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Posts Tagged ‘headlines’


Writing Killer Headlines for Your Web Content [Content Matters Podcast 02]

Content Matters podcast - ep2 image

How many headlines have I written in my 25-plus years in copywriting?

Andy, my partner in mousetraps and cheese, asked me this as we began the second episode of the Content Matters podcast.

I couldn’t answer the question. However, he had plenty more questions (as did I) and answering them made for a great 22 minute discussion on the all-important topic.

Here’s episode #2:
Headlines: Does Anything Matter More?

How do you write killer headlines? Should you aim to turn on readers or search engines?

This episode of the podcast gets into these questions and:

  • How headlines are ammo in the war for attention
  • How headlines are the key to social media success
  • Headlines are no longer just the big bold words at the top of the page
  • Do headline writers over-emphasize search?
  • How to hack your way to writing killer headlines for web content
  • How to borrow insights from the cover of pop culture magazines (and the native advertising industry)
  • Barry’s age-old “how to” get started lesson
  • Andy’s not-so-secret formula for looking at numbers first
  • The magnetic power of the illustrious curiosity gap
  • The dubious double headline that screams “click me”

In the cheese and mousetrap segment…

  • Are you fulfilling your promises?
  • The connection between the headline and the growth of your email list

attention war


Some click-worthy comments

We haven’t figured out how to put hyperlinks in our soundtrack, but suspect you’ll want to visit some of the resources we mentioned:

If you’re enjoying Content Matters, join us for the live recording sessions on Blab, write a review on iTunes, or tweet this…



Headline Advice to Confuse You and Kill All Creative Impulses

Data about writing headlinesWhat do I know about writing headlines?

Yesterday I was asked to lead a headline writing session at a major marketing conference. I accepted. I’ve done it many times before and enjoy it.

An infographic I created about headlines (presented below) is one of my most popular pieces of content. I’ve written several posts featuring headline writing tips. I get interviewed on the subject all the time. In fact, recently I landed a nice piece of business from a CEO who heard me dispense headline advice on a podcast with Copyblogger’s Damien Farnsworth.

I’m a loyal reader of the HubSpot blog. It’s one of the best. I’m also a contributor to it. In fact, the most popular piece I wrote for HubSpot was my first, Copywriting 101: The Principles of Irresistible Content.

Writing effective headlines

Sooo… when I saw HubSpot and Outbrain had collaborated to produce “Data Driven Strategies for Writing Effective Titles & Headlines,” of course I got my hands on it (but that’s not my hand above).

The 28-page paper reports findings on clickthrough rates, engagement and conversion drawn from a number-crunching study of 3.3 million headlines from paid links. (Outbrain is a content discovery platform, meaning it puts sponsored content in the path of website readers. It’s new media advertising, basically.)

The data is pretty damn shocking…

… and confusing… and frustrating… and counter-intuitive… (more…)


How to Move Readers to Share Stories [71.4]

Share storiesI spent some serious time messing with the headline above. It’s a good one, but I’ve done better. Keep reading and you’ll understand.

First, know this: I want a lot of people to read this blog post. Bloggers generally attach great value to the number of viewers a post earns. And a proven strategy for increasing the reach of your content is to inspire readers to share it via social media.

Also, I want you to know a version of this post was published by KISSmetrics, with a headline that earned a 75.

71.4? 75? What’s with the numbers? I’m talking about emotional value, which apparently is predictable. I shall explain.

Search engine rankings aren’t everything

Selecting the perfect keywords and optimizing your post to rank high on Google is an immensely powerful tactic for increasing your reach. It’s called SEO. (Here’s SEO, nutshellified.)

SEO is clearly one of the best ways to earn eyeballs. However, success with search doesn’t come easily and rarely comes fast. Should it happen, and your post garners a spot on the first page of a search, you’re likely to enjoy a steady stream of page views over a sustained period of time.

But today we’ll look at a different strategy.

The objective: write something to earn heaps of social media shares to deliver a sudden and pronounced spike in traffic.

The key is giving your post an emotional headline

While an 8-word headline of a 1300-word post represents less than 1% of the content, I’m 99% sure it will be the line that dictates the destiny of your post.

Whether appearing on a blog post, the subject line of an email, a Twitter update, or any of the zillion places your content may appear, your headline prompts three potential responses:

  1. Nothing. Your post is ignored.
  2. Click. Your post is presented.
  3. Share. Your post’s reach is magnified.

The combination of 2 and 3 is the goal and an opportunity to achieve a fourth potential response: your post gets read and its call to action is effective. This is called “conversion.”

Emotions drive actions. We need not do a deep dive on this. The principle’s understood by neuroscientists and marketers (nearly) universally. The subject I do want to dive into is writing emotional headlines to invoke a response from your readers.

Proof that emotional headlines drive social sharing

My friends at CoSchedule are all about helping content marketers blog smart and earn traffic via social media. They’re also insanely analytical. So they analyzed more than one million headlines in an effort to determine which are shared most and how such a thing might be predicted.

CoSchedule data

As you see, CoSchedule determined (in no uncertain terms) headlines with a higher emotional value get more shares on social media.

How to score your headline’s emotional value

Though it may seem counter-intuitive, emotional value can be measured. What can’t?. Advanced Marketing Institute created a tool: the emotional marketing value (EMV) headline analyzer.

EMV analyzer

You enter your headline, select a category, and submit. You get your score…

EMV analyer results

To demonstrate, I went to, a free tool that provides social analytics, and entered “Super Bowl.” Unsurprisingly, a story published on Huffington Post about a Super Bowl commercial currently ruled from a social shares perspective, having been tweeted 59.5K times over the past 24 hours.

I pasted the headline into the EMV headline analyzer and as you can see in the screenshot above, the headline was ultra-emotional: 66.67.

Copy on the results page explains:

For comparison, most professional copywriters’ headlines will have 30%-40% EMV Words in their headlines, while the most gifted copywriters will have50%-75% EMV words in headlines. A perfect score would be 100%, but that is rare unless your headline is less than five words.

Earning big share numbers with high EMV headlines

I used, a tool featuring a search engine that finds the most shared content for any topic or domain, to validate the power of emotional headlines and show you some examples.

email marketing best practices

A recent post from the blog, 20 Tips for Dramatically Better Emails, by Jimmy Daly, is Vero’s most shared of the past six months. The headline gets a 50 EMV score and has earned close to 9K shares.

The EMV headline analyzer tool also reported this headline falls in an “intellectual” classification. Intellectual impact words are ideal for arousing curiosity. The analysis adds, the majority of words with emotional impact fall into this category, are the most used, and have the broadest appeal.

what not to post on social media

Among Hootsuite’s hottest stories of 2015 is What Not To Post on Social Media: 5 Questions You Need To Ask Yourself Before You Publish, a story by Olsy Sorokina. The headline gets a 53 EMV score and has quickly earned close to 2K shares.

The EMV headline analyzer tool classified the headline as “spiritual.” According to the Advanced Marketing Institute, spiritual impact words carry the strongest potential for influence and appeal to people at a deep emotional level.

perfect marketing plan

Everything You Need to Know for the Perfect Marketing Event (the headline differs slightly in the image they created), a story by Julie Neidlinger, on the CoSchedule blog gets a 55 EMV score. So far this year, the post is CoSchedule’s most shared.

And now back to the headline of this post

A few minutes ago, you learned I did a good amount of “messing” with the headline of this post. I wasn’t about to settle for a low score. I’ll show you what happened.

First, I tested the working headline I chose when the idea for this post began to gel. EMV scores follow each headline.

How to Accelerate the Reach of Your Content with Emotion-Packed Headlines (27)
The headline probably has strong SEO potential. Assuming “reach of your content” or “emotion-packed headlines” are keywords that get searched. But for EMV, I didn’t even achieve “professional copywriter” status.

So I wrote alternate headlines and scored them. Here’s what that exercise looked like:

Touch Readers with Emotionally Charged Headlines to Inspire More Social Sharing (36)
If Your Headline Moves Me I’m Likely to Share It (40)

Move Readers Emotionally with a Headline Worthy of Sharing (44)

Headlines that Move Readers Emotionally Move Them to Share Your Story (55)

You’ll Love the Astonishing Effect Emotional Headlines Have on Your Content” (55)

As you can see, I was catching on and making progress. I thought I might beat a 55 score with this one:

If You Don’t Care for this Headline You’ll Probably Share It
No such luck. It tied the previous one at 55. I did like where that one was going, so I tested a hunch. Would a strong emotional word such as “hate” increase the headline’s score? Maybe a one-two punch with a question…

Hate This Headline? You’ll Probably Share the Story.
Score: 75. Cha-ching.

I used that headline when I guest posted on KISSmetrics. I didn’t want to compete with them with search rankings, so I returned to the emotional marketing value (EMV) headline analyzer and tried some more ideas so this post could have a different, but emotional, headline.

The headline I settled on scored 71.4. That’s quite good and suggests you’ll share this story. Please do. I’ve made it easy for you…

How to write emotional headlines

You understand the reason behind topping your blog posts with emotional headlines and now know of a tool to assess your ideas. Perhaps the question swimming between your ears now is “how do I write emotional headlines?”

The answer: you use powerful words, words that invoke feelings.

I did some searching and clicking in an effort to provide an emo-glossary and found a great resource here: feeling words (courtesy of PsychPage). Jon Morrow, the mastermind writer of Boost Blog Traffic dedicates a post to explaining (and listing) power words here. And finally, CoSchedule created a cheat sheet of 180+ power words.

Power words for headline

Emotional headlines that touch readers make them feel various forms of pleasure and pain. Most notably, for pleasure, use words that invoke:

  • Happiness
  • Fun
  • Belonging
  • Awe
  • Love
  • Positivity
  • Strength
  • Empowerment

For pain, consider words that invoke:

  • Fear
  • Anger
  • Discomfort
  • Confusion
  • Helplessness
  • Indifference
  • Sadness

Feeling drives sharing

Jonah Berger, a marketing professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, wanted to uncover why people share information. He and his colleagues examined hundreds of brands, thousands of articles, and millions of purchases.

jonah berger

Berger presented his conclusions in the New York Times bestseller, “Contagious—Why Things Catch On.” Before the book release, in a post for the “Think with Google” blog, Berger wrote, “Our results found that articles, ads, or information that evoke emotion in the reader are around 20 percent more likely to be highly shared. What we see in these cases, and many more, is that feeling drives sharing.”Want to write contagious blog posts? Apply this idea to your headlines. Choose words that touch your reader.

And hey, obviously you didn’t hate this post. Here you are at its end. Now I’d like to ask you to share it. It’ll make me look smart.


Our 13 Most Popular Posts of 2013 and Why Readers Responded

most popular posts

Noooooo! Not another year-end listicle of greatest hits. Wake me when it’s over.

But wait. It’s not quite that simple.

Oh sure, one reason I’ve created it is I believe there is a ton of value in these articles and if you missed any, I’m hoping my resurrection of them will help you learn some useful online marketing lessons.

However, I have an even more important agenda. I want to share with you my thoughts on why these posts performed so well. If I succeed in doing this, my hope is you’ll get all kinds of useful insights on how to make your blog posts and content more magnetic, earn more social shares and open more doors.

The Most Important Thing You Need to Know About Infographics

My most viewed post of 2013 speaks to why infographics are so popular and can be so valuable to your content marketing efforts. It also discusses various ways I created four popular infographics with a modest budget and moderate design skills.

The article’s headline promises a simple lesson on a timely and popular topic and the piece itself offers a tutorial, several examples of effective infographics, and a short list of what you need to create them. Readers appreciated the simplicity—and honesty—of the lesson.

The Most Effective Online Marketers Focus on One Thing

This post was popular on Copyblogger and then performed great on my blog. In it, I recognize the many important components of online marketing (including a quick quiz), but explain the one thing great marketers focus on regardless of the forum or media: the customer.

Notice these top two stories offer a major superlative, “most.” There’s great magnetism in this headline style. I believe readers recognized the lesson was fundamental and common, but often misunderstood. After pointing out the need to focus on ”you,” I deliver 9 tips for doing so effectively.

HEADLINES: A 9-Letter Cheat Sheet for Writing a Winner Every Time

“HEADLINES” was only published a few weeks ago and shot to the third spot fast. The post breaks the word “headlines” up into an acronym where each of the nine letters kicks off an easy-to-apply (and remember) headline writing tip.

Again, a superlative is at play in the headline. It guarantees success. Who doesn’t want that? The subject itself is critical to online marketers. It’s clear a lesson will be given and “cheat sheet” obviously suggests shortcuts are included, so this one fires on multiple cylinders.



Beginner Copywriting Tips for Effective Online Marketing

 copywriting for beginners

“I can’t write.”

It’s the resignation declaration of the self-defeated. It’s also a fat slice of baloney.

You won’t write? You don’t want to write? I’m willing to buy these statements. But “can’t?” Sorry friend, you can.

You’ve been writing your whole life. You write now. You write emails, greeting cards, shopping lists, meeting notes, etc. In your school years, you wrote every day. When you graduated you wrote a resume.

But now, a blank screen transforms you into an anxious, insecure mess.

It’s time to face the fear.

Look, the starter (or restarter) lesson I’m about to give you won’t magically transform you into a legendary writer. However, I believe if you take my advice and apply yourself a bit you can make meaningful copywriting contributions to your company’s inbound marketing efforts.

Start with an attitude check. Write something for me. Jot down a positive thought about busting through your renewed dedication to writing. You can do it.

Belief is the first thing you’ll need. Your lack of it traces to an unwarranted inferiority complex. You believe in order to call yourself a writer your work needs to measure up to the legends of language. It doesn’t. Remind yourself, every journey begins with the first step. (more…)


Funny Headlines Make for Seriously Effective Content

Damn man. That’s kind of a sweet headline. It’s on topic, spells out a benefit, and has potentially two keyword phrases that might just rock the search Gods.

Damn ma’am. That headline bites. This is supposed to be an article about the joy of funny headlines and this one’s 100% yuck-free.

Ain’t life ironic?

I like funny headlines.

funny headlinesDoesn’t everyone? Now, I’m not talking about those accidental blooper-type  headlines that are often clipped from news media, like “One-armed man applauds the kindness of strangers.”

I’m talking about the quirky ones that subtly suggest this post could be worth my time.

Let’s face it, with blog posts, you can only be so funny in your headline. In the case of a blog post, funny headlines function more like a set-up line. The story itself is the punchline.

I believe funny headlines have the stopping power it takes to engage a reader. They really don’t crack you up. Rather, they get you to click. In the noisy world of online marketing, that’s the goal.

So what I’m really talking about are headlines with just enough quirkiness, or irony, or playfulness, to stand out a bit.

There’s a whole lot of copy catting going on in the blogosphere. On any given day, you’re bound to find many posts serving up the usual how-to’s about how to get more Twitter followers, do content marketing well, or even write great headlines.

As an author, you need to seize whatever opportunity possible to cut through the clutter. I try to do it with my sense of humor and as a reader, I gravitate toward writers who do the same. (more…)


Effective Headlines to Generate Leads

It’s always nice to find like-minded bloggers sharing advice you can endorse. And it’s especially gratifying when a trusted authority uses your article or ideas to demonstrate her point. Great synchronicity here too because I’ve been offering ideas for making your article titles attractive. The following article offers strong examples of effective headlines including one of mine (see “The Great Keywords Secret Revealed.”

The following article is republished here with permission from the author and her inbound marketing company.



The most important headline writing tip ever: forget about tips.

Edition #1 with John Runk

He’s one of advertising’s headiest headline writers.
Here, he dogs on the formula approach to copywriting.

I’m going to call this series “Copycats,” and in each edition, strive to get a pair or more of copywriters on the same page talking about their craft. Though I’ve read the work of many great copywriters, I only  know one. He’s a very good friend and one helluva’ scribe. Beside word-slinging, John and I have about 47 more things in common, so we shoot the breeze often. I agreed not to razz him about his last place MLB team, so he agreed to spend 30 minutes on the phone with me. I asked him about headlines and words of wisdom spewed forth.



Getting Ideas to Flow: The Naked Truth.

For a copywriter, or any idea professional whose tasks involve coming up with a concept, a form of writer’s block is, well, not being able to come up with a concept. I find this frightening phenomena tends to strike when I’m at my desk, staring at my screen, and torturing myself with the notion that brilliance must strike. Now.

What do I do? I bail. That is, I get up and go. The basic idea is to change your surroundings to try to change your mindset. Take five. Take a break. Take off.

Sometimes I go for a drive. I can be pretty prolific behind the wheel and have so far managed to not crash while scribbling stuff down. Walks? Yeah. Works for me sometimes.

Get to the naked part.
You know what works best? Getting naked and getting in the shower. I can’t tell you how many times headlines, concepts, and ideas have flowed from my brain as hot water beats down on it.

I have a few other remedies, but you’ve probably heard enough from your clothes-less copywriter friend today. TMI, as they say. Tell me though, do you have a solution or two for writer’s block? Can you show me? Pictures won’t be necessary.