Headlines are important. They were always important, but I think they’re even more important now.
Most of our content — just like your marketing content — is viewed, or not viewed, based only on the merits of the headline. This string of words is often the difference between success or failure.
Over the years, I’ve developed the philosophy that writing for SEO and writing for people is not actually that different. (Forgive me, Denny.) In fact, I think humans and spiders are both essentially looking for the same thing when they evaluate a headline: keywords.
The term “keyword “tends to make people thing of soulless SEO manipulation, but humans think in keywords as well. We have topics and questions in our heads that are all categorized by keyword. A keyword is just something that’s on your mind.
Someone who searches for the keyword phrase “call to action” is going to recognize that phrase when they browse our newsletters or magazine or webinars. They’ll click on headlines that have that word too, just like they would on a search engine results page.
I don’t necessarily do a lot of keyword research to figure those keywords out (although it can be very valuable). If I know the audience we’re aiming for, I’ll usually know the words that are on their minds. We write around those.
Which brings us to COFFEE. It’s not just a delicious, pick-me-up drink for breakfast (or in my case, any time of day). It’s a way to think about how to write headlines around the words I believe our audience is thinking about, and align that all so humans and search engines will both recognize it as the content they need.
COFFEE stands for:
- Far Forward
Catchy: The headline wording should be a catchy turn of phrase, something that sticks in the mind and grabs attention. A fish hook baited with an ear worm.
Obvious: The specific topic of the article — the keyword — should be super obvious from glancing at the headline. This is a departure from some classic headline writing techniques, which might use a mystery/reveal trick. In today’s world, we need to grab attention and build trust and convince someone to read more all at once. People see so many headlines, most of which don’t pay off on their promises, that I don’t believe they are inclined to click on a wide open mystery. Making it crystal clear that this is the article that will answer the question on your mind is essential.
Far Forward: The keywords should be far toward the front of the headline. This is a clue to search engines that those words are important in the article. I think it’s also essential for people reading digitally. Human readers looking at a paper page can recognize keywords at the end or in the middle of a headline. But online, especially on mobile where they might only see the first few words, Front-loading the keywords makes sure they’ll be seen. Your keywords should be in the first five words — first three is even better.
Emotional: Good headlines play on an emotional need. Think of the emotional copy drivers, pick the emotion you’re drawing on, and hit that hard in the headline.
Evocative: The best headlines aren’t just emotional, they trigger strong reactions, images, memories or feelings. They may even start an argument, or propose something preposterous that people hope will be true (and you will explain away in the article). This is the special sauce that turns a good headline into something that can take off and go viral.
All that together should have the same effect as coffee: It will perk the right audience up to want to read your content.
Maybe even first thing in the morning, as they’re having their other coffee.