Hey everyone, and welcome to our webinar on “23 Tested Methods for Crafting the Perfect Headline.” Here’s a run-down of what you’ll learn today:

  1. Headline ideation techniques: Thinking up a good headline isn’t always easy. But there are plenty of ideation techniques and formulas for you to try to get your gears moving. I’ll walk you through all of the tried and true headline creation techniques we use here on the Brafton marketing team.
  2. Types of headlines that work: I’ll show you the types of headlines that work, from both a creative and data-led standpoint. There are various kinds of headlines that serve different purposes and work differently depending on the audience. For each headline type, I’ll provide plenty of examples so you can get a great sense of what each one is and how to use it.
  3. Headline don’ts: With every do, there are always at least three don’ts. In the final segment of this webinar, I’ll go through the biggest mistakes you can make with your headlines so you can avoid making them with your own content.

Okay, let’s dive in…

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Why is it important to have a good great headline?

First though… Why is it so important to have a really great headline?

First impressions are everything

For one, headlines are the first (and sometimes only) impression you have to make on a new reader. With so much content flying at us all day, every day, an attention-grabbing headline is the best weapon you have for getting noticed.

Time is money, friend

The old saying is “don’t judge a book by its cover” and while this, in theory, is a good way to live, it’s also completely irrelevant to today’s lifestyle, especially when it comes to content. We can’t survive unless we judge books by their covers. It’s impossible to read everything. (I know, sad truth). But when over 4 million blog posts are published each day, you’ve gotta make cuts somewhere.

All the more reason why that “cover,” AKA title, for your blog post, or infographic, or white paper is so very important.

Improved social shares and increased backlinks

A fantastic headline can drive social shares and backlinks for your content.

Consider this little fact: 59 percent of people will share an article on social without clicking the link. Meaning, they’re not even reading the thing before sharing with their followers and friends. Why?

People tend to share content when it’s valuable. And in this case, they are sharing based on perceived value. That perception comes straight from the headline of the article.

Organic CTR

Finally, we come to the all-important world of search. In our last webinar, my colleague, Jeff Baker, shared our secrets to landing your content on page one of Google. A position at the top of page one for a super-relevant topic for your business is like the holy grail.

But getting there is only half the battle.

Sure, we want people to see our search result at the top of the page. But we also want them to click through to our site. This is where a clear and clever headline can really encourage a click.

So now that we’re all on the same page about the importance of a good headline, let’s get into the nitty gritty details about creating one.

Headline ideation techniques

Title ideation is oftentimes the first part of the content creation process.

I’m sure you’ll agree that thinking up a good headline isn’t always easy. Let’s take a look at some of our favorite methods here at Brafton…

Search-Led Title Ideation

So one of the biggest initiatives for our blog content is organic search. Around 75 percent of the new content we create (or the content we re-optimize) is done to improve our search presence. There are two main methods that dictate how we design our headlines when we’re writing for search:

Method 1: Exact Match Keyword Usage via Keyword Research

This first method is pretty classic on-page SEO. When we’re writing for a specific topic, we always try to use the exact form of the phrase in the title. This translates to your page title. Wherever possible, we do this. Unless the term we’re targeting is ungrammatical.

In a study we did last year, published on Moz, we showed that there was a very strong correlation between on-page optimization for a target term (that includes using the exact match term in the title) and ranking position.

So, it works, and we’re going to keep using this technique as long as it continues to do so.

Method 2: Matching Searcher Intent via SERP Inspection

The second method is a bit more qualitative and analytical but absolutely imperative when you’re writing for search. The goal is to make sure you’re creating exactly the type of content that the searcher is looking for when they type that phrase into their Google search bar.

How do we know what they’re looking for?

We look at the other first-page results. These are essentially Google’s best predictions for what a searcher wants.

For example, let’s compare the terms “B2B marketing strategies” and “Content marketing agency.” Based on the results, we can see there are two very different search intents. The first is an informational intent and the person searching the term is at the top of the funnel. On the other hand, someone searching for “content marketing agency” is decidedly further along in the funnel and looking for something more commercial. They are comparing vendors perhaps, and looking to buy.

The trick here is to act like we belong with these other search results (by tailoring a headline that matches the search query)… but we also want to stand out from the crowd with a compelling angle.

Inspecting the SERP will also tell us what type of content the user is looking for when they search for that term. Do they want a video, or maybe they prefer an infographic? We don’t just use the SERP to tell us how to form the title and angle of our piece, we also use it to determine the format in which we’re delivering the information.

Data-Led Headline Ideation

As a more quantitative approach, we use data to determine the headlines our audience prefers most. Here are three ways we analyze our headline performance based on data:

1. HTML Open Rate (& Other Email Behavior Metrics)

Email open rates are like instant gratification that you sent your audience something they’re really interested in, especially if the rate is higher than normal.

When that happens, we’ll take a look at that specific headline and analyze why it worked so well. Then we’ll make sure to try that format or style out again in future sends.

I should note that when we’re looking at open rates, we’re benchmarking against our past email performance. We don’t necessarily use industry benchmark data… because everyone’s audience is going to behave a little differently.

However, if you’re just starting out or want to check out how your email open rates compare to others in your industry, definitely check out the average open rates by industry and start benchmarking from there.

Just remember to take email open rates with a grain of salt. Some people always open an email, some never do. Some could open the email just to delete it without reading. Keep these details in mind when you’re looking at your open rates.

There are other ways to use email send data to understand how your subject lines are performing, like click to open ratio, number of forwards, open rate based on time of day or subject matter. This way you can better understand how your audience is reacting to each email you send.

2. Google CTR Data

One of the clearest ways to know that you’ve got a good headline is when your click-through rate is high in Google. This is a sure sign that you’re communicating clearly to the searcher and, perhaps more importantly, matching searcher intent with the content you’ve created.

With click-through rate, it’s important to monitor your article’s performance regularly and keep an eye out for major drops. If you see something that seems to be underperforming all of a sudden, ask yourself why.

For example, we used the year in a lot of our headlines in 2018. Recently, we were looking at click-through rates and noticed a significant dip with these specific articles. We questioned if it had to do with the year, and if it was somehow dating our content and having a negative impact for search. We’re still testing if this is really the case (TBD on that!), but this is just one example of the types of data-led tweaks you might want to look at for your own headlines.

3. Social Engagement Data

This is another way to use data to gauge how your headlines (or your social copy) is performing. And the data is easy to access and pretty instantaneous, too.

What types of social engagement data should you be looking at? Likes, comments and shares. Once again, look at your social performance benchmarks to spot outliers. A post that gets shared more than your other content is a sign that you’ve done something right. Figure out what that thing is and iterate.

And we don’t just use social engagement data to dictate our marketing copy – it’s also incredibly valuable to understand which topics and content formats our audience prefers, too.

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Word Placement and Headline Length (Keeping Distribution in Mind)

Even before you put pen to paper, you should know where you’re going to distribute the piece of content you’re about to create. It should not just live and die on your blog.

Perhaps you’re planning to write a blog, which will then be sent to your newsletter email list and also posted on LinkedIn.

When writing the headline for your article, you’ll want to consider all the different displays, devices and feeds it might show up on.

Headline Length

It’s great if you can think up a headline that’ll work well in multiple scenarios without having to be modified, but this isn’t always easy to do in practice.

Let’s look at headline length as it relates to different display scenarios.

Email subject lines get cut off after a certain number of characters. Here’s a chart that shows the different character lengths for each email client:

At the same time, Google SERPs only show a certain number of characters before getting cut off (which is about 50-60 characters, including spaces). So your title tag, AKA your article title, should be tailored with this in mind.

However, don’t let these character limits be your only guide. Why?

You run the risk of creating a headline that fits in every display perfectly but is too vague. The goal is to write a headline that clearly communicates the message of your piece in as few words as possible… so nothing gets cut off or lost in translation. This isn’t always easy to do.

Another thing to keep in mind is your audience.

What is their preferred email client? Where do they consume their content on social? Which headline lengths work best with them? Use data to understand these preferences. If 90% of your audience uses Outlook, you should prioritize the Outlook character limits when crafting your email subject line. If the majority of your readers are on Twitter, keep the word count limit in mind there.

Speaking of social (and headline length), “longer headlines are correlated with more social shares. Headlines that are 14-17 words in length generate 76.7% more social shares than short headlines.”

14-17 words is quite a long headline, but allows for plenty of words to clearly make the case for the value of the piece being shared.

Importance of first and last words

Your headline should be memorable. It could (and probably will) be the first thing someone sees from your brand.

There’s a thing called serial position effect that explains how people recall information. It means that the human brain is more likely to recall information in the beginning and end of a series.

As marketers, we’re in the business of being memorable. So you can take that same principle and apply it to your headlines, making sure the most important words you use are at the beginning and end.

Take a look at these examples:

  • 50 awesome content marketing best practices
  • 8 voice search statistics in 2019 and why they matter
  • Hit ‘em in the feels with awesome video

I’ve bolded the phrases you are more likely to remember after reading each headline. This technique will matter more the longer your article headline is.

Qualitative Approaches to Headline Ideation

So we’ve looked at psychological, data-led and search-focused ideation techniques. Now let’s take a look at some of the more qualitative methods you can use to improve your headlines.

These are especially helpful, since working with the same subject matter over and over again can get tiring. It’s important to keep things fresh with plays on words. Cleverly worded titles may make people stop and do a double-take. They make you memorable.

Action words

Evoke a sense of authority and urgency in your headlines with words that describe an action.

Examples:

  • How re-optimizing content DROVE 219% more traffic
  • What ‘A Star Is Born’ TEACHES us about content optimization
  • 47 proven ways to GENERATE content ideas

Alliteration

Tongue twisters turn heads and make for memorable marketing material.

Examples:

  • 30 kickass marketing collateral ideas for your content marketing playbook
  • The most carefully culled and curated collection of content marketing tips you will find anywhere
  • 7 memorable movie marketing campaigns worth stealing from

Wordplay

Olive a good article title that includes plenty of wordplay. Don’t you?

Examples:

  • Take a slide out of these pitch deck examples
  • ‘Above the Fold’ episode recap: Hangin’ with the workin’ from homies
  • Fyre in the Hole: Influencers, Yelp and Facebook, oh my!
  • Duck Duck Whoa – A world without Google and Backlinking

Pop culture references & millennial speak:

This doesn’t work for every audience but we’ve had success using this tactic with ours. It certainly appeals to that human love of nostalgia and gets responses.

Examples:

  • 99 benefits of content marketing (and you need each one)
  • The mostly serious guide to 21 marketing buzzwords in 2018
  • The 5 biggest marketing fails of all time

Headline Ideation Formula (Courtesy of Stevie Snow)

One of my colleagues, Stevie Snow, came up with this brilliant set of headline formulas. These should help you break out of your title rut if you’re feeling a bit uninspired:

  1. How to + [action] + [result]
  2. [Number] things you should know to [result]
  3. The secret sauce to [result that’s totally relatable to audience]
  4. [Number] + [attractive adjective] + [tips, tricks, products, ways, etc.] + [result]
  5. Title + [bracketed clarification like infographic, video, interview, etc.]
  6. [Question that article answers]?

Know Thy Audience

Finally, and this is less of an ideation technique and more of a throughline for every piece of content you create:

Know your audience.

  • Understand that every audience is unique. Yours will likely prefer some of these headline techniques and styles more than others.
  • What’s important is knowing what makes your audience tick.
  • Once you’ve figured it out, iterate on that theme/format/style.
  • And continue to test new ideas, analyze the results, and go from there.

Types of headlines

Okay, so that’s a whole bunch of headline ideation techniques to play around with once we’re done with this presentation. Very exciting.

As I mentioned earlier, different types of headlines will work differently depending on the context or situation in which you’re using them.

Here are the different types of article titles you might find in the wild, with emphasis on what works well and why.

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Statistics/Metrics-Based Headlines

Do you ever remember a statistic but can’t for the life of you remember the article it came from? It’s frustrating. But what if the statistic was the title of the article? For me, that makes the article 100 times more memorable.

True story. This happened with a Forbes article I was trying to recall to include in my earlier slide about social sharing and perceived value. The article title is:

59 Percent Of You Will Share This Article Without Even Reading It.”

Here are some more examples:

  • 67% of marketers want more resources on content creation
  • How re-optimizing content drove 219% more traffic
  • How we reduced a client’s cost-per-lead 63% through balanced content marketing

Why it works: Including a stat or a compelling metric in your headline shows you’re confident about the information you’re presenting in your article. It cuts to the chase before the reader even clicks through, but by doing so, alludes to the fact that there is probably even more valuable information inside the piece.

Results-Focused Headlines

These are very similar to metrics-based headlines. A results-focused headline works great especially in the context of case studies or success stories. For example:

“Brafton increases organic traffic by 22% YoY for Career Profiles.”

Again, it cuts to the chase by including the most important takeaway in the headline. It also shows the reader that your brand is, for lack of a better term, results-focused and that helps with your industry authority. Plus, people love reading success stories.

But this type of headline can also work for blog articles.

For example, take a look at these:

  • 8 undisputed ways to convert employee advocacy into content marketing ROI
  • Creating a content strategy that will sustain company revenue for years to come
  • How we increased newsletter subscriptions 532%

These examples also happen to be blog articles we turned into downloadable, gated assets. So they’re basically blogs on steroids, and the fact that they all have results-focused headlines is not a coincidence.

Why it works: With results-focused headlines, we’re describing exactly what value the reader will get out of reading this piece of content — AKA what they will learn. So once again, we’re using the title as a promise of value.

Experience-Based Headlines

If there’s any opportunity to showcase your humanity, do it. This is where experience-based headlines come in. This is one tried and true type of headline that can initiate a connection with your readers at a glance.

This works especially well for experiences that are a bit more negative. I would caution to do these in moderation, because they can very quickly start looking like spam/overkill if done too frequently. However, they work extremely well for a couple reasons.

First, negative experience-based headlines help us show empathy with our audience. It’s sometimes the most straightforward way to let our readers know we’re speaking directly to a common pain point or issue in our industry.

For example:

  • Are you guilty of unethical marketing?
  • 5 most egregious marketing fails of all time
  • Ugly as sin – the 6 cardinal sins of blog design

Second, it’s another opportunity to show we’re human. If we mess up, why not write about it and offer transparency in what we’re doing to fix the mistake? Or perhaps we learned something that could be particularly valuable for our readers and we just have to share.

For example:

Why it works: Experience-based headlines help you connect with your audience on a more personal, human level.

Listicles

A listicle, for those of you not already aware of this buzzword, means “list article.” It’s an article that contains a list of ideas or information. Personally, I love a good list, so I’m always going to be drawn to this type of article. It happens to work very well for our audience, too — 60 percent of our top performing blogs from the last 6 months were listicles.

Bonus tidbit: List posts are heavily shared on social media. In fact, list posts get an average of 218% more shares than “how to” posts and 203% more shares than infographics.

If you’re going to provide your readers with a listicle, make sure your headline communicates that in the most obvious way.

Here are some examples:

Why it works: A listicle headline is great because it communicates not only what information you’re giving your readers, but exactly the format in which they will be receiving it as well.

How-To Headlines

How-to articles just work. Period.

The content marketing industry is big and complex. There’s no shortage of nuances, tactics, tools, etcetera to explain to those just diving in. (This fact is applicable to any industry.)

When you’re not sure what else to write about, start thinking of new ways you can explain the ins and outs of your industry. How-to articles work great here because they’re clear and straightforward.

For example:

  • How to hire a ghostwriter for your blog
  • How to create anchor text that’s actually meaningful for your readers
  • How to write a newsletter

Why it works: Similar to the listicle, the how-to article title usually begins with the phrase “how to,” so it’s blatantly obvious to the reader what they’re going to get when they click. Again, the title of the article conveys the format with which the information will be presented, as well as the topic.

Question Headlines

Question headlines work especially well with our blog and email audiences.

Why? They provoke curiosity and encourage email opens.

On social, question headlines (titles that end with a “?”) get 23.3% more social shares than headlines that don’t end with a question mark.

And in search these days, especially with voice search on the rise, searchers are plugging in queries that are complete strings of sentences (most often questions, like “Google, what’s the closest pizza restaurant to me?”). Google’s algorithm has become so advanced that it can understand the types of results to present the searcher just by the structure of the query.

Often, when we’re doing topic research for our blog, we’ll find some great topics that are posed in the form of a question. Like, “how long should a blog post be?,” for example.

So why not answer a question with a question? This way, we can show the searcher we know exactly what they’re wondering and we’re here to help them.

Not really rocket science! Just 100% transparency in the information we’re offering.

Some examples:

  • What is guest blogging? → Actual search topic = “what is guest blogging”
  • Micro content: What is it and why do you need it? → Actual search topic = “micro content”
  • Is blogging dead? → Actual search topic = “is blogging dead”

Why it works: Question headlines are sometimes the closest (or exact) match to the original search topic we’re creating content around. So why complicate the message further by getting fancy with our headline if we don’t have to?

Things you should not do

Now, let’s take a look at some of the don’ts with crafting an article headline. These are things you should definitely NOT do… unless you want to send your readers running for the hills.

Clickbait headlines history

Yes, we want to get noticed. We want people to click on (and ideally read, absorb and remember) our content and get familiar with our brand. But what’s stopping us from just creating one clickbait headline after another?

A little history lesson for you. Clickbait isn’t a new tactic by any means. It’s been around for over a century, often used by competing newspapers to sell more product. Now it’s used by competing websites to capture more eyeballs on the page and clicks on ads.

Clickbait malpractice

Some might argue that because it’s been around forever, there’s nothing wrong with clickbait. But the problem is with how clickbait headlines are used.

Clickbait takes advantage of our instinctive curiosity as humans.

If your article content delivers on what your title promises, no matter how extreme it sounds, then that’s fine.

However…

If you trick a reader into clicking on content that has no value to them, you will completely crush the trust that person has with your brand. Don’t waste their time. It’s just rude.

Speaking of time…

We’re all trying to maximize the time spent reading up on the latest news, industry trends, or finding new recipes to cook, etcetera, and our time is extremely limited.

Clickbait content can take us away from reading more important and worthwhile stories.

Banner blindness is real

There’s also the risk of appearing spammy. If you use a title that is overly dramatic or exaggerated, people will spot it as spam from a mile away. Choose your words wisely.

While banner blindness relates primarily to display ads, the principle also carries over to your blog content. If you consistently publish articles with over-the-top messages in your headlines, you will definitely turn readers away.

Use in moderation.

Don’t be the blog that cried wolf.

The opposite of clickbait

So what should you do instead?

Combat clickbait and spam with a better headline. One that’s clear and concise and honest in what it offers. And it should actually offer information that’s of value to your readers.

Do that consistently, and you’ll build trust with your audience. You’re telling them that you deliver the information you promise in your article title. They will click on your articles because they know what they’re going to get from you.

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5 big headline don’ts

Don’t overpromise.

So to recap…

Don’t exaggerate what your article is about in the headline.

Do use words that showcase how valuable your article is (for example: “amazing” “awesome” “killer”). Make sure to choose words that fall within your brand guidelines.

Remember: There’s a fine line between clickbait and an alluring (and honest) headline. Think about the difference between a tabloid title and something that might be found on the New York Times. Use that as a scale…it’s your choice on how far you swing in either direction.

Don’t bait and switch.

The worst thing you can do is name your article something that sounds really great but actually has nothing to do with what’s inside the actual article.

Sometimes as we’re writing, revising and reviewing our content, the whole direction of the piece changes and we need to adjust the headline to match. This is fine and necessary.

Make sure your content delivers on what you’re promising in your headline. When you consistently deliver on what you promise, you will grow trust with your audience.

Don’t be overly wordy or too vague.

If you’re too wordy, no one’s gonna read your headline because you took too long to get to the point. Or, your headline will be cut off in SERPs or email subject lines and your message will fail to make an impact.

If you’re too vague, people won’t be motivated enough to click through to read the rest of your content. If your message is vague, it’s unclear, and clarity is key for a great headline.

Don’t rely solely on an algorithm to create your headlines.

There are plenty of tools out there that promise engaging and actionable headlines with minimal creative input from you.

We actually debunked the effectiveness of one such tool last year. While these tools often provide great ways that help start the ideation process, you should always put your unique spin on the final product.

And you should probably be doing a lot more than that, too…

As digital marketing pioneer, writer and speaker Ann Handley says, you should

“Spend as much time writing the headline as you do an entire blog post or social post. Why? Because the headline matters. (Really matters.)”

And as Andy Crestodina, cofounder and strategic director of Orbit Media Studios, has said, your headlines should

“Take as many words as you need to make the case that the click is worth it.”

Your headline is making the case that the reader’s time will be well spent by reading your article. So don’t rely on a tool that just about anyone can access to do this part for you.

Don’t forget to proofread.

This should probably go without saying, but any hint of a typo or an ungrammatical choice of words can be a major turnoff to readers. If they see a typo in your headline, they’ll be thinking… “Why should I spend my precious time reading something that this brand didn’t even take the time to proofread?”

Of course, accidents happen, because we’re only human. But, you know, do your best. And hey, maybe if you make a mistake and then send an apology, that’s an opportunity to connect with your readers on a more human level.

Three main themes for writing a great headline

So, we’ve been over a lot today and I wanted to take a moment to recap some of the main takeaways I’d like you to leave with today when it comes to writing a great headline:

  1. Be as clear, concise, consistent and honest as possible about the type of information you’re delivering in your article. That’s how you will build trust with your readers and prove that your content is worth their time.
  2. Know your audience. Go with what works best for your audience based on how they interact with your content (use data to analyze that behavior). Don’t just follow someone else’s best practices and assume they will yield the same results.
  3. Have fun with it! Headlines are a first impression, they’re how we stand out from the crowd. Be weird. Try new things. Don’t be afraid to fail, but make sure to learn from your mistakes.

Questions

1. Do you do any sort of A/B type testing with headlines?

To be 100% honest, we don’t formally A/B test every single headline we send out, no. That said, we do analyze the data on an ongoing basis to see what’s working well and what isn’t.

Take our email marketing for example. Since we send out different types of emails at virtually the same exact time each week (like, for example, our newsletter emails are sent out to the exact same list, every single Tuesday morning), we can gauge performance on a week to week basis. But then there’s also subject matter to consider as well, because that can have an impact on how well an email performs if you’re just looking at open rate (which is what we’d be A/B testing for with headlines).

I think A/B testing might be more impactful if you’re looking to try something really, really out there and want to see how your audience reacts and don’t want to risk sending that big risk out to your entire email list.

Or it could be useful when you’re just starting out with email marketing and want to get a good feel for types of headlines that work and don’t work.

Also, A/B testing could be a great way to settle a debate with a coworker. We almost always have discussions on how to format an email subject line. We are super nitpicky and I think it’s important to be that way, to fine tune for the best results.

But yeah, for example with our newsletter list, we don’t really see drastic open rate fluctuations from week to week. It holds pretty steady. So if something really underperforms one week, we’ll know.

2. If your content receives low open rates or low CTRs, how much do you attribute that to the headline and how much do you attribute to the subject matter itself?

This is a great question and I kind of talked a little bit about this in the previous question.

Attribution is tough. Especially with email open rates. It’s really difficult to separate headline performance from subject matter. And even though this is a presentation about headlines, I’d have to say that open rate performance could be a little more tied to subject matter preference than the headline itself. But again, I don’t think the two can really be separated so maybe it’s more like 60/40 – subject matter to headline.

I think if you’ve got an issue with a low CTR, and we’re talking about email, then there’s something within your email copy that isn’t really motivating people to click through. Or perhaps your subject line doesn’t perfectly match what you’re offering inside the email so there’s a mismatch.

If you’ve got a low CTR on a SERP, then you’ll want to investigate exactly what else is on the SERP competing for the click and figure out what might be the issue from there.

So anyway, I think you should focus on that perfect pair of subject matter and subject line. Get both things right and you’re going to see a lot of great results in the form of email responses, interest, engagement, conversions etc.

3. Do you have suggestions of keyword research tools that help you ideate headlines?

So I think my favorite tool to use that was specifically geared toward writing headlines was Coschedule’s Headline Analyzer.

Unfortunately, we found that the scoring algorithm they use wasn’t really correlated to better open rates for us, so we have generally stopped using it.

That said, Coschedule provides a ton of great resources that helped me learn more about crafting a good headline. Not to mention, it’s kinda fun to use.

So if you’re starting out or looking to hone your skills on headline writing, I’d recommend checking it out. And it’s free.

The other tool I’ve had fun using in the past is Hubspot’s blog ideas generator. Perhaps not super helpful for keyword research but fun to try out if you’re looking to get out of a topic ideation drought.

You plug in a few terms or topics relevant to your business or service and it spits out some templated headlines that are usually pretty funny but also helpful in understanding how the trendiest article headlines are structured and why.

It’s kinda like mad libs for blog titles.

And sure, I use and recommend other tools for keyword research (like Moz, SEMrush, Ahrefs etc.) but those two are the ones I’ve used specifically because they helped me learn new things when writing headlines.

4. Do these rules of headlines apply in a similar fashion to videos too?

Yes, they absolutely do.

Your headline for your video is going to be what people are drawn to first before they actually click on the video to watch it, so I do think these rules apply for that purpose. I think a combination of the title of your video plus your thumbnail, AKA your preview image, is what you’re looking to optimize to get the best click-through rate for your videos.

5. I’m sending weekly newsletter to the same group of readers each week and the newsletter contains multiple articles – would you focus on one article in the email subject line? Or try to represent more than one article?

That’s a great question, and we actually use the same tactic in our newsletter. We have a group of five pieces of content that we send to our newsletter list each week. I’ve seen this done multiple ways to varying effects from other companies.

Here’s what we do at Brafton:

Of the five pieces of content we’re looking to share each week, we usually have one piece that is spot on, as close to what our audience is looking for as possible, and perhaps the strongest piece of the batch. That is the one we will use for the subject line.

The strength of the piece is determined by the subject matter and the headline itself. For example, maybe it’s a fun headline or a really, really good topic (AKA super relevant to our audience)… that’s how we decide on what we will use as our feature — our headliner — and that’s what we use for our email subject line too.

6. We’re getting better open rates with out-of-the box “punny” headlines as opposed to headlines that convey our brand tone and style. Is this due to customer fatigue or some other reason?

That’s a really great question. People are always going to react a little bit more, they’re always going to do a double-take, for something that isn’t expected, so I think that’s probably why you’re seeing those better open rates with your more unusual, “punny” headlines.

I do think, however, if you do too many of those in a row you’re probably going to see the same effects where your open rates will start to plateau.

The most important thing is mixing things up, giving your audience a good mix… sending them some things they’re not quite expecting to make them open and, more importantly, be interested in the content they receive from you. So giving them a variety of on-brand subject lines and things they don’t really expect will hopefully keep your open rates high.

7. How should a Call-to-Action button connect to the headline?

Your CTA button should be incredibly relevant to your headline. This rule applies to display advertising, email copy, and can even apply to a blog post. Here’s an example of each scenario and how the CTA and headline should align:

Display advertising:

With display advertising, your No. 1 goal is to get people to click on your ad. Your CTA button should be the most obvious action that applies to your copy. For example, if you’re explaining to the viewer, “Brafton can get your content to rank on page 1 of Google so you should click on our ad to learn how we do it,” you’ll want to shorten that so it reads better on the display.

The copy should be the most interesting part of that statement and your CTA should be action part of that statement. In this example, “get your content to rank on page 1 of Google” is the most interesting part of the statement because it describes a tangible result. “Learn how we do it,” is the actionable part of the statement because it alludes to the how of said result, and that should be your CTA.

Copy: We get your content to rank on page 1 of Google

CTA: Learn how we do it.

The CTA should be the next step the user takes. It should encourage them to continue on the path you want to take them on to learn more about your business and how you can solve their problems.

Email copy:

Similar to display, your email copy should, for the most part, have one goal. We recommend assigning one goal per email (and not more) because we don’t want to confuse the recipient. If they are unclear what your goal is (the action they are supposed to take) from your email, they will not act. Our CTA in our email copy should be as clear as possible and, much like your email subject line, should communicate what we want the user to do. Often that’s explaining, in more detail, what they might get out of it if they click.

So, in this example, if we are sharing our best tips for crafting the perfect headline and we are sending this valuable content via email, we want the email recipient to click to learn from us.

We also want to take into account the content format, as well as the content itself, when we craft our CTA within our email copy. This is because different formats of content can determine how people are actually consuming the content. If it’s a webinar, we want them to watch. If it’s a podcast recording, they will be listening to the information presented. If it’s a blog, they will be reading the material. So here’s what a subject line and a CTA within the email might look like:

For a webinar:

Subject line: 23 tested methods for crafting the perfect headline [webinar]

CTA: Watch the webinar

Alternate, for a blog post:

Subject line: Our 23 best tips for crafting the perfect headline

CTA: Read more / Learn more

Blog post:

With blog content, our main goal is to keep users engaging with our site and our content as long as possible. The idea is that the more they engage with the content on our site, the more chances we have to prove our worth to them and show we are a valuable solution to their problems. Our CTAs within blog posts should match that intent, and they should aid in transitioning a reader from one piece of content to the next.

In this scenario, we want to offer additional content relevant to the first topic the reader initially clicked on. So if they are reading a piece related to email marketing best practices, we might suggest the next article they read is 10 types of cold emails that actually work. Or perhaps we have a relevant eBook to offer them to download. The related content is one in the same with the CTA in this scenario.

Headline: Email drip campaigns explained

CTA: Download “The roadmap to successful email marketing” eBook

8. We have a cold email campaign going on with low open rates. We are offering a white paper on color and how color affects consumers when shopping and some are color blind or deficient. We are trying a headline of “Are you color blind?” to try to get them to open the email. What are your thoughts on that?

Cold email campaigns are going to have the lowest open rates out of all of your campaigns. Even from email subject lines, people can typically spot a cold email and avoid it these days.

But that’s why cold email subject lines are so very important. Because we’re trying to create an opening line that is so irresistible that the recipient clicks despite knowing what they’re in for. Or if the value promised (from the subject line) is just too good to ignore.

As for this particular subject line:

Using “Are you color blind?” as a question is pretty compelling. Why? It directly relates to the recipient and might touch on something they’ve wondered about themselves. However, I think there are a few issues with going in this direction.

First, in relation to the white paper you’re offering within the email, which seems to cover many aspects of how color impacts consumer behavior, it might be a little misleading. If I were to receive an email asking this question, I might presume there was a quiz or some kind of tool inside the email that would help reveal this answer about myself. To instead be prompted to download a white paper on color and how it impacts shopping feels a little odd. That mismatch between the promise (subject line) and the reality of the offering (the white paper) could be enough to turn people away. So while you might see a high open rate with this subject line, I’d guess you will see a pretty low CTR for your white paper.

Second, I’d warn you may be cutting your potential audience in half or more (because men are 16x more likely to be colorblind compared to women) and this is pretty common knowledge.

What you might want to do instead, is highlight another super-interesting aspect of the information revealed in your white paper and use it for your subject line. For example, did you find that 50% more men are going to click on a green and red ad because they are colorblind? Use that as your subject line and allude to the fact that you have more juicy data within your white paper.

Some more suggestions:

  • Why men are 5x more likely to click on an ad because of color (white paper)
  • What color blindness tells us about consumer behavior (white paper)
  • How to use color to encourage consumers to buy (white paper)
headlines webinar CTA
Lauren Fox is the Senior Creative Manager at Brafton. When she's not busy annoying the heck out of her one-eyed tuxedo cat Jack, she's either exploring one of the many hiking trails in the Pacific Northwest or cooking up a tasty meal in her tiny kitchen in Seattle.