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Why Your Website Headlines Matter More Than Your Content

If you were to publish a 1,000-word article with seven main headlines, which would you spend more time on – your body content or headlines?

Although your body content is important, hopefully you spend a significant amount of time writing your headlines.

Headlines and subheadings are shorter than your main content, but they need to be written intentionally to be effective.

In fact, when your headlines are bad, even the best copy in the world won’t be as effective as it would be if your headlines were perfect.

Your headlines matter more than your content for two reasons: more people read headlines than content, and effective headlines are essential for search engine optimization (SEO).

79% of web visitors scan content for headlines

79% of web visitors scan content for headlines

According to data published by the Nielsen Norman Group, a whopping 79% of web visitors scan content rather than reading through the content itself. When scanning for content, people are looking for headlines, bolded words, and sometimes read a few words and sentences throughout the page as they scroll.

What does this mean? Well, it means you need to structure your content in a way that supports scanning. For example, your web page content needs the following elements to be considered scannable:

  • Highlighted keywords. Highlighting your keywords makes them stand out, but you don’t need to use the traditional bright yellow background. You can bold your keywords, underline some of them, and of course your hyperlinks will naturally be highlighted as links that stand out from the rest of your text.
  • Concise and meaningful headings. When people scan your content, they’re looking for something relevant to whatever topic is on their mind. When your headings and subheadings are concise and meaningful, people are more likely to read them and think, “I’m in the right place.”
  • Bulleted and numbered lists. Lists are a great way to break up long chunks of text. When users see one continuous chunk of paragraphs with nothing to break it up, they sometimes feel overwhelmed and it’s harder to scan the content. Lists make people pause and scan the list items.

You can use bulleted lists or numbered lists to break up text and give readers something to scan. Like your headings, make your list items stand out as the most important points you’re making. If people are scanning your content, but aren’t reading the copy, you can catch their attention with lists.

  • Paragraphs that contain only one idea. When you insert multiple ideas into one paragraph, it can make scanning difficult. If there’s too much going on in one spot, readers will scan the content and pick up multiple ideas. This might cause them to skip your content.
  • Similar intros and conclusions. Ideally, you want your introduction and conclusion to say the same thing in different ways. You’ll also want your content to end with some kind of call to action (CTA).

People tend to skim intros and conclusions, and it’s important to have a short summary of what you’ve written inside of each.

You never know which one people will scan. Also, if they scan the conclusion, a CTA can move them into action if they already know what your content is about.

These are the main elements that make content scannable, but you’ll also need to pay close attention to your formatting and typography.

Make sure your content is readable by using a simple typeface and a good color contrast. Fancy fonts aren’t easy to read, especially on mobile devices.

80% of visitors never make it past your article headline

80% of visitors never make it past your article headline

According to data published by Copyblogger, only 2 out of 10 people will keep reading content after they’ve read an article’s main headline.

This is why your headlines matter more than you think. If you don’t capture reader attention with your main headline, 80% are going to bounce.

Your main headlines determine the effectiveness of your entire article or page.

Some headlines make visitors bounce

When crafting your headlines, be aware that some types of headlines will make people bounce pretty fast. For example, if your headlines are full of gimmicky-sounding marketing hype, you’re guaranteed to make some visitors bounce.

Here’s an example. The following headline might sound decent at first glance, but it’s a form of hype:

“3 Secrets to Getting Younger Looking Skin.”

What’s wrong with this headline? This headline uses the word “secret” in a way that plays up the content, which is considered hype. There really aren’t any true secrets to getting younger looking skin. Most anti-aging skincare products on the market are well-known, and produce minimal results at best.

When your content doesn’t match the level of intrigue created by your headlines, they’ll feel disappointed and that will make some people bounce and could even ruin your reputation.

People don’t want to read hyped up headlines – they want relevant, useful information. Avoid headlines that read like hype and get to the point. You can still be creative and clever, but do it within the boundaries of good taste and relevance.

Your headlines impact your SEO results

There’s a difference between page titles (also referred to as ‘headlines’) and headlines distributed throughout your web pages.

There are page titles, main content headlines, and H1-H6 tags. All of these are considered ‘headlines’ in some form, and they all impact your SEO results. For example, rich results in Google will display a link to one of your web pages above a handful of additional web pages from your site. All of these links will display your page titles as hyperlinks, so your page titles need to be strong to generate clicks.

If you want to get clicks from rich results, you need to make sure your page titles are clear and interesting at the same time. You don’t want them to be gimmicky, but rather, informational so that users can identify the information they’re searching for.

Search results turn page titles into hyperlinks

When your content appears in the search engine results pages (SERPs), your page title appears as the link to your website. If you’re like most people, you write your page titles to match your main headlines, so they’re likely the same. However, you may want to tweak your page titles to be a little shorter or more interesting to capture more clicks from users.

If people aren’t immediately interested in your content based on your page title or headline, they either won’t click or they’ll bounce when they land. If you want targeted traffic, your page titles need to be just as engaging as your headlines, if they aren’t already.

There is a process for creating good headlines

Your headlines are an opportunity to reach people who have other things to do with their day. A good headline can make a 500% difference, according to tests performed by Upworthy. Amazing headlines can make a piece go viral, even when the content is the same as a piece with a different headline.

So, how do you get these irresistible, viral headlines without accidentally writing hype or marketing gimmicks?

Creating interesting and concise headlines is a process. You can’t just write whatever comes to mind. You have to write down some ideas first and then chop away at it, replacing words until you get the right message across.

For example, you might start off with a headline like this:

“How to Make Sure Your Cat Doesn’t Destroy Your Nice Furniture.”

The process of whittling this headline down to a concise and powerful statement might look something like this:

“How to Make Your Cat Stop Destroying Your Furniture”

“Get Your Cat to Stop Destroying Your Furniture”

“3 Methods to Make Your Cat Stop Destroying Your Furniture”

The process of refining your headlines is a process of elimination. First, you want to eliminate all the unnecessary words that take up space. Then, you want to use powerful words that get the point across quickly.

Here are some tips for making your headlines a little bit better:

Crafting great headlines is the key to getting traffic from search results and keeping visitors engaged with your content. Here’s what you can do to start improving your headlines today.

1. Make people smile with your headlines

funny headlines

Have you ever thought about making people smile or laugh with your headlines? You don’t want to go overboard, but it’s good to create lightly quirky and playful headlines with a little bit of irony sometimes.

Funny headlines can make people pause long enough to click, and that’s exactly the kind of tool you want for your marketing campaign.

2. Use great headlines as a template

One of the best ways to train yourself to write better headlines is to use existing, successful headlines as a template. You can find plenty of headline templates online that are fill-in-the-blank, but sometimes those headlines are borderline gimmicky. However, you’ll do well to at least start with some of those formats to get your brain thinking in new ways.

Use these templates to your advantage by changing adjectives and other words until you get a fine-tuned headline that is concise, engaging, and leaves the gimmicky tone behind.

3. Read copy written by A-listers

If you really want to improve your headlines, start reading copy written by A-list copywriters. Not content writers – copywriters. Start sifting through the online swipe file from Swiped.co, and read the following content published by top copywriters who have a history of generating high response rates:

There are other great copywriters, but these three are the cream of the crop. By reading successful copy from these copywriters, you’ll start to get a feel for what engages people and makes them read content.

4. Get emotional

One of the keys to writing great headlines is using emotion to describe your reader’s problem. You want headlines that make readers feel like you understand the problem they’re trying to solve. Don’t be afraid to use emotion to draw in your audience – it’s the best way to form that bond, generate leads and even segment leads by the type of copy you create.

Are you struggling with writing copy?

Overall Headline Preferences

Do you need copy written for your website? Are you struggling to create engaging headlines? Whether you’re trying to publish blogs or landing pages, our writing teams will produce the content needed to keep your visitors engaged.

At Website.design, we can produce any kind of content you need. Drop us a line and tell us about your website, your goals, and what kind of content you need. We’d love to work with you!

Ryan Nead
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