How the Amish Mafia Sucked Me In (or, Bad Headlines Are a Death Knell for Your Content)

Amish Mafia: Writing Great Headlines

Image credit: Discovery Channel

Amish Mafia. I admit the title sucked me in. I’m not normally a seeker of sensationalism, and I have happy memories of a childhood trip to what my Dad called “Pennsylvania Dutch country”.  It seemed like a peaceful, crime-free place.

But that title. Such an oxymoron. So I tuned in to the Discovery Channel television show, out of morbid curiosity.

The title got me to consume the rest of the content.

It’s the same online.

According to Copyblogger’s Brian Clark, Online, “on average, 8 out of 10 people will read title or headline copy, but only 2 out of 10 will read the rest.”

When you write any kind of digital content, whether it’s a blog post, a video, an email subject line, or an infographic, pay special attention to the headline.

Many copywriters subscribe to the 50/50 Rule of Headlines, which means you should spend as much time on the title as you do on the rest of the content.

However, I’m going to disagree with that rule, and tell you instead to follow the lead of Brian Clark’s metrics, and focus 80% of your time the title and 20% of the time on the post.

See how the title of this blog post got you to read more?  (And by the way, shamelessly riding the coattails of popular online memes in your titles is a completely legitimate tactic. After all, the whole point of content marketing is to get readers to your website, and then to take whatever action improves your ROI, right?)

Bad headlines do the opposite. They sit out there on Twitter or Facebook or YouTube and gather moss. Or to use yet another idiom, your content dies on the vine.

So, here are 4 ways to think about writing sensational titles that will instantly suck readers right to your content, just like the Discovery Channel did to me:

  • Be sensational. This tactic you’ve already learned from the title of this blog post. Tapping into a controversy can be great for drawing your readers in. (And apparently oxymoronic titles work very well.) But do make sure that you back up your opinion with the content of your post. And be prepared for possible strong reactions if you’re writing about a particularly touchy subject. And do keep it civil. Ultimately you want to be proud of your content.
  • Solve a problem. Identify the problems and pain points faced by your audience, and then communicate to them through the title that your post will address this need.
  • Use catchy phrases. Some words and phrases are just better at getting the attention of readers than others.  For example, blog posts formatted as lists “Top 10 Ways to…,” “Top 5 Tips for…,” even though used frequently, continue to get more clicks than other posts, as do blogs titles that use words like “free,” “secrets,” “revealed,” and “easy”. Just don’t overuse those words, as it will ultimately dilute your effectiveness.
  • Ask questions. A question in your blog post title is a great way to draw in readers, and also encourages them to leave comments. Ask an open-ended question that will spark a variety of answers and opinions, rather than a yes-or-no question. You can state your own feelings on the subject in the post, but leave open room for other opinions and discussion.

And don’t forget to use your keywords in the title!

What about you? What tactics do you use in title-writing? What titles would you add to the Hall of Fame, or conversely, the Hall of Shame?