While I was researching what makes a good headline, one question kept resurfacing: what is the difference between a headline and a title? I think it is important to answer this question before looking into the elements that make up a great headline.
You see, headlines and titles serve similar functions and are similar in many ways, so there is plenty of overlap between the two. Many marketers can easily make the mistake of assuming they are both the same, but there is one aspect that sets the two apart.
I’m sure you’ve seen the title of this article before you clicked on it. The title serves to tell you what this article will be about — it is more for the benefit of the reader. Headlines, while also meant to grab attention, have an implicit aim of getting the reader to take an action — it is more for the benefit of the marketer.
Here’s a twist — the title of this article is also the headline. As I mentioned, there is quite a bit of overlap between headlines and titles, and this manifests in the way that titles can be headlines, but not all headlines are titles. To put it simply, titles fall under the umbrella of what headlines are.
So how does one differentiate between a headline and a title? Generally speaking, titles are used for articles and any type of long-form content. Headlines aren’t as restricted to the content that they are attached to. For example, imagine the banner of your landing page, which contains a short phrase that is meant to instantly hook your visitors. That may not necessarily be considered a title, but it is your headline.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, the next step is to look at the elements that make up an impactful headline. Headlines are so omnipresent in marketing that it is important to do them right. From landing pages, to blog articles, to social media posts (really, the list is endless), headlines are everywhere. So here’s what we found about what an effective headline should include.
1. Use numbers
Headlines with big, obscure numbers at the start tend to do much better than those without. Almost every headline guide will agree on this. In fact, A/B testing has been conducted previously on the same exact headline, the only exception being one has the number written out and the other has the number spelt out. And the one with the number written out always wins.
2. Put impact words at the front
Trigger words like how, why and what tend to draw in more readers than most other words. Especially when placed at the front of your headline, it is more likely to enable or persuade someone to click on your article and read it. Just make sure that your headline either starts with trigger words or numbers, because it rarely works well if you try to do both at the same time.
Here’s a really good example to help you decide which to choose should you ever face a similar scenario:
The two titles, “10 Simple Communication Tips That Can Help You Ace Your Job Interview” and “How to Ace Your Job Interview with These 10 Simple Communication Tips”, both mean the same thing. However, on mobile devices such as the email inbox, long headlines are very much likely to get cut off. Subject lines get truncated after about 45 characters in the mobile inbox. Similarly, headlines get truncated after about 60 characters in search results. This is why it’s extremely important to put the keyword within the first handful of characters in your headline. Readers would be able to see the benefit and value of clicking into your article clearly.
3. Incorporate emotional words
Using powerful adjectives will draw out emotion from your readers, which might then nudge them into taking an action. Words such as free, incredible, effortless, and painstaking all have high emotional value in them. When emotional adjectives are used to describe pain points, your readers would be more likely to feel a sense of connection to you and/or the topic at hand.
The Advanced Marketing Institute (AMI) has created a headline analyser that looks at the emotional marketing value (EMV) of your headline, which is a gauge for how likely your headline will be able to elicit an emotional response from a reader. By eliciting emotions, you are more likely to get your readers to like, share, and engage with your article.
In fact, studies show that headlines that elicit positive emotions are more likely to get your reader to take the action you want them to. This is as the positive emotions give readers an additional boost and help them imagine a better outcome.
4. Create a sense of urgency
Developing urgency in a headline by including words such as ‘now’ or ‘today’ is more likely to push your readers into taking action. For instance, “10 Ways to Boost Your Career Today” is a lot more compelling than “10 Ways to Boost Your Career”. In a fast-paced society, everyone desires instant gratification and wants to see immediate results.
You can also create urgency by implying the effects of ignorance, as seen in the headline “5 Mistakes You are Making Right Now”. This offers the reader something that they can do or change right now to give them the efficiency they are seeking.
5. Use power trigrams
Trigrams are groups of three words. In the marketing field, there are many common trigrams that appear in headlines. But which ones are actually effective?
A few years back, Steve Rayson of Buzzsumo conducted a study where he looked at typical trigrams that appear in headlines. When looking at how it correlates with social media engagemen, he found that certain trigrams encourage more social engagement.
6. Write multiple headlines and read them aloud
This is basically self-explanatory, and while it isn’t something tangible that you can include in your headline, you should always follow this step. Having multiple headlines allows you to compare and contrast, whereby you might be able to notice what’s lacking in the ones that don’t seem to flow as well.
Ultimately, headlines show up everywhere. From your blog title, to your subject line, headlines are the ones doing most of the work. They are your opener; the attention grabber. Marketing would not be marketing without a good headline. Find out more about how you can improve yours by connecting with us.