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Writing Headlines

Kill the clickbait.

Headlines are a challenge. 
Hitting the sweet spot of a catchy and engaging headline that isn't clickbait is one of the biggest mysteries of content creation. It's mostly a process of trail and error, and always remembering to focus on what really matters most: your reader.
What is a headline's job?
We've been taught that headlines should be optimized for:
  • SEO
  • Clicks
  • Shares
But good headlines need to serve the reader. A headline should intrigue, inform, and answer a question while also being clearly related to the content of the article.
Let's talk about clickbait.
Clickbait headlines play on our brain's need to "finish" things. Clickbait makes your brain crave the information that isn't in the headline. This would seem like a brilliant strategy, wouldn't it?
But clickbait headlines are often disingenuous, and don't accurately describe the article. This leads to a massive number of people clicking, reading a sentence or two, and clicking out—contributing to a high bounce rate. Even Buzzfeed has stopped using clickbait headlines. 
You're far better off as a blogger having lower traffic numbers with a lower bounce rate than you are with thousands of hits but no actual readers. This actually helps your SEO, too.
So what DOES make a good headline?
You can still use a headline to play on our human need to find out more; just be sure your headline directly reflects your content. Here's what your great headline should do.
  • Be value driven 
  • Tease an answer to a question
  • Suggest a call to action
The first item is the most important. What is this blog post offering the reader? Why is it valuable? The headline should make that clear.
Don't neglect that first paragraph.
A strong first paragraph is as important as a great headline. You want your reader to know, with confidence, that they clicked on the right article, and that's what your first paragraph does. It reaffirms the reader's choice to give you their time.
What about keywords in headlines?
If your article is topical and your headline reflects the topic appropriately, guess what? You've already done all the keyword work you need to do for a blog post. Keywords no longer factor into rankings; context does. So if you're writing good, solid blog posts, keywords take care of themselves.
So what does matter more? Using headings (H1, H2, or the rare H3) in your content itself. You'll notice I use short paragraphs blocked out with headings. Those headings aren't just larger text; they are coded specifically to tell the search engine crawlers HEY LOOK HERE, THIS IS WHAT THIS IS ABOUT. So use them smartly and often.
It's also beyond time to make sure your site is mobile optimized—and by that I mean, your site is in HTML5 and is mobile responsive. That Wordpress "mobile" plugin isn't enough anymore. If you don't make the switch, your rankings will tank.
Test those headlines during social sharing.
Email marketers know the value of a/b testing subject lines. Luckily, sharing your blog post on social media allows you to do the same thing with social media sharing. When you tweet or Facebook post or Pin links to your post, keep track of what WORKS. If a particular line in a tweet is sending more links to your post? Change your original headline. It's a smart way to make sure you're right on target with your headline.
Feeling better about writing headlines?
Good. Just remember: write headlines for readers, not search engines. Avoid disingenuous clickbait. Write a killer first paragraph. Test those headlines. Now, go forth and write strong, my friends!
A couple of headline writing resources:
Catch me live each morning during the week at 10:30am ET on Periscope. Find me there as @CecilyK!
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