Using Headlines Well in Your Content Marketing

How you construct your content marketing headlines will impact your ability to reach and engage your target audience. Different approaches are appropriate for different goals.

content marketing

Last time out, we talked about ways to make your content marketing work harder for you. We can continue that conversation by turning our attention to how headlines impact your ability to attract your target audience.

Headlines Can be Clever or Conceptual

First, there are two very broad approaches to writing headlines: clever and conceptual.

Clever headlines are interestingly written and meant to be attention-getting. They pique curiosity. So, for example, I could have titled the post I mentioned above something like, “Build It and They Won’t Come.” A dyed-in-the-wool SEO would take issue with that — and with this approach, in general — as it simply isn’t geared for SEO performance. More on that in a moment.

The other approach, broadly, is to highlight the concepts or topics you’re discussing, as in the case of that article’s actual title, “3 Ways to Make Your Content Marketing Work Harder for You.”

Clearly, if strong SEO performance is your goal, then the conceptual approach is the way to go. There are going to be far more searches done each month along the lines of, “How can I make my content marketing work harder” than there are for, “If I build my website will they come?”

On the other hand, if your goal with a particular piece of content is to engage more deeply with an audience who already knows you well, then the clever approach can be a better choice. Remember that as much as we want to be informed when we’re consuming marketing content, we also want to be entertained. You’re probably never going to rise to the level of enjoyment that the latest bingeworthy streaming show will have, but that doesn’t mean you need to be the content consumption equivalent of a root canal. Have some fun and your audience likely will, too.

Keyword Considerations

Implied above are considerations about keyword usage. If you can include them, do. That’s generally going to be harder to do with clever headlines; though you may be willing to make that sacrifice, depending on your goals. For more topical headlines, be sure you’re using the best keyword phrases you can. (In my example, we would want to know for sure that “making content marketing work harder” is likely to get more search attention than “making content marketing more effective.”)

How Long Should Your Headlines Be?

Once you decide on your approach, there are more technical matters to address. For example, headline length. According to research done by Backlinko, “headlines that are 14-17 words in length generate 76.7% more social shares than short headlines.”

If your goal is generating something other than social sharing, you might need to look at different metrics. (Which is one reason to take all metrics like these with a grain of salt. Even if they were generated using rigorous protocols, they might simply not be appropriate for your situation. Use them as a guide and gather your own data.)

Should Your Headlines Be Questions?

Backlinko data also tells us that headlines in the form of a question “get 23.3% more social shares than headlines that don’t end with a question mark.”

Again, that’s a very specific metric, aimed at achieving a very specific goal. So don’t twist yourself or your ideas into knots just to tick off a particular box.

The point of these examples isn’t for you to view any of these data points as the gospel truth for your own content marketing work. It’s to encourage you to recognize that paying attention to the details can yield great benefits in your content marketing.

Author: Andrew Schulkind

Since 1996, Andrew Schulkind has asked clients one simple question: what does digital marketing success look like, and how can marketing progress be measured?

A veteran content marketer, web developer, and digital strategist, Andrew founded Andigo New Media to help firms encourage audience engagement through solid information architecture, a great user experience, and compelling content. A dash of common sense doesn’t hurt, either.

His work touches social media, search-engine optimization, and email marketing, among other components, and he has presented at Social Media Week NY and WordCampNYC, among other events. His writing appears in various online and print publications. 

Andrew graduated with a B.A. in Philosophy from Bucknell University. He engages in a range of community volunteer work and is an avid fly fisherman and cyclist. He also loves collecting meaningless trivia. (Did you know the Lone Ranger made his mask from the cloth of his brother's vest after his brother was killed by "the bad guys?")

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