Writing Headlines – Why “It’s My Blogs Birthday!” is a Stupid Title

Headlines are Just if Not More Important Than the Post




A sentence or two takes but a moment to write. No real work involved in writing a sentence. But a headline, a headline is a sentence that’s mission critical for your website. It’s the most important aspect of your published online work (and new publishers always, always neglect this).


Headlines matter because they are the first impression and perhaps the only impression you give to prospective traffic in order to turn that random traffic into active readers. You either get their attention with the headline or they ignore what you read.

This is even more true online than it is in print media

With print media you can still skim an article to get the general idea of what it’s about. Maybe the headline was not a tremendous attention grabber. You’ll still spend a few seconds skimming the article to determine its worth. But with online publishing however, your online content does not get this benefit.

People share you content on Twitter of Facebook – they only share the title. New traffic hits your website and they will within the first 5 seconds determine if this website is relevant to their goals and if this website is worth their attention. Otherwise, they’re going to ignore what you have to say.

Why won’t people read what I write!

Way back when I started in the mid 2000’s I struggled to get people to actually read what I wrote. I was able to get traffic because I understood SEO and had a diligent work ethic. But my stats for my main website at that moment in time were grim. Traffic was great but the time on site and page views were terrible. People came to the website and either stayed 10 seconds or clicked on one page and spent 30 seconds on that second page.

The causes of this could be a few different things:

  • Your website is loading slowly.
  • You’re getting traffic that is irrelevant to what the website is about (e.g. traffic from a website on running marathons would be a terrible fit for a dating website).
  • Your content is difficult to read because of grammar errors, and it’s not easy to read because of small text (people want to skim easily).
  • Your headlines suck.

The culprit was my headlines.

With publishing content online, you need pithy, original and purposeful headlines that convey what the content is about. This headline also needs to have some basic SEO principles tied into it but more on that in a moment.

A bad headline:

It’s my blogs birthday!

Bad because it conveys no value. It has no pressing reason for me to read it. I feel like my time would be better spent NOT reading it.

A good headline:

12 bits of wisdom from 12 month of blogging freedom

Good because you can instantly know if this content is a good fit for you or not. It’s also good because you get the general idea of what the content will be about WITHOUT actually saying what it will be about.

“How to” works for specific people looking for how to do the specific thing I wrote about but the best headlines leave a little to the imagination. Like:

  • The stunning truth about XYZ
  • How XYZ evolves
  • On embracing XYZ in a digital world
  • Th Facebook exodus and the…..
  • Fuck Facebook, why I’m quitting the Internet for good

After you have written content online for a few years you begin to understand what words, phrases and sentence work towards driving the highest click through rates and what phrases go ignored. It becomes an subtle skill you develop. One which you don’t even realize know you have.

So where to start with learning how to write headlines?

First read, read and read. Develop a substantial vocabulary of words. Next, take note of post titles on other websites that seem to have gotten a lot of attention via Twitter, Facebook, and Stumble Upon. Next, spend some time over on Digg.com and Reddit.com (find sub Reddits related to your topic) and take not of what people are sharing (and the titles of the content they are sharing).

Next go to some of the most popular websites in your industry and take a look at the “most popular” post section and notice how each post title is crafted.

If these post titles worked for them, you can craft them in such a way that they will work for you too. Remember, no idea is original. It’s the execution, timing, and your selling proposition that makes the difference.

Isn’t it bad to copy? Isn’t that sort of like stealing? No, professional copywriters do this too (and probably these blogs/websites too). They keep a collection of “winning” copy known in the industry as “copywriting swipe”  for inspiration and to use in their work. Develop your own swipe file of killer titles for your own inspiration.

SEO and your Headlines

Now, you could post title after title with a small bit of hyperbole like:

“How to Get 5,347 Facebook Likes for your content in one day”

…but if you have no traffic it does not matter how clever, interesting or outrageous your titles are – no one is on your website so no one is going to read it, share it, and spread it. You need traffic to get the proverbial ball rolling, and the best traffic for long term growth is from search engines.

To write content that ranks well involves many factors that you don’t even have direct control over. The things you do have control over however, the things you should obsess over, is your content and headlines. Titles need to include your keyword that you are trying to rank for. Let’s examine this.

The “How to Get 5,347 Facebook Likes for your content in one day” is a good title because specific details are simply more believable than broad meaningless assertions. Any one can write what they think, but if you have data and a methodology that led you to getting 5,347 likes to something you wrote on Facebook, people want to know (meaning you can’t just write hyperbole, you need to back up what you say).

There is no right way to incorporate your keywords into your titles unfortunately. You simply need to know what your keywords are and figure out how to incorporate them into some winning titles you have curated from other websites. That’s it.

You should be spending a significant time on your titles. Stress over your titles. Worry about them. Make them good. It’s worth it because otherwise NO ONE is going to read what you write.

Your traffic also needs to convert, otherwise what’s the point?

Another lesson from my old high traffic website with poor titles and low engagement. Your traffic needs to convert, otherwise whats the point? Getting a lot of traffic is addictive. It feels like you are making progress. But traffic does not pay the bills. Traffic does not necessarily grow your readership and reach. Engagement does. Engagement is people taking action because of your copy.

So SEO is important for your headlines, and it’s important for your copy to rank well for it’s respective keywords and phrases. Not because you played the search engines in some way, that you created content search engines love but people hate… because that just brings us back to the first point. Traffic does not pay the bills. Your content needs to convert or again, what’s the point?

Instead, create content people love. Create content that search engines love. Write post titles that are purposeful and pithy. Titles that also contain your keywords. Your headlines are more important than you realize. Put the time in to create something that people simply can NOT ignore.

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