How many times have you been told not to judge a book by its cover? Not to make assumptions or jump to conclusions?
It’s certainly a value of ours to judge people, books, and experiences by their content and substance, rather than their outward appearances. But as well-intentioned as we are, in a digital world that has news, videos, apps, games, and other content endlessly vying for attention, no one has time to give everything a fair look.
Today’s dating apps are prime examples of how scanning and swiping has become default user behavior. Millions of dating app members are digitally rejecting others (i.e. “swiping left”) after glancing at photos for two seconds – if even that long.
So when our content is fighting to get a spot at the proverbial table of attention, it’s natural to give it an attractive facade in the form of a catchy headline. We know these click-bait titles when we see them: “5 Things You Never Knew About Taylor Swift’s Hairstylist” or “Puppy Meets Baby Moose: You’ll Never Believe What Happens Next!”
There are a lot of online resources that help marketers write titles that will get their content in front of as many people as possible. It’s tempting to succumb to creating titles with pageviews in mind, and it’s exciting to see the hockey stick in your analytics when a particularly clickable title gains traction.
As marketers and brands, we should not be measuring our success by how many pageviews our content generates. We are not in the business of selling ad space on pageviews.
Our goal is business results. Our content is not successful unless it is driving reader behavior towards positive business outcomes: leading people to sign up for newsletters, fill out a “Contact Us” form, or ultimately make a purchase, for example.
Instead of writing headlines that attract as broad an audience as possible, we should be writing headlines that filter out everyone but our target audience before they click through to read the article. By dissuading non-interested people from arriving at our page in the first place, we’ll save on our media and distribution spend. And more importantly, our overall engagement and conversion metrics will go up – and those are key metrics we need to focus on to prove that our content is driving ROI.
Here are three strategies to use to craft more effective headlines:
Write Headlines to Target Specific Personas
Marketers know that speaking to a specific persona is important. When asked who our target audience is, we would sooner say “Millennial-Inhabitants-of-Mars” than “Anybody-on-Earth.” If everyone is special, than no one really is, right? Brands spend thousands of dollars fine-tuning their personas and target audiences, so we should be speaking directly to them with our headlines.
Let’s take a look at the Huggie’s blog, which is full of great content to help parents navigate the unpredictable waters of raising small humans. While Huggies is targeting a wide range of parents, their products are geared towards parents at specific stages of their child-rearing journeys and are segmented by topics like Getting Pregnant, Pregnancy, Toddlers.
Due to Huggies’ brand recognition, someone is unlikely to click on a tweet sponsored by the brand if they don’t want or have children. But not all parents are interested in reading the same content – or purchasing the same products.
Huggies does a great job of calling out their target audience in both their headlines and images. In this tweet, for example, the headline “Want to feel more relaxed & prepared for birth? When, why & how to try prenatal yoga,” includes “prepared for birth” and “prenatal” in the headline.
These keywords in the headline make it extremely unlikely that someone will click to read this article if they are not planning to have a baby.
Huggies can take advantage of this knowledge to build hyper-targeted remarketing pools off the back of this traffic and send these readers sequential messaging throughout their pregnancy. This allows the brand to build relationships with mothers about to have children and architect a consumer journey that will align with their needs along the way.
If the title had said something more vague, such as “5 Things You Need to Know About Yoga,” or even “Yoga for New Mothers,” we would know a lot less about anyone who clicked through to this article. A title like that could have attracted someone who might be interested in yoga for toddlers, for example. That person would also be a lot less likely to stick around and read a whole article about prenatal yoga, which would drive engagement down and be a waste of a click.
Actionable Next Steps:
- Identify keywords that speak directly to your target audience. What language can you use that would pique your audience’s interest – and no one else?
- Incorporate those keywords into your messaging. Utilize them in your headlines and social posts, and see which ones are most effective in driving click-throughs from the right people.
- Use those insights to personalize user journeys. Consumers respond to personalized buyer journeys. In fact, 40% of consumers spend more from a personalized website experience. By using headlines to hyper-target your audience and seeing what resonates with them, you can craft a more personalized experience and continuously surface content that meets their needs and provides value – thus building stronger relationships.
Tell People Exactly What They’ll Receive by Clicking
In addition to explicitly calling out our target audience in headlines, it’s also important to tell them the content type or format.
Think of your content like an event you are hosting. You have to let your invitees know what to expect if you want them to be satisfied upon arrival. It would be fairly disappointing to think you were getting invited to a festive backyard barbecue, only to arrive and learn it’s actually a stuffy dinner party.
If we are trying to get someone to download a white paper, watch a video, or view an infographic, we should let them know what they are getting to before they click. In a joint study done by Hubspot and Outbrain, research indicated that readers are more likely to click through to look at content when they know what they are getting, and once there, they are also more likely to stick around and even convert.
Here is an example of a content discovery module on Marketing Dive:
By highlighting that one of their links is a [Webinar], the company is letting readers opt in to clicking on a link to watch it They will not be surprised when they click on the link and land on an in-depth webinar, and not a quick article that they were hoping to read. With that knowledge, they are much more likely to stick around and make a desired user behavior on site.
In a similar example from NewsCred’s own blog, the content format, in this case a video, is mentioned before the actual title to let readers know what they are getting themselves into. Someone who only has time for a quick read won’t click to watch a video. Being transparent about the format in the headline is a great way to increase engagement with different types of content.
Actionable Next Steps:
- Highlight the format of your content in your headline. Explicitly call out infographics, videos, webinars, and slideshows.
- Measure the engagement and conversion rates when the format is and is not highlighted. Track whether your engagement and conversion rates (e.g. people filling out a form to access gated content) increase when users know the format before they click. (More about this in the next tip.)
Test the Effectiveness of Your Headlines
While these tips can go a long way to making sure your readers are spending quality time with your content, the only way to be sure is to test and measure.
One great way to test headline variations is with Google Analytics’ UTM codes appended to your URLs. You can run the same article with multiple headline variations on social, emails, and other channels, and determine in your analytics which headlines are attracting the audience that is generating your desired user action. Google offers a very handy URL builder in their developer tools that allows you to construct the URLs to categorize the data in the way that makes the most sense for you.
Here’s an example using a URL from Casper’s Van Winkle’s blog. You can actually use any of the last three “campaign” sections to write the name of the headline you are testing.
Actionable Next Steps:
- Incorporate headline testing into your publishing schedule. You don’t have to do it all at once. You could spend one month testing subject lines and headlines in newsletters, and then move on to testing social headlines the next month.
- Measure which headlines are driving the most business results. Hold your headlines to the standard of which ones are most effective in reaching your target audience and driving them to take your desired action.
- Optimize your headlines as you collect data. Headline writing is a fluid process, so incorporate your insights into your ongoing work and continuously iterate based on your learnings.
With the amount of time and resources we all spend on our marketing, let’s work more efficiently. Be as descriptive as possible in describing your audience and formats, and over time, you’ll be sure to get right user behavior.