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How to write great Twitter headlines

Sun Gotcha headlineFor the busy web reader, headlines are crucial. Faced with an immense sea of information, we scan for the ones that pull us in and anchor us to something relevant. Headlines matter on web pages, and even more so on social media sites like Twitter. How do you get people to click on yours instead of swimming past?

1. Be succinct.

Summarise the point of your article or blog in as few words as possible. Short and snappy is more appealing than convoluted. It’s a good test of your content too – if you can’t sum up the point in a sentence, maybe you haven’t got it quite right yet.

2. Put your reader first.

Think about what they want to know. What will they be searching for? How is your content going to help them? Use the phrase they’ll be searching for as your headline. Home page design – a quick guide, Networking etiquette – what to say first, and Key components of winning press releases are examples of reader focused, straightforward headlines.

3. Ask a question.

Headlines that engage are good news, and conversational questioning style headlines do just that. Are your business cards working? Is your recruitment process up to scratch? Do your clients know how to find you?

4. ‘How to’ headlines.

People are searching for information, and the’ how to’s’ are easy to spot and easy to click. How to design your about us page, How to boost e-commerce sales, How to sell your house in 6 weeks

5. Promise success.

We all want to succeed, and are tempted by people that offer it to us. Spiking your headlines with positive success words can encourage clicks. Win more clients with smart business networking, Successful sales start with three words, Boost profits with smarter working.

6. Raise the spectre of failure.

Fear of failure is as big a drive as the desire for success. Scare people into reading your stuff! Five costly PR mistakes to avoid. How to lose customers and alienate people. Is your web copy costing you sales?

7. Offer some inside knowledge.

Who doesn’t want to know a secret? It’s not hard to pique our curiosity. The secrets of successful bloggers, The trait top novelists share, Which blogger do twenty world leaders follow?

8. Play the numbers game.

Maybe it’s the promise of a quick read, perhaps because it seems to offer something easily graspable and definitive. Whatever the reason, Twitter can’t get enough of the numbers headlines. Five ways to improve your SEO instantly, Seven ways to keep readers on your site. Three writing rules you must break.

9. Get active.

Words like boost, drive, run, leap, soar, make headlines more compelling than passive words. Injecting some energy into your headlines grabs attention. Boost sales with clever marketing, Drive customers to checkout faster.

10. Say something different.

Originality is like a breath of fresh air in the crowded Twitter marketplace. Headlines created from a different lexicon leap off the page. I’m not talking jargon, just unexpected words – nouns or verbs – that shake up the stream of salesy Tweets. I’d put Mick Dickinson’s Silk purse, sow’s ear, crappy photographer, blog post headline into the refreshingly different category.

And if all else fails……

11. Capitalise Everything.

It’s in your face, brash, and hard to avoid. Personally, I don’t like this headline style, but it doesn’t stop me clicking if the content is promising. How To Win More Sales Overnight, Why Your Content Sucks, How To Write Killer Blogs.

So there you have it. Ten headline styles, and one for luck. It’s useful to mix them up, and vary your approach. I’ll often use four of five different headline styles to flag up the same article. Different readers respond to different types, so experiment with what works best for your followers.

Last but definitely not least, have something to say. Content always comes first in my book. The greatest headline in the world will tempt people to click, but you’ll only disappoint and frustrate if your content doesn’t live up to the headline’s promise.

If you need help with content for your website, do get in touch. I’d love to help.

6 Comments

  • 1
    March 7, 2011 - 3:51 pm | Permalink

    Hi, Sharon.

    Thanks for posting. Good advice as always – and I’m happy to see that I’m already using a couple of your ideas. Must mean I’m beginning to get the hang of it!

    Thanks again,

    Nick

    • 2
      admin
      March 8, 2011 - 1:24 pm | Permalink

      Thanks Nick, glad the advice is useful. You’re definitely getting the hang of it!

  • 3
    March 8, 2011 - 9:16 am | Permalink

    I love headlines. That’s why I enjoy Twitter – it constantly challenges me to say so much with so little.

    My favourite newspaper headline was ‘Gotcha’. Remember that? I don’t read the Sun and I was a teenager at the time. Said it all.

    You don’t mention humour, Sharon. Playing with words. Any comment on that?

    • 4
      admin
      March 8, 2011 - 1:23 pm | Permalink

      Yes, humour’s important. Should have included it in the list!
      Being funny is a really good way of getting attention and making people want to hear more from you.
      Well written witty headlines are my favourite kind. I try and write them when I can to link to my blog. Makes a change from the serious stuff!

  • 5
    March 15, 2011 - 7:21 pm | Permalink

    Great advice, although I personally would not have juxtaposed the words “killer headline” with GOTCHA, given that the Sun famously first used this headline to announce the sinking of the Belgrano, in which 323 Argentinian sailors lost their lives. I’m all for grabbing attention, and no great fan of political correctness, but I’m a bit queasy about this particular combination of words (but maybe that’s because I’m old enough to vividly remember this war and the mixed emotions of the “us or them” dilemma that I experienced at that time).
    I love your blog and now follow it regularly – my comment is intended to be constructive, and I hope it’s taken in the spirit intended – I’m not particulary offended (just raised one of my eyebrows!), but I think a few others might be. Having said that, i’m the only one who has expressed concern, so it’s probably no big deal.

  • 6
    March 15, 2011 - 7:43 pm | Permalink

    Hi Jim,

    That is a good point. There was another picture originally, when the post first went up, and I swapped it after I wrote the headline. Now I might swap the headline, because I think the picture is a striking example of concise emphatic headline writing, but I can see what you mean about the juxtaposition.

    Thanks for commenting, and I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog.

    Sharon

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