It’s no secret. A great promotion is only as good as its headline. And while largely true (although a tad hyperbolic), what matters most is consistently producing top quality headlines as a matter of process. From there, time factors must also be considered as we make that final push to the upper limits of headline quality.
It’s here where things can get fairly murky. After all, effort by itself does not necessarily correlate into a better headline. Your own experience has likely proven this point. Yes. We can reach diseconomies of scale whereby additional effort does not square proportionally to actual improvement. In fact, your well intended tinkering can make things worse. And chances are, you’ve been there.
Process will prevent you from falling off the reservation.
Before I started writing this article, I began a process that afforded me: 1) the right amount of structure to keep me safe from my own devices, 2) a host of tools to avoid “reinventing the wheel”, and 3) The requisite elbow room to be creative.
Here’s the process I use:
I went to Google News and typed “headlines” (in quotes as I wanted an exact match result) into the search box. Here I was just looking for fresh usages of the term, not necessarily articles about headlines at this point. More like recalibrating my brain as a way of resetting the topic.
Note: Normally I would also use this tool for competitive research as well. Unlike Google’s mega search, Google News delivers only fresh content that has been published over the past 24-hours or so, which is a meaningful perspective to have.
Speaking of recalibrating, your surroundings matter. When it comes to writing any form of sales copy, seriously consider taking a sabbatical from your phone, email, and texting, and remove other distractions that can interfere with your focus.
Idea harvesting and ruminating.
From there, I did several regular Google searches for things like “brilliant headlines,” “headlines that sell,” “nonsense headlines that work,” and so on. Some of my favorite discoveries came from these clever ads, and too ridiculous to be true headlines, among others.One of the most clever ads I’ve seen in a while. Found through idea harvesting.
Layout the tools and caveats.
Right before I began to write, I made sure my list of “power words” and a few other persuasive nuggets, notes, and reminders were added to my palette. This safeguards against my tendency to get impatient. Yes. It’s really good to be honest with yourself about any flaws that could lead to self sabotage.
Power words, and supporting cast:
- You or Your
- Secrets / Myths
- Note to self: If you can’t work with any of the above, ask a question.
- Reminder: Headlines do not to have to be logical. In fact, many great headlines are fairly nonsensical! Get out of your rational mind to allow more room for creativity. You can always revert back.
- Avoid Huge: This is the “Trump Factor.” With roughly 60 percent of all Americans having an unfavorable view of Trump, and his strong usage of, and association with, “huge,” it was clear from a marketing perspective that this adjective should be avoided.
- Refer to winning headline templates to assist in the process.
By embracing a sensible process, you’ll save time and aggravation, and still consistently generate great headlines at a level of quality you probably wouldn’t otherwise.
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The next step was to actually start writing headlines using “free association” and the ideas I intentionally added to my short-term memory. After auditioning six headlines, as yours truly acting as both judge and jury, I narrowed the candidates to these three:
- Secrets To Headlines You Just Have To Click
- How To Beat Your Headlines Into Submission And Get People To Click
- Serial Headline Hacker Confesses Secrets
Headline testing and bias removal.
Off to Google Surveys I went to remove my personal bias and let anonymous users tell me what headlines worked best. Here’s the preliminary results.
The clear winner was “Secrets To Headlines You Just Have To Click” which became the headline of this article.
Usually I would let the survey run for 24-hours. I typically setup the data collection for 100 respondents. It’s worth the $10 spend.
To avoid the temptation of sharing your headline ideas with friends or colleagues. You already have objective data, and friends and colleagues almost always will bring considerable bias and exert undue influence on your decision making. Even worse, they can derail your entire process.
While this process cannot guarantee you will create brilliant A+ headlines — no one can — it is next to impossible not to publish at least a very good headline on a consistent basis. As such, the brilliance can be described as that which mitigates poor headlines and allows for greater A+ potential.
And finally, this is a big one. Always A/B test your headlines. You’ll be surprised how often your predictions about headline potency was just plain wrong. So by split testing, you’ve set yourself up to succeed even when you’re prophetic abilities fail you, which is pretty awesome!
The bottom line is this. Trust the process, and have fun.