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Weekend Project: Write Posts that Hold Readers to the End, Part 1

This guest post is by Peter Sandeen of Affect Selling.

Do you know why most of your blog’s visitors quickly scroll down your home page, read a couple of headlines, and go back to watching cute kitty videos on YouTube?

Reading

Image courtesy stock.xchng user svenic.

And why those who begin reading a post, only read the first two paragraphs before leaving to read their favorite blogs—blogs which might not even be as good as yours is?

There are two principles behind the solution.

The principles are simple, but not necessarily easy. But when you do get them right, you’re much closer to your goal of having the most popular blog in the world, and getting an email from Darren Rowse asking if you could read his guest post idea for your blog (I’m still waiting for this to happen…).

If you write posts that don’t get read, you’re wasting your time. Your audience can’t grow, AdSense will keep making you $0.08 per month, and your email list’s reach will stay limited to your mom and your dog (for whom you created an email address to have more subscribers).

If and when you start to use these principles in your posts, you’ll see a shift in your audience; they’ll share your posts on social media, they’ll leave comments, and they subscribe to get more of your content.

Here are the principles you must know, to have any chance of making it as a blogger. Just understanding them will get you leaps and bounds ahead of other bloggers in your niche.

The headline captures attention

The headline is the most important part of any post. Why? Because people either read your posts or leave your site based on your headlines.

In other words, publishing a post without a great headline won’t do you any good.

There are three things you need to get right in the headline.

  1. The topic.
  2. The angle.
  3. The placement.

When you get all of these right, your headline will capture your audience’s attention and get them to click it anxiously, waiting to read the post.

1. The topic of the headline

The most obvious topic of your post isn’t nearly always the best topic for the headline.

For example, let’s say you write a post about weight loss—more specifically, about “man boobs.” You have two headlines to choose from:

  1. How to Lose Weight
  2. How to Get Rid of Man Boobs

Which one will attract more attention from the target audience for that post?

Grabbing attention is not just about being specific: it’s about using what your audience wants to know more of. Weight loss is such a general and common topic that most people wouldn’t dream of reading another post about it, even if they’re somewhat interested in it.

“Man boobs” on the other hand (I promise I won’t say, “man boobs” anymore), is specific—it’s probably not something anyone has read 100 posts about previously.

What if your topic is actually something general like “weight loss,” with no more specific focus? Well, you’ll get the answer to that in tomorrow’s post, so remember to check back…

2. The angle of the headline

Did you think it’s enough to just pick the right topic to feature in your headline? Figuring out the topic is just the start: you need to find the right angle for it too.

What is an “angle” in a headline? It’s the way you present a topic. For example: “Basics of landing pages” isn’t really that interesting. What about Stockmann-Syndrome – Don’t Try this (Landing Page) at Home?

The first headline may point to the same content as the latter one. But there’s an important difference: the latter is unlikely to make you think, “I’ve already read that.” Instead, it makes a promise to deliver something new to an old topic, or at least to be entertaining.

There are also really important differences between the words used here, even when they’re basically synonyms. For example, “How to” implies simple and easy-to-use-use content made for non-experts, while you can use “Learn to” with more complicated topics, and when your audience is better educated about the topic. “How to Build a Helicopter” sounds like a joke, but “Learn to Build a Helicopter” sounds like there’s something to it.

And one more mistake you can make is to ask a question people will answer, “No, I’m not interested in that.” Copyblogger did that some months ago, and they wrote an interesting post about the mistake.

3. The placement of the headline

What if you saw the headline, “How to Be a Good News Anchor,” here at ProBlogger?

You might click through to see what the heck it’s about. But you’re not here to learn about building a career as a news anchor. On the other hand, what if it said, “How to Look Authoritative on Video”? You’d be much more interested, right?

The context of your headline changes how people react to it and what expectations it creates. Sure, you won’t write a headline that far off the mark, but smaller details make a huge difference as well.

Can you write a headline that gets clicked?

If you’re up for it, leave a link to your best headline (or just tell us what your headline is) in the comments below.

Keep in mind, this is just the first principle. You’ll get people to start reading your post with a great headline, but getting them to read to the end is a different goal. We’ll look at that in the second post in this series!

101 Headline Formulas is a FREE eBook that’s Not Just a Great Swipe File; it also explains what should come after each headline to keep readers reading to the end. To learn Persuasive Copywriting, how to build High-Conversion Landing Pages, and understand the practical application of the Real Principles of Effective Marketing, check out Affect Selling by Peter Sandeen.

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Comments

  1. My daughter just started a blog about her summer vacation… I really liked the headline for one of her recent posts (as did a lot of her facebook friends):

    Nothing says, “Your adventure is over” like the back of a police car.

  2. I honestly need to do some work on my headlines. I’ve been looking through my blog and have only found one that I really found interesting: How Safe is Your Family from the Police?

    I know that the headline is extremely important, but I never really considered how blah mine are until now. Geez. I really need to get to work!

    • Hi Angie,

      Your example is really good if your audience is unsure if they can trust the police. As with many good headlines there’s a risk (that they don’t feel it’s relevant), but if a “warning headline” hits the mark, it tends to work extremely well.

      If you want to make writing headlines a bit easier, the eBook (mentioned in the byline) might be a good fit for you. The formulas I included don’t feel like formulas and you’ll get a lot more info about when to use each type to get the maximum response… Just think about it ;)

      Regards,
      Peter Sandeen

      • I got my copy yesterday! So far, so good. I used the sub-headline trick this morning with my post:
        Help, I Can’t Move My Arms!—How To Work Out the Wrong Way. So far, so good. It’s got a lot of hits and a few comments already.

        • Hi Angie,

          Thanks for replying. And great to hear you found the eBook useful.

          Your headline is really good (got me to check the post :)

          Let me know if you have any comments or questions about it.

          -Peter

  3. Great post. Very useful and informative, and nice and amusing at parts. Your post definitely had me reading so I plan on taking your advice, and hopefully my website will begin to grow even more. Thanks for the post.

    • Hi Cameron,

      I’m glad to hear you liked it :)

      Have you written any headlines that you feel are really strong? Let us know if you have.

      And don’t forget to come back for the part 2…

  4. Anshu says:

    I agree with you wholeheartedly. The only thing I would like to add is – when you think of a creative headline, also keep in mind the SEO. The two will usually be in conflict sadly. Your example of Man Boobs is a good one – but I bet Weight Loss will still have a better chance of getting found via Google.

    I used to write catchy names for my sewing tutorials earlier…for e.g.

    Strawberry Vanilla Dress – http://bloomsnbugs.blogspot.com/2011/07/sew-easy-part-5-lined-bodice-dress.html
    OR
    Coral Reef Dress

    ( Keep in mind that almost all of my readers are women…and what woman would turn down a strawberry vanilla shake?)

    But then I realized that I may have gotten better response from google if I had simply named them – Halter neck dress sewing tutorial or One Shoulder Dress sewing tutorial. so thats what I do these days and it seems to work. Nowadays I use the first picture as a way to anchor readers.
    Although I really really want to post a “Chocolate Souffle Dress Tutorial” before I die ;-)

    • Hi Anshu,

      You’re right; the SEO aspect is important…

      Fortunately there’s a solution that lets you create fantastic headlines like, “Chocolate Soufflé Dress Tutorial” and still optimize the content: An SEO-plugin that lets you specify the title tag separately from the post’s title. I think all SEO-plugins let you do this including the free ones. I use YOAST SEO and I’m happy with it (though I use Scribe also).

      As Sally Hogshead explains in her book, “Fascinate”, things like chocolate make people act impulsively, so naming a sawing tutorial after something tasty may get people to click through more.

      On the other hand using “simple” keyword like headlines has one great advantage: you’re talking your audience’s language. And that makes you more relatable.

      Fortunately you can use simple language and still be interesting. The formulas I explain in the eBook (mentioned in the byline) are mostly “simple”. They just use some angle that sparks curiosity more than just a plain headline.

      There’s always at least three sides for a coin ;)

      Regards,
      Peter Sandeen

      • Anshu says:

        Thanks Peter.
        I didn’t know about this plugin…will check it out.

        >There’s always at least three sides for a coin ;)
        Love it! Its just that the third side is really hard to notice :)

        Thanks for the fantastic article and great conversation.
        Best,
        Anshu

        • Hi Anshu,

          I try to keep the third side in mind. When you deal with anything complex (like marketing topics) nothing is as simple as it may first sound…

          Best Regards,
          Peter

  5. This is definitely insightful and a great reminder (I do a lot of different content creation research every day).

    It may not be all that creative, but my most clicked headline so far is “How To Use Internet Marketing Forums To Get Free Traffic”.

    It definitely appeals to my audience, but it could also have something to do with the amount of exposure this post got versus the other more interesting posts.

    Thanks!
    -Gabe

    • Hi Gabe,

      That’s a really good headline if your audience is looking for free traffic. It’s actually a very common headline formula: “How to [use something] to [accomplish something]” I don’t think I put it in the eBook, since it’s easy to mess this one up :)

      But when you do use it “right” like you did, I’m not surprised it worked well.

      Another similar formula is: “How to [accomplish something difficult] [by doing something unrelated]” and it works like a charm… ;)

      -Peter

  6. Meka says:

    it’s probably not something anyone has read 100 posts about previously
    sounds pretty interesting! you are totally right

    • Hi Meka,

      If you’re referring to man boobs, than probably nobody has read 100 posts about it. If you’re referring to the topic of the post, then I’m guessing some people have read a lot about it, but they don’t tend to take action…

      Let me know if you’ve written headlines you’re happy with ;) Examples are always welcome.

      Regards,
      Peter

    • Hi James,

      Definitely a good one! At least if the readers are already somewhat familiar with who you are.

      Thanks for the example.

      Regards,
      Peter Sandeen

  7. Hi Peter,

    Create headlines people haven’t seen. Twist ‘em up. Start subjects with power verbs. Move people into action. Include colorful adjectives. Excellent tips here.

    Stay on topic but deviate a bit. All topic-related headlines are likely used up, tired, never grabbing your attention. Find an analogy. One of my headlines:

    “Cash Gifting Mastery – Increase Your Productivity by Studying My Pugnacious House Guest”

    Cash gifting coaches intend to increase their productivity. Topic covered. But I introduce my pugnacious house guest to the mix. The analogy creates curiosity, intrigue…so people click through to see who my house guest is and how they can learn from him.

    Thanks Peter!

    Ryan

    • Hi Ryan,

      Good example, thank you :)

      And you’re right, most “normal” headlines are “used”, so twisting them up a bit makes sense. Tomorrow’s post covers that more ;)

      But I do believe many “normal” headlines work extremely well. You just need to use one of the ones that work ;D (Check out the eBook that’s mentioned in the byline for 101 ideas.)

      Regards,
      Peter Sandeen

  8. Here is the link to one of my recent posts–What Forensic Scientists Wish Lawyers Knew.

    http://todayadvocatingtomorrow.wordpress.com/2012/07/06/what-forensic-scientists-wish-lawyers-knew/

  9. Nice post Peter, Mastering in the area of “attention grabing headline creation” is essential to stay ahead of the competition. Since content is the life blood of the internet, all website owners need to get better at headlines. I definitely know what difference can be expectd by changing headlines. It’s infact key to generating traffic to your content. Hope many will find this post helpful…

    Dr.Spencer Jones

    • Hi Spencer,

      You’re right; headlines are essential. And it’s surprising how few people really pay attention to their headlines. That’s one of the reasons why I created the headline eBook. Good headlines aren’t necessarily difficult to write, they just take some time to come up with and a good resource makes it much faster ;)

      Regards,
      Peter Sandeen

  10. Chirag says:

    Writing a series of post’s also helps big time in holding on readers for a long time. Nice points highlighted..

    • Hi Chirag,

      Good point; series posts tend to get a better response than single posts. Hopefully you’ll come back tomorrow to read the second part of this mini series ;)

      -Peter

  11. Jonny says:

    I have always struggled to write headlines that grab readers attention and I must admit that I have also had headlines that ask a question that people can immediately say no too! Glad you pointed that one out as I didn’t realize before I read it!

    • Hi Jonny,

      It’s a very common mistake… And even the best headline writers do it.

      If you find writing headlines difficult, checkout the eBook I mentioned ;) It makes it easier.

      Regards,
      Peter Sandeen

  12. Betfree247 says:

    The headline is not something I’ve ever put too much emphasis on in the past, choosing to concentrate too much on content instead.

    This just goes to show how important it is too look into every aspect of a blog post and beyond, what appears to be irrelevant little things can clearly count for so much more than I previously thought and I am missing out on the benefits of of it.

    And the best of it is, just thinking about things a bit more and planning my posts a little better could make so much difference.

    It seems like a bit of tinkering, as opposed to major surgery, could make a world of difference if implemented properly.

    • Hi,

      It really makes all the difference, though it might seem like a “small” part of the post. But it is the most important sentence and makes or breaks a post…

      Regards,
      Peter Sandeen

  13. Preston says:

    Great article. My oddest article as of yet is called “Fifty Shades of Bad Scientology Porn and other bestselling updates.”
    http://bit.ly/NFGJhX

    @Imangryatnews

  14. Hi Peter,
    a good headline can really catch attention and bring visitors, but I find that many headlines don’t live up to the expectations and that is really bad most of the time. It is especially annoying when you find a great headline, follow it and then find some redundant information that has little to do with the actual title.

    • Hi Mariella,

      You’re right – absolutely – and that’s what the part 2 of this mini series is about ;)

      Regards,
      Peter

  15. I write a menopause blog, and got a lot of response from this headline (hope it’s no worse than reading “man boobs”:

    A Blast from Your Menstruation Past

    http://friendfortheride.wordpress.com/2012/07/13/a-blast-from-your-menstruation-past/

    • Hi Barbara,

      I can’t say it catches my attention (though I can appreciate the headline) :D

      It’s really well-targeted and – I’m sure – interesting/fresh for your audience.

      Regards,
      Peter Sandeen

  16. Daniel says:

    Very useful information, Peter.

    This is something I am currently looking into and working on, then I will measure the results over a set period of time.

    There can often be better results, if we spend more time working on our titles, and our body content presentation. .

    If we can get someone hooked from the search results, this at least gives us a chance.

    Then it seems it’s a case of not just having engaging content, it also seems to be quite important as to how we present that content, so it is easily digested.

    There are some really great posts out there, only they are not always presented to make the most of them.

    • Hi Daniel,

      You’re right; what comes after the headline is extremely important and a good headline is only a starting point.

      Have you read the part 2 of this mini series? It’s about keeping readers reading to the end ;)

      Regards,
      Peter Sandeen

  17. Rajib Kumar says:

    Most of the blogger including me are not aware of attractive post title. That’s why we all are average in blogging life. You description are clear to me and I will follow your instruction next time to keep my reader in my blog. Thanks for share.

    • Hi Rajib,

      Thanks, I try to keep ideas simple and actionable :)

      Have you checked the eBook mentioned in the byline? It might help you write great headlines easier and faster…

      Regards,
      Peter Sandeen

  18. Danny says:

    Writing attractive post titles is an art form.

    It’s proverbial “scent” that entices the bloody-thirsty consumer at the outset.

    • Hi Danny,

      It’s interesting that you brought up “scent”. It’s usually only discussed with landing pages, but it’s really important when you write any headline (especially for SEO purposes).

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

      Regards,
      Peter Sandeen

  19. Johanna says:

    I write a travel and lifestyle blog called “Zigazag”.
    One of my best headlines is:
    “Crocodile Dundee Eat Your Heart Out! Outback Highlights in North Western Australia.”

    Thanks for a great post. I’ll be reading the follow-ups with interest too :)

  20. In my opinion headlines can play a huge role in attracting your interest. I believe it’s important to clarify from the start the exact topic of your post and then write the most attractive part of your post. Then, after the reader has started reading but gets bored in the process , that’s the right time to place your next headline which recaptures his interest. Managing to hold the reader until the end can also make him to go to another post by viewing the “you might also like” section of your website, so i’ts really important.

    John Geroutis

  21. Writing a useful and meaningful post might be very difficult at times, most time you write what people don’t actually like. That’s why blogging is a business of the wise. Thanks for sharing this.

    • Hi,

      “That’s why blogging is a business of the wise.” Yup, it isn’t any easier than any other business if you really want to succeed…

      Regards,
      Peter Sandeen

  22. Hey Peter,

    Awesome post my friend. I always try to publish my blog posts with great headlines because I know the importance of it.

    Most people says that content is king, but in my opinion headlines is king because it is something which will be seen my readers, so it must knock the readers attension.

    Anyway, check out my recent blog post healide is “The World Need More Bloggers”
    and here’s the link http://www.guideandnews.com/2012/07/16/world-needs-more-bloggers/

    Hope you will like it.

    • Hi Eshan,

      Thanks, I too – obviously – think headlines are important ;)

      I don’t even say, “content is king”; everybody creates content. There’s just too much else to think about when you build a blog (or any website or business)…

      Your headline is good and so is the post. But I think a sub-headline could’ve made it even stronger… Something simple like “The World Needs More Bloggers – Become One of Them” could’ve made it more engaging ;)

      Let me know what you think.

      Regards,
      Peter Sandeen

      • You’re right Peter, Sub-headlines makes the post more stronger, Next time I will try to make a post more stronger by using sub-headline.
        Thanks for your reply.

        • Hi Eshan,

          Just to be clear; sub-headlines don’t always work. They can even make the headline weaker.

          The idea is to add punch and another line often does that. On the other hand, a shorter headline (no sub-head) is punchier because it is shorter…

          -Peter

  23. Best part!! Can you write a headline, that can be clicked!

  24. Adam says:

    Headline is the most important part in marketing!

  25. Great post Peter and you are right, all 3 are important. The one that probably causes most problems though is the angle of the headline. It really requires getting right into the head of your customers or readers to be able to find out what will capture their attention.

    One very useful way I have been using to do that is by reversing the benefits of what I write about. Using the simplest example possible, if you write about getting people to read the entire post to the end, the reverse is them not doing so.

    It is quite basic method, I agree but most of the time it can give you a good insight into customer / reader needs and wants.

  26. Amber says:

    This is my first time on problogger and what a great first article to read.
    I need to work on my headlines, but the two that got the most views were:

    Topless {Nobody Wants To Be First} & I Lost My Big Girl Panties

    The first one is about being authentic with one another and the second was about me not being able to deal with a situation.

    Thanks for the help!

    • Hi Amber,

      Thank you for your kind words.

      Your headlines are really good. Not surprised they worked well…

      If you want more ideas for headlines, take a look at the eBook mentioned in the byline ;)

      Regards,
      Peter Sandeen

  27. Hi Pawel,

    Good point :)

    People are only interested in two things:

    1. Problems they have and want to get rid of.
    2. Dreams they want but don’t have.

    Both angles can work, and often the “negative” works better; it’s about which is more important for your readers… Getting to their goals or getting away from their problems.

    Regards,
    Peter Sandeen

  28. Annie Andre says:

    Hello Peter,

    one of my most popular posts is a headline which focus on a womens worst fear. Getting FAT. The headline reads
    10 Reasons Why French Women Don’t Get Fat:

    I have another that does well too. I think i’ts because it uses the word VIRGIN and TWITTER

    A Twitter Virgins Story: How I Went From Twitter Hell To Twitter Heaven

    I’m not a great writer and have only been at this whole writing/blogging thing for a year but i defenitley see more clicks and longer page views on the ones with headers that are catch or mix things up a bit.

    • Hi Annie,

      Both really great! I think the first one especially is remarkable; referring to French women was a really good idea.

      Regards,
      Peter Sandeen

  29. jeesika says:

    I know that the headline is extremely important, but I never really considered how blah mine are until now

  30. Winthrope says:

    Long live the blogger.

    If you encounter people who think blogging cannot sustain a decent living then tell them to read the story of the investment banker and the blogger.

    http://www.theibanker.com/the-investment-banker-and-the-blogger

  31. Dee Kenville says:

    Wow! Thanks.
    Went thru my posts and I think I only have one post that matches all three…I have work to do!:)
    The one I think that does what you are talking about is about backpacking “Injured in the Backcountry, or The Curse of McGee!”
    http://ndeewoods.blogspot.com/2012/04/injured-in-backcountry-or-curse-of.html
    Dee

    • Hi Dee,

      Your headline definitely sparks curiosity; I don’t really know what it’s about but it does create interest.

      If you want to get some ideas, check out the eBook mentioned in the byline ;)

      Regards,
      Peter Sandeen

  32. Lori E says:

    WOW!!! You can earn .08 cents a month through Adsense? I am impressed. I gave up a long time ago with zero earnings.

    • Hi Lori,

      I’m not sure if you can… I think when people claim they make more than 6 cents per month, they exaggerate ;D

      -Peter

  33. Steve Baines says:

    Nice post Peter. For sure the headline is the most important, you gotta get someone to want to read, but then you gotta have a good hook that intrigues them.

    • Hi Steve,

      You’re right, people don’t read far just because the headline was good.

      Have you checked part 2 of this mini series? It’s about getting people to read on…

      -Peter

  34. Matthew says:

    This blog post is really inspiring and thought provoking. The headline plays a great role in promoting the post. Exploring all the possible alternative ways are very much important rather than posting in a traditional style.

    • Hi Matthew,

      Interesting that you call it “traditional style”… But I think you’re right; many bloggers just think of one headline and settle for it. Often they’d get better results if they spent some time thinking about alternatives.

      Regards,
      Peter Sandeen

  35. Ryan Hanley says:

    Peter,

    Extremely awesome as always… Thanks buddy!!

    Ryan H.

  36. Peter! So great to see you here at ProBlogger! :)

    I hear talk about headlines and copywriting all the time, and it’s usually boring lol. Not so with you. This is the holy grail, posts that hold reader from start to finish.

    I generally do this pretty naturally, with tons of comments like:

    “Jason! Have you ever had an eager feeling in your gut when you’re reading or watching something because you’re so excited and know that something good is coming next??? That’s what I feel when I read your posts. I hang on to every word, re-read where I need to, take a break so I can digest….”

    Sounds like the result we’re aiming for… but the thing is, I’d never consciously thought about how I hold people – and you laid it all out here (well at until the next part of the series)

    P.S. Love your tongue-in-cheek shout-out to Darren in this!

    P.P.S. I don’t know my ‘best headline’ link, but my feeling is that my latest is always my best, so see what ya think: Myth Or Mystery: Is Success Right Above Your Head? – http://ryzeonline.com/myth-or-mystery

    • Hi Jason,

      Thanks :)

      You’re right, you tend to write in a way that stays interesting. I think it’s about the “entertainment”-factor ;)

      Your headline example is good, but it might get even better if you made it a bit clearer what it’s about. It definitely appeals to your existing readership but I don’t know if new visitors will understand the value the post will provide. What do you think? I just think that the parts of the headline don’t connect clearly, so there’s a slight disconnect, but they’re not weird enough to be freaky.

      -Peter

  37. Rana Shahbaz says:

    There is no doubt that this is what every blogger out there wants when spending time on writing a post. Catchy headline definitely is an important starting point towards attracting readers at first point.

    Thank you for providing such a detailed guide to hold the readers on your blog for long.

  38. Peter – awesome post. I think one of the better headlines Ive had to date is “Why the Law of DIffusion of Innovation Attracts the Right Customer, Every Time’. I am basing this ont he number if clicks I received on this post and the ongoing reads Ive had on the blog.

    I definitely believe that the headline is one of the most important parts of the post, if not, the most important but you definitely gave me more perspective by sharing your thoughts on the Angle and Headline of the post. Items I had never really thought about.

    Thanks for sharing this perpective Peter!

  39. Rob says:

    This is a great post and I completely agree, the headline is absolutely crucial in a powerful post. But I have learnt alot more from reading this comment trail. Thanks

  40. Rob says:

    This is a great post and I completely agree, the headline is absolutely crucial in a powerful post and I believe the most important element.