline-writing-example-from-Buzzfeed

Image source: http://legalinsurrection.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Creepy-Obamacare-Ad-BuzzFeed-Headline.jpg

Let me put it this way: your headline makes a promise to the reader. Don’t break the promise by using a highly clickable title that doesn’t reflect your actual content or provides zero value due to hyperbolic expectations. In online marketing, we call said shenanigans link bait, click bait, or even click bait trolling.

How do I improve my headline writing skills?

As with all things in life, you only improve with practice. Over time you’ll learn what works and doesn’t work for your readers/social media communities. Now I know there are lots of articles with supposedly foolproof copywriting formulas online. But every marketer worth his or her salt knows that producing great content means hard labor. And testing, lots and lots of testing.

4 Pro headline writing tips for printing industry bloggers

Set those silly sites aside and learn from the true writing masters. Here are 4 pro headline writing tips to put you on the path to blogging righteousness! Plus each tip contains a helpful link for further reading.

Be brief. Aim for 5 to 8 words (unless you’re answering a specific long tail query), and remember that search engines have a 70 character limit for title tags. Characters include spaces, so be mindful of this when you’re picking the right words. Note: although you’re allowed 70 characters, that number is a bit misleading because search engines tend to cut off after 68 characters. I stick to 65-68. UPDATE: the folks at Google changed the way titles tags appear in search results. There’s no longer a set number of characters for optimization. Early research shows title tags with 55 characters will not get cut off for 95% of queries, so that’s your best bet. (Thanks, Roger!)

Use the active voice. This point touches on 2 important things to me. Action verbs add an element of immediacy to your content as opposed to passive sentence structure. What do I mean by active vs passive? I’ll show you!

Here’s a headline from one of our recent press releases: New Valley Print Studio Fuels Los Angeles Artists

The verb fuels refers to something that’s taking place right now. Let’s rewrite the same sentence in the passive voice for comparison: New Valley Print Studio is fueling Los Angles Artists.

Doesn’t the helping verb “is” suck the life right out of the sentence? Without the helping verb, we’ve got implied power, forcefulness. We want to read more about VPS because we want creative fuel, too. The word “is” diminishes the fuel by creating a linguistic pause, a detour of sorts. We were on the expressway to creativity, and we ended up taking the scenic route. Makea sensea?

Ask curious questions. Readers dislike ambiguity, which makes questions trickier on your end. I’m a firm believer that questions work as title tags so long as they’re specific. Another way to posit a question would be to give readers a choice or present a kind of conflict. I used this tactic when I wrote about a Print Media Centr webinar with Sappi Fine Paper. The webinar title Print And juxtaposed with Print Or in the title made for more post clicks.

Go for emotional impact. Emotional language makes keywords seem natural. Don’t go overboard, but feel free to engage in a little sensationalism. Instead of saying, “10 design tips for better brochures” how about, “10 killer brochure design tips” or “10 brochure design tips from the experts”.

And now for the piece de resistance, that copywriting trade secret I promised you commercial printers…

Introducing my secret sauce: the Emotional Marketing Value Headline Analyzer

Advanced-Marketing-Institute-free-headline-writing-tool

Before I explain this most excellent tool, I must give a hat tip to my friend Robert Waddington aka Alpha Avant for turning me on to this free gift from the advertising gods at the Advanced Marketing Institute. You’ll find the link to this prized asset in his tweet below or simply click on the screen shot. I urge you to follow him for more morsels.

 

This easy to use web based analyzer gives you a rough estimate of how much emotion your words will invoke in readers. The AMI site says that pro copywriters typically score at about 30-40% whereas the gifted will hit 50- 75%. I average 50, although I reserve bragging rights for my 2 perfect scores. I play around with this for 15 minutes or so until I’m satisfied with the results. In other words, I rarely go with my original thought—I try several different combinations in one sitting.

The Headline analyzer tool case study

I don’t have much evidence beyond my own site’s experience and anecdotal reports from friends. Still, I think you’ll agree that this tool improved our blog traffic as well as social shares. I started using it at the end of January. Take a look at our Google Analytics traffic data since then:

Blog-traffic-with-headline-tool

This graph is good enough for me. I’ll be able to report back after a year with a more detailed presentation. Until then, happy blogging!