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The Art of Writing Great Headlines - Len Penzo
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The Art of Writing Great Headlines - Len Penzo



Published in Economy & Finance , Technology
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  • Why should you care about headlines? Because their the most important part of your article, that’s why! Just because you wrote a great article doesn’t mean people are going to read it.That’s because, on average, blog visitors take just 8 seconds to decide whether they’re going to stick around – and they use headlines to make their decision. Four out of five people will read your headlines, but only 1 of 5 will click and read on. So … If nobody is going to bother reading your article, then why write it? That being said, while great headlines might get your article read, they still can’t guarantee your long-term writing success. That wholly depends on you consistently providing great content.
  • Your headline is the first – and maybe only – chance you’ll have to make an impression on the reader.If your headline doesn’t cut through the clutter, if it doesn’t stand out, if it doesn’t get the attention of your audience, then all the time and effort you spent writing your article won’t matter.
  • Talk about bad first impressions …Here are a few headlines I recently came across while perusing some of my favorite personal finance blogs. Some of you sitting here today may remember coming across these titles; the top two are from two of the largest personal finance blogs out there today. For the record, I didn’t click on any of these articles. Why should I? In all six examples, there is absolutely nothing compelling me to do so.
  • AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION:These were three Internet headlines gracing their respective sites in April 2012. If you could click on only one headline, which one would you choose? Why did you select the one you did? (I know which one I would select – because I did when I came across the headline!)
  • All three headlines linked to the exact same story based upon a NASA press release touting the latest Hubble telescope photo of the so-called “UFO Galaxy” that accentuated its shape in the form of a classic alien space ship.
  • When it comes to the real world, the headline editors Cosmopolitan really know how to get their readers’ attention too. In fact, they’ve got headline writing down to a science. There is another publication out there that is well known for its eye-catching headlines. Anybody care to guess?
  • Perhaps the best headline writers of all were the editors for Weekly World News. Look at these headlines! Even though the stories are, for the most part, pure fiction, the headlines implement key strategies and good headline practices used by advertisers, copywriters, and editors everywhere.
  • I bet you didn’t know that when they weren’t talking about aliens, bigfoot, and two-headed mommies, Weekly World News occasionally dabbled in personal finance. We could all take a lesson from them too because the editors of the Weekly World News knew what made a great headline better than most people. They had to because they knew they only had a few moments to grab shoppers’ attention while they were standing in line at the supermarket.Great headlines have four key characteristics, and they’re all illustrated here on this single edition of the Weekly World News…
  • List posts indicate to the reader that you really know what you’re talking about.Most people prefer to read an easy list article, as opposed to a long drawn out complicated piece with huge paragraphsTruculent people enjoy calling you on individual items in your list.There are lots of folks out there who might be thinking: 365 ways to save money? No way! Of course, the only way for them to be sure is to click and see for themselves!Perhaps most importantly, though, they’re an easy way for the reader to verify your promise. He said there were 5 reasons why it is important to start saving for retirement as early as possible – and he did!
  • Your headline is a guarantee. Whatever you promise in the title must be delivered in the article.So don’t make a promise you can’t keep; if you do, risk losing a reader for life.Of course, keep in mind you can’t make everybody happy. There will always be dissatisfied customers who think you sold them a bill of goods and wasted three minutes of their life.
  • There is a reason why 50 of my first 78 “100 Word” articles on Len Penzo dot Com start off with “Why” (Using it as a declarative statement, as opposed to a question.)Headlines that say “why” allow readers to quickly focus on the benefits of reading your article. Using “why” in the headline is one of the easiest ways to do that.
  • Adjectives are the “spice” that puts the life into language – so use them to make them stand out from the competition!Instead of "4 Truths You Must Learn Before You Can Be Rich," I added an adjective: "4 *Surprising* Truths You Must Learn Before You Can Be Rich”The first title is good, but not compelling. The adjective in the second title makes folks much more inclined to see what you are talking about. It dares us to click on the article just to see for ourselves whether or not we agree that the truths really aresurprising. 
  • And here’s a couple more examples, courtesy of our friends at the Weekly World News.Notice they didn’t use “Couple’s Marriage On the Rocks” or “Married Couple Gets Divorced.” Also, they avoided “Moon Is Going to Explode.” They created a sense of urgency by telling us “Moon to Explode in 6 Months!”
  • Of course, “success” is a relative term.AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION. What is common to most of these articles?
  • Copyblogger has a terrific set of posts on how to write great headlines called the “Magnetic Headlnes” series. It included this set of proven headline formulas you can always fall back on when you’re having a frustrating bout of headline-writer’s block.
  • I’m not an SEO expert, so I will only briefly touch on keywords here. Yes, keywords are important, but they are designed to attract the attention of search engines, more than your readers. Rather than chasing keywords, you’ll have more success looking for key phrases. They lend themselves better to headlines because they’re more specific and do a much better job telling the reader what you’re promising to deliver.
  • I try to keep my titles to 65 characters or less (including spaces) -- and no more than 68. Most sites, including Google, seem to start truncating them at 69 or 70 characters. A few truncate at 60. Sometimes that's not possible though.As a result, be pithy and short wherever possible. Use a thesaurus to find shorter versions of longer words; for example, use “loan” instead of “mortgage” or “cash” instead of “money.” Provocative titles are always good. Although, IMO, they tend to lose their impact on your blog if you overuse them.Putting "sex" in the title will absolutely attract more readers than you would otherwise -- especially when you are just getting started. I have used the word "Sex" at least three or four times over the past few years in my titles and I always see a little bump in readership. I found those posts tend to have stronger staying power too in Google search term results.Titles that have explicit dollar amounts in them also draw more readers. Look at how many posts I have that do that. For example: "How Eating Leftovers Save Me $1400 Annually”Did you notice on your first guest post for me I also slightly modified your suggested headline?Instead of "4 Truths You Must Learn Before You Can Be Rich," I added an adjective: "4 *Surprising* Truths You Must Learn Before You Can Be Rich"The first title is good, but not compelling. The adjective in the second title makes me much more inclined to see what you were talking about. It dares me to click on the article just to see for myself whether or not I agree that the truths really are surprising. 


  • 1. Len PenzoLen Penzo dot Com
  • 2.  They’re the most important part of your article! Blog visitors take 8 seconds to decide whether they are going to stay or leave ( Fact: On average 4 out of 5 people read a headline, but only 1 out of 5 will read the rest ( Great posts with bad headlines don’t get read Well-written headlines greatly increase the odds of getting your post read
  • 3. You never get a second chance to make a first impression!
  • 4. Here are six recent blog headlines. Would you clickon any of these articles? On Opportunity Being Rich Managing or Paying Off Debt Stories of the Unemployed We Have to Eat Healthier Did You Know? If your headline doesn’t communicate the benefit you’ll deliver to the readers, most of them won’t bother to give you their time.
  • 5. 1) MSN New stunning images from Hubble2) Astronomers discover new spiral galaxy3) Fox News Hubble space telescope spies a UFO
  • 6. - The Hubble Space Telescope has found a UFO, but this one is filled with starsinstead of little green men.The iconic space telescope snapped an amazing new photo of the “UFO Galaxy”— a galaxy 35million light-years from Earth that is officially known as NGC 2683."NGC 2683 is a spiral galaxy seen almost edge-on, giving it the shape of a classic sciencefiction spaceship," NASA officials wrote in a recent image description. © 2012 FOX News Network
  • 7.  Convey a messageGet out of debt fast, no matter how much you owe! Are compelling20 Ways to get richer in 1996 – without even trying! Painless way to save thousand$ -- with ease! Are specific Cut mortgage payments IN HALF! Cut income taxes IN HALF! Take charge of your finances … TODAY! Are intriguing The secret fortune in your garage!
  • 8.  They build your authority as a blogger They get right to the point They’re usually quick and easy to read They encourage dissenting opinions Large lists dare the reader to verify your claims They make a specific promise to the reader about what they are going to learn
  • 9.  Like it or not, a headline is a promise If people think you can’t deliver, then they won’t read your post Words like “almost” or “some” increase credibility When it comes down to writing good headlines, credibility is king
  • 10. “You are an idiot. Youhad to use the lawnthree times in order toget to 21 reasons.Also, you say there isno privacy, lots ofpedestrians and cars,but then you go on tosay that it is morevulnerable toburglary? At leasthave legitimatereasons if you aregoing to criticize. I justwasted 3 minutes ofmy life.” – Tim Sanders
  • 11.  The easiest way is to write a “How to” headline Remember, it’s virtually impossible to write a bad “How to” headline “How to” headlines work because they focus on benefits the reader will receive if they read the post Examples: How to Avoid Being Audited by the IRSHow to get the Most from Your Gym Membership How I Save $1400 Annually by Eating Leftovers How to Become a Millionaire in 28 Days!
  • 12.  Using “why” at the beginning of your posts (as a declarative statement) allows the reader to focus on the benefits of reading your article Some Examples: Why You Should Never Cosign a Loan for Anyone Why Not All Debt Is a Four-Letter Word Why Lazy People Shouldn’t Automate Their Finances Why Miracle Whip Doesn’t Belong on a Tuna Sandwich
  • 13. Good: 4 Truths You Must Learn Before You Can Be RichBetter: 4 Surprising Truths You Must Learn Before You Can Be RichGood: 9 Financial Tips for Teens & TwentysomethingsBetter:9 Indispensable Financial Tips for Teens & TwentysomethingsAdjectives are a great way to make your headlines stand out in the crowd.
  • 14.  General words and vague phrases make for boring headlines The more information you can convey in your headline, the more interest you generate Personal finance headlines with precise dollar figures perform very well on my blog (but your mileage may vary) Instead of “Save Money Eating Leftovers” try: “How Eating Leftovers Saves Me $1400 Annually”
  • 15. My 5 All-Time Most Popular Black Coffee Columns…1. Threesomes, Facebook Stock & Other Dubious Ideas2. Why Sex and Personal Finance Don’t Mix3. Why I Never Tweet Suze Orman4. Kim Kardashian, the Federal Gov’t & Other, Um, Big Stuff5. Shoplifting Tips, Poor Financial Decisions & Schweddy Balls The moral: Sexy headlines sell – even in the world of personal finance.
  • 16. Formula Headline Example1. Say it simply and directly The Ultimate Tax Shelter2. State the big benefit Get Out of Debt Fast3. Appeal to the “how to” How to Make Money Working from instinct Home4. Pose a provocative Do You Make These 7 Common Tax question Mistakes?5. Bark a command Become a Famous Blogger in 60 Days!6. Offer useful information The Best Kept Secrets in AmericaSource:, “9 Proven Headline Formulas That Sell Like Crazy” by Dean Rieck, 19 June 2009
  • 17.  Placing keywords in your headlines help search engines help readers find your article Long-tail keyword phrases often write themselves: “How to Get a Free Credit Report” Avoid minimalist keyword titles ( be specific!) Instead of “Car Loans” try: “Car Loans: How to Find the Lowest Rates”It’s one thing for search engines to find you, but if you don’t write headlines that grab the readers’ attention, your posts will never get read!
  • 18.  The headline is the most important part of your post; so spend at least 15 minutes on each one Try to keep your titles to 65 characters or less Pithiness counts; being concise is a virtue when it comes to writing headlines Don’t be afraid to use a thesaurus Speak the language of your audience Don’t shy away from being provocative Whenever possible, be painfully specific Don’t be a bore! Use adjectives to your enhance headlines and make them stand out. Like it or not, sex sells Writing headlines for search engines gets you discovered, but writing headlines for readers gets you page views – and hopefully, loyal fans! Don’t feel pressure to hit a headline home run every time
  • 19. Thank you for listening!!! Any questions?