answer these questions to write better headlines

Last week, when I wrote about how to become a writer, I forgot to mention something about why you’d want to be a writer.

Writers are communicators. If you’re proud of your ideas, you want to be able to communicate them clearly and precisely.

Headlines are your first opportunity to present your message to the audience you want to reach. The language you use should appeal to those people and make them want to find out more.

To review the next headline you write from the perspective of an editor who is focused on audience engagement, here are three simple questions you can ask yourself.

A guide to finding the right words

Once you’ve written a draft of your headline and article (or you’ve recorded a podcast episode or video), use the questions below to ensure your headline is the most effective it can be:

  1. Who will benefit from this content?
  2. How do I help them?
  3. What makes this content special?

The answers to these questions most likely won’t produce the exact headline you’ll use. Rather, they’ll help mold your headline draft into a persuasive message that reaches and connects with the people you want to attract to your content.

To keep the process of infusing your headline with meaning and fascination simple, I recommend answering each question in one to two sentences.

If you need to write more, recognize your opportunity to fine-tune your goal for the content before revisiting these headline questions.

Let’s look at the important information each question will help you cultivate and how the answers will transform your headline.

1. Who will benefit from this content?

As Brian wrote yesterday:

“The point is to bond strongly with someone rather than boring everyone.”

When you define your audience, you can review your headline to make sure you use language that intrigues those individuals.

For example, your target audience may be marine biologists who have a tendency to procrastinate.

If your headline only says, “10 Tips to Beat Procrastination,” you can look for ways to add words that will attract marine biologists. And you don’t have to explicitly announce, “Hey marine biologists who have a tendency to procrastinate, this content is for you!”

You could try:

10 Tips to Beat Procrastination Faster than a Black Marlin

(A black marlin is one of the fastest fish.)

2. How do I help them?

People don’t necessarily wake up in the morning excited to read content.

The promises that certain pieces of content make to expand people’s understanding or knowledge of a topic persuade them to read content throughout the day. The content may even change their lives.

Your tips might help marine biologists accomplish tasks faster, and if they can accomplish tasks faster, they’re less likely to put them off.

Here, you can add another benefit to the headline:

10 Time-saving Tips to Beat Procrastination Faster than a Black Marlin

3. What makes this content special?

You may now realize that while a lot of other articles focus on “beating procrastination,” your content is special because it shows how to simplify and organize your daily marine biology to-do list so that each task is manageable.

Now you’ll want to revise a few words from your original headline:

10 Time-saving Tips to Zip Through Your Work Day Faster than a Black Marlin

Custom-tailored headlines for your content

We started this exercise with the headline:

10 Tips to Beat Procrastination

The final result is:

10 Time-saving Tips to Zip Through Your Work Day Faster than a Black Marlin

If you’re a marine biologist with a tendency to procrastinate, which headline would you click on?

27 Comments

  1. Time-saving work day tips faster than a Black Marlin
    Save time with these work day tips faster than a Black Marlin
    You can be faster than a Black Marlin with these work day tips

  2. SM Nuruzzaman says

    Hi Stefanie, thanks for the nice tips. In fact, it boosted my power of writing headlines. I’m grateful to all the writers of Copyblogger for publishing quality posts in a regular basis.
    Keep publishing more and more articles so that we can be benefited with those.
    Good Luck

  3. Lee Nourse says

    Thanks for another useful, actionable little article! It’s testament to that old adage re: good things coming in small packages. I’m in the process of rewriting a headline and lead right now so this is great timing!!

  4. Hi! I’m a newbie with blogging and this is really helpful. I do not think too much with a headline but now I realized the importance of it. Thanks for the tips!

  5. The final headline is indeed intriguing, informative, has got a number in it and offers a solid value proposition. But don’t you think the sheer length of it would deter a segment of the audience? The “low-attention span” factor could be a possible turn off for a select few.

  6. Stefanie Flaxman says

    That’s a great point! If you’re concerned about the length, you can keep fine-tuning until you get the best version for your audience and website. That’s a fun part of this exercise … it looks like other people in the comments are experimenting with their own versions too.

  7. Anne Rita Taylor says

    Great suggestions! I use action verbs for my headlines but how many times can I use Creating…!?! Definitely gave me food for thought – much appreciated!

  8. Bican Valeriu says

    Headlines is important. I mostly click on catchy headlines that are related to what I searched and I expect to find what I need.

  9. Scott Webb says

    This is freaking awesome! It helped me to instantly think of a headline for a blog post I planned to write. So legit. Thanks.

  10. george petrovsky says

    10 Tentacles: Grasp your time NOW!
    Would this appeal to divers divers as well?

  11. Samantha R. Forbes says

    My headlines definitely need work. They tend to be either too boring or too long. Thanks for simplifying the process of headline creation for me.

  12. Michelle Van Engen says

    Thank you for yet another useful article. I’ve shared this with my team. Keeping our reader’s needs front-and-center always helps us focus on the benefits.

  13. Riyaz Alam says

    Hey Stefanie,
    I would definitely love the final headline because, it has every thing that can force someone to go even further and click to open the post. The only thing that I want to convince here is; don’t you think the title length is too much and it would not be readable for Google in terms of SEO.
    Either way, Its a nice write up.
    Thanks for sharing!
    Riyaz

  14. Stefanie Flaxman says

    You can keep answering the questions and experimenting until you get a length you feel comfortable with.

  15. Amar kumar says

    Hey Stefanie,
    We try to make our products or services more special, more beautiful than the simple truth. But fancy and complicated words can muddle the meaning of our content. They may slow our reader down, or worse our reader might just ignore our words.The most powerful words are sensory words, because they make our reader see, hear, smell, taste, or feel something.
    Our marketing content is not unique enough to separate us from the thousands of marketing companies out there. We need to find that twist, that angle, that unique approach to our content that makes us stand out. I haven’t been as consistent as I’d like. I love answering the questions we get each week from our customers and from strangers via social media, and video is a quick and easy way to do it. Eventually, thanks for sharing your informative thought with us.
    With best regards,
    Amar kumar

  16. So much Value in this post. Thank you Copyblogger.

  17. Kampung Inggris says

    Thanks for the Tips, as a newbie blogger it’s really help me.

  18. Preeti Gupta says

    This is truly a helpful post for people like my who most of time end up writing a headline in the same tone. My headlines are either questions or tips with the simple words like “How to beat procrastination for a more productive day?”
    I also try to check the score at different tools like Coschedule headline anlayzer, and usually get score between 55 to 70.

  19. Once again awesome article..Headlines is very important. As I am mostly click on catchy headlines that are related to my search.

  20. Amit Surti says

    Headlines also help to Increase Click-through Rate
    Everyone read headline first before they will proceed reading the rest of the post.
    Thanks

  21. Anthony Beckman says

    As someone just getting started this kind of nuts and bolts assistance is greatly appreciated. I can see how this will help me right away.
    Thank you

  22. Nora Hall says

    I am going to frame this advice and look at it everyday until it becomes part of my very being!

  23. Andrés Ospina says

    Headline is an awesome tool for almost all but when you write for many people, you should be a lazer and send correct message in seconds. I like make short a/b test headlines using facebook ads with Adespresso. In 3 hours max I can see the best performace in my headlines previously to publish.

  24. William says

    Excellent actionable advice…

  25. Hey Stefanie,
    I am enjoying the articles more and more here. I think one thing you missed (and may be I would like to add it in a blog post later ???? is the online headlines suggestion tools which are available freely. These tools won’t of course replace a human completely, but I have seen that their suggestions can bring up words which otherwise generally do not come to our mind easily.
    Regards
    Sai

  26. Abhishek says

    Catchy Headlines plays a very important role in getting CTR. Thanks for tutorial on writing better headlines. I will be waiting for your new post.

  27. I agree with Riyaz that the headline in this example is too long, so I appreciate your comment to keep tweaking it for your audience. It goes to show that everyone, and every audience, is different. Thanks for sharing your tips and suggestions.

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