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Your headlines aren’t good enough.
You need to write better headlines, because it’s the only way you are ever going to get more traffic to your blog.
Who would click on something that doesn’t get their attention? And, let’s face it, there are a lot of folks out there that you are competing against. You have to stand out, and there is nothing more disappointing than a great post that doesn’t get any attention just because of a poor headline.
Let’s start with 25 brand new ways to write better headlines for you blog.
Yep, that’s the whole list. Write more headlines. 25 to be exact. Why 25?
Upworthy.com is probably a site that you’ve heard of before. If nowhere else, you’ve probably at least seen a link to their site shared on Facebook. Upworthy is huge! They recently shared that they have more than 3 million unique visitors per month. This is insane traffic. Where does it come from?
In their slide presentation The Sweet Science Of Virality they outline their approach.
According to Upworthy, virality is a mixture of great content, a compelling story, and the right environment–but there is nothing more important than the headline. Yes, the headline.
The advice seems pretty clear. For every post they publishing, Upworthy’s editorial team writes a minimum of 25 headlines before choosing the best one. I doubt that most of us take that kind of time with each post. But, what would happen if we did?
Upworthy has eight rules for writing headlines. Here they are:
Not so bad right? So, how does it look in practice?
A few weeks ago, I published a post about the fading results that Facebook in providing for brands. In short, I said that Facebook is dead. Obviously, it was a grab for attention and I wanted to see how far I could take. I used the opportunity to try the 25 headline trick. Here’s what I came up with:
As you can see, 25 headlines with varying quality. Some are pretty crazy and unusable, and others like “Facebook Is Dead. Long Live Content Marketing” are just plain terrible. But, I think that is the point of writing all 25. We sometimes need the opportunity to get rid of the bad ideas before we find the good.
It’s scientific. I’m not just making this up.
Your brain was made for this. Headline generation is just another form of idea generation that forces you to use your brain’s reticular activating system (RAS) to inspire creativity. RAS is an important part of our brain that is used for things like breathing, sleeping, waking, and also the beating our heart. It is basically the part of the brain that works when we aren’t.
By forcing ourselves to generate more than a few headlines, we put our brain to work using our RAS. We may think of 10 headlines right now, and then suddenly generate a few more when we aren’t even trying (or while writing the post itself). This is your RAS at work. It is subconsciously providing you with creative ideas while you are busy doing other things. As much as we try to systematize it, creativity is often very spontaneous, and can actually get “better” with time.
From Psychology Today:
The creative process moves through five stages. It begins with preparation–an analytical time when the basic information or skills are assembled. It continues on to incubation–a more intuitive and subconscious time in which you connect the dots in a default state. If you stick with it through perspiration, this process will eventually lead to revelation–the eureka experience when you literally feel the tumblers of your mind click into place and you say: ‘A-ha, I have found the solution!’ The creative process ends with production, a time when the insights are put into a useful form and shared with others. View Source
Headline generation lives right there between incubation and perspiration. But, what’s even more interesting is how our ideas over develop over time. This is something that Tim Hurson calls the third third.
In his book Think Better, Tim Hurson defines an interesting phenomenon that clearly proves why more headlines are better than just a few. One of his key points is the miracle of the third third. It works something like this: if you are looking to generate 100 different ideas, studies have shown that the ideas will generally fall into three different groups.
As you develop ideas, each new one will be more and more difficult to come by, but this is a good thing!
Once the obvious ideas have been exhausted, you make room for the not-so-obvious. This is why repetition, time, and perseverance are so important to the idea generation process.
I my previous example, there is a clear example of the third third phenomenon at work. When you break down my headlines you can see that I clearly got more “desperate” and more creative toward the end. The winning headline actually came from my final third. It’s pretty telling, and makes you wonder – what would have happened if I’d written 100?
Malcom Gladwell is famous for telling us that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert. The question here is how many headlines does it take to make a good one? If nothing else, we know that experience pays. By putting headlines into an idea generation process, we active our RAS, push our creative comfort zone, and slowly get better at it over the long haul. You know what they say: practice does make perfect.
So, science proves that your brain was made to write 25 headlines for your next blog post. There is no sense in fighting it. It’s time to put it into practice!
The first step is to start. Begin by writing out at least 10 headline ideas for your post. For this method to really work, it is important that you make these steps a habit. Even if you you feel like the one you have is pretty good, force yourself to write at least ten more.
Now do it again. Write another 15 headlines.
Often, deciding what headline to not use will be easier than deciding which one to use. This is why it works so well to remove your least favorite right from the start.
Chances are, what’s left are a few pretty good headlines, several boring ones, and maybe one or two great headlines. Choose your top five and make them bold.
If you work in a writing team, or have an editor assigned to you, now might be the time to take advantage of them. Let them take a look at your list and decide which headline they thing fits best. Match it to your list? How did it shake out?
A/B testing is a great way to test our assumptions and our work. Rather than simply picking the headline that we like best, choose two and test them against one another. One way that we do this regularly is through our email software. We send our email with two different headlines and then see which performs the best. Of course, you’ll have to have a headline selected at that point, but don’t let that stop you from testing your work.
Another simple way to test headlines is to use Twitter. Once the post is live send out a variety of tweets with each headlines. The one that gets the most clicks wins!
I know that much of this doesn’t sound overly scientific, and its not. The goal is to learn to become a better headlines writer. The more we know, the better we will do next time.
At some point you just need to pick a headline and go with it. You might get it right and you might get it wrong–no matter what, you need to move on. Just don’t forget to track your results and learn from the process. The most important part of learning to write better headlines is practice.
No matter how much science has our back, writing great headlines is more of an art form than a science, and that is exactly why we need to be using this method. It may sound hard at first, but the activity can be very useful. I often find myself heading well past the 25 headline threshold. Usually they get better with time. To prove my point, here is the link of headlines that I generated for this post. How did I do?
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