Nick Westergaard

By Nick Westergaard on May 30, 2011

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The New Old-Fashioned Blog Headline Formula

It all comes down to the headline. You could have the most well-crafted ad or in this case, blog post, and yet if the headline isn’t right a majority of your audience will never make it there. What’s a copywriter/blogger to do? The answer lies in both looking forward to the demands of online media and backward to the lessons learned from marketers past. Here’s a set of rules to keep you from locking up at this critical decision point in your content creation process.

Build Your Headline on Traditional Media Fundamentals

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. You need to read John Caples’ Tested Advertising Methods (affiliate link). This timeless tome should be a part of every copywriter’s toolbox. We’re all taught the core ad DNA early on — AIDA — Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action. Caples can be your best friend when it comes to the attention part of creating a headline. Heck, there are three chapters about headlines alone in this 278-page book! The title may sound a bit ‘old timey’ but these tested methods still hold true today like beginning headlines with “How to” or asking a question. Perhaps the bigest take-aways are the findings on the four basic types of headlines.

  1. Self-interest
  2. News
  3. Curiosity
  4. Quick, easy way

Think about these categories for a bit and you’ll realize that all make compelling blog headlines, especially ‘self-interest’ and the ‘quick and easy way.’ Too often we throw out all of the lessons learned over generations of appealing to audiences in favor of what’s new. As marketers, we owe it to ourselves to be well-rounded and versed in the traditions of our trade. Understanding these time-tested rules ultimately gives us the leg up in leveraging the full power of new media channels like blogs and social media to build brand-driven communities.

To summarize, if you write headlines for any media you need to read your Caples.

Optimize Your Headline for New Media

And now — as Bill Maher would say — time for the new rules. Search engine spiders love to crawl through headlines. Make sure that in addition to being attention-getting and provocative that your headline contains the keywords you want your content aligned with online. Your headline leads off in so many ways. First, as far as the architecture of your post goes, your headline is on the front lines and will be seen first. An attractive headline on Google is going to generate more search results over time and increase your relevance. A strong, keyword-rich headline is also going to be more sharable (and attention-getting) across social channels like Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

Perhaps where the traditional media and new media rules could most potentially be in conflict is with regard to the third Caples quality of inviting ‘curiosity’ in a headline. In traditional media, you have time and visuals you can use to support an abstract headline. Online we can still build curiosity with provocative headlines provided we find ways to include relevant keywords such as this recent post.

One last keyword tip — spell out the names of any people and places in post headlines to make sure you’re tied to the higher-traffic terms. If it comes down to a shorter headline vs. a more optimized headline, you want the latter in the long-run.

So there you have it — a quick and easy system for creating attention-getting, keyword rich headlines by leveraging tested traditional media tips with an eye to the fundamentals of online media.

OK, those are a couple of my headline secrets. What’s in your headline toolbox?



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Nick Westergaard
Email Brand Driven Digital

is a strategist, speaker, educator, and author of Get Scrappy: Smarter Digital Marketing for Businesses Big and Small. He is the Chief Brand Strategist at Brand Driven Digital, where he helps build better brands online. He also teaches at the University of Iowa and is host of the On Brand podcast. More about Nick.


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