7 Laws of Writing Reader Grabbing Headlines

I hate this post. I do. My eyes were achy from rolling so hard by the time I even sat down to write it. But I HAD to because, as much as I feel like I just Peter Panned my shadow,  (ok my soul), and handed it to Captain Devil-Hook, there is no question that these tactics work.

Here’s the thing: My mum, loves me to the ends of the Earth, which means she reads these posts. All of them.

*waves, shouts ‘love you mum’* 

As much as I adore the fact mumsy reads them and tells me they’re wonderful. I’d rather like some unbiased feedback. I mean, mum thinks most things I do are good… amazing even.

Although now I think about it, she doesn’t know about the time I… 100% not finishing that sentence.

We all write for a variety of reasons: some blogs are therapeutic, some are started to meet the amazing community and others to build platforms. Whatever the reason, even if you start not caring whether anyone reads your stuff, something happens the moment you get, likes, comments that aren’t your mum, or your first spike in stats.

Realisation.

That’s what happens. The realisation that someone you don’t know, just read the words you wrote. For writers, that ignites the flame of desire. AND WE WANT MORE. More readers, more followers, more stats.

Writers’ get bitch slapped constantly with pessimism. This ain’t the ugly tree people. No need to smack us with every branch. But everyone does. They say stupid shit like:

“Well, you’ll never make it, how do you expect to get seen among the 4 gazillion books on Amazon?”  Or some other eye twitch inducing crap.

It gets worse. Cause then they clamber on their extraordinarily high horse, look down their bitter hair crusted noses and say: “If you’re going to write, you should just write for yourself.”

PERLEASE.

Obviously, I write for me, it’s fucking hard work, why else would I continue on this insane path?!Write to be Read.jpeg

But… If I pour my bodily fluids into stories, and wear the pads out on my chubby fingers then I bloody well want to be read. If you don’t want to be read why not stick to paper and save us the inbox bulge.

I ran an experiment last year. I hated every second of it especially because it worked, which meant I had to carry on. I changed the methodology behind my titles, just to see… Ok sure, I did a bunch of other stuff too, but the titles were the game changer.

I hate my titles. I don’t mind admitting that. They make my skin crawl cause of the thick coat of sleaze ball slime they produce. They’re all, Tips for this, or Tricks for that. UGH. So impersonal, fake and ‘markety’.

But I reasoned with myself, even if my titles aren’t what I’d prefer, all I need to do is catch someone’s attention. If they read my posts, they’ll know I’m not Mr. smooth talking, gimmicky sales tactic, buy my totally-super-crazy-good book about frogspawn that will help you sell 1 million books.

Nah. I’m just another foul-mouthed writer, who blathers on too much while trying to figure out this writing bollocks.

So I changed them, and I’ll tell you how in a minute, but here’s the math. If you want proof (because I usually do): since last January (2015), whilst I was still scratching my butt and looking for the right pen, I had barely a whiff of views but, after a year of headline grabbing tactics, this January I had over ten times my original count. So yeah. This works.

But how do you do it?


ONE – Collect Headlines Like A Hoarder

I talk about the fact I am an obsessive hoarder of words and sentences all the time. There are plenty of people out there who write better headlines than me and have managed to catch my skeptical attention to read their posts. That tells me one thing. I need to learn from them. So I collect their headline and store it away to study its structure.

TWO – Sign up to Jon Morrow

FYI I’m not promoting him because he paid me. I just happened to see something he did on twitter and decided to follow to see whether his stuff peaked my interest. The freebie he gave away for the price of my subscription was his guide to hacking headlines.

It’s good. Like really good. I mean, I didn’t actually read the contents…oops (shrugs, I don’t do detail, just ask my Myers Briggs profile). But I didn’t really have too. I got the picture from the contents table. He gives the methodology for each type of headline in the bulk of the PDF, but the contents page gives you the basic types of headlines. I picked and chose from there.

Check him out here his newsletter is ok, it gives a varying amount of information, but I warn you it is quite salesy.

THREE – Headline Analyser

Lucy’s guest post, (in which a discussion ensued about the benefits of CoShedule and it’s analyser) is another useful tool you can find here.

I used it to analyse a few of mine, I got a B+. I don’t like B’s, I like A’s and the number 1. But I also wasn’t willing to carve off any more pieces of my soul to get an A grade headline.

Like, Jon Morrow, the analyser after a few attempts teaches you whats classed as good and whats classed as bad in your headlines. After a few more attempts, unless you only write drunk, you won’t need to use it as you will have the tactics nailed.

FOUR – Negative Headlines Work

There is something about humanity that means we just can’t help our ears pricking up at the hint of bad news. Jesus, watch the actual news. Can anyone remember the last time you saw a good news story on the news? I used to obsess over it. I don’t bother anymore. I pretend to at least start my day as a perky twinset and pearl girl.

(NB. Sacha Black is neither perky nor does she, nor will she ever wear, twinsets or pearls. Frankly, she’d rather cut her own liver out and eat it than be that person, (and she’s a vegetarian, so that’s saying something))

My point? Negative headlines work:

88 Mistakes to avoid when handcuffing your boyfriend to the staircase during role play

FIVE – Keep It Simple Stupid + Solve Problems

Keep it simple stupid is a phrase we used to use when I was in the Army Cadets as a teeny bopper. Once we reached a certain level of experience, we had to teach the other cadets. We went through an intensive ‘how to teach’ course, and the one thing I remember to this day, is that phrase:

Keep it simple stupid.

The point was, anything that needs explaining, needs explaining simply. WELL DUH. Sounds obvious, but it isn’t really.

Lets take this post. I could have written this headline:

7 key methods you need to use when constructing headlines to increase your blogging readership.

I fell asleep after methods, but the headline is technically correct. That is exactly what this post is about and ironically, that actually got a reasonable score on the headline analyser. But… I don’t write headlines for blog posts and neither should you.

I write headlines for Twitter and Pinterest. Why? Because they drive traffic.

Twitter – 140 characters – you got no choice but to be short, sweet and straight to the point.

That means less than 10 words, if you want to use Hashtags, go for less than 7.

Pinterest? Visual, short sentences with catchy designs that can be read in the blink of a finger scroll.

So how do I do that yet maintain the integrity of what the post is about?

Most writers are searching for answers. When I read posts on writing, or topics relevant to whatever latest illegal google search I’m doing its because I am seeking information or an obscure answer… for a character (scouts honour).

My posts? All solve problems in a round about way. I write them, because they solved my latest hair pulling out problem, so I share the answer I found.

This posts problem in less than 10 words? Trying to grab readers attention.

Bingo! There’s your title.

SIX – Word Construction & Emotion

Ok, this one I am less good at. The purpose here is to use premier league words. That’s a phrase my old school teacher used to say. He said the word ‘spectacular’ was a premier league word where ‘good’ was just a division one!

I got the point. Choose words carefully. Choose evocative ones instead of run of the mill.

What do I mean by that?

5 secrets to sniffing sherbet without mum finding out

The purple words are power words. Secrets is an emotive word. We all like secrets. That’s going to grab someones attention more than saying methods, or ‘ways’. The rest follow: no one wants to get caught – so without being found out is another power phrase.

There are other ways of using power words. Like being authoritative.

No one is going to want to read a post that follows this headline:

Using fertiliser is probably the best way of keeping your skin looking young

What? No. Fuck off, I’m not putting cow shit on my face for ‘probably‘ keeps the wrinkles away.

But if someone wrote:

Fertiliser Face Mask: the latest and BEST way to stay looking young

Well now, that… that might just tempt me to read on.

SEVEN – Numbers

Numbers in titles are like crack to readers. Honestly, I don’t know what it is about them. Oh and by numbers I mean the figure 10, not the word ten. When I did my stats analysis last year and looked at the top 20 posts, something stupid like 13 out of 20 had numbers in the title. If that doesn’t tell you something then I can’t help you!

Now the thing is, putting numbers in posts usually means a bog standard list i.e. 75 ways to make Tulip Pollen Cookies.

But it doesn’t have too. I try not to use lists in their most listy sense too often partly because I like the sound of my own voice but also in adding meat to my sinewy list bones, I actually learn about the subjects I waffle on about. 90% of my Monday posts have numbers in them, and guess what? Monday is my best day for views.


So, what tactics do you use for your post titles? What headlines have caught your eye in the past? Let me know in the comments.

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90 comments

    1. Sell your soul. It’s the only way. They will realise you’re not that person as soon as they read your stuff anyway. A headlines just a hook, at least that’s how I reason with myself. *shrugs*

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ha! There’s a reason why I keep coming back to reading your blog Ms. Black! … I’m in the mood for creating a Blog Title Challenge for myself. So, I might just finagle something inspired by this post perhaps… (Headlines are really the one thing that get in the way of my blog writing.)🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      1. I think it says you’ve understood how the world works and are using it cleverly. Selling your soul would mean the contents of your posts would be salesy too but that’s where you stay true to yourself.🙂 xx

        Liked by 1 person

  1. I understand that you did not really like to write that post… lol! But it is awesome! Totally speaks to me. Ha…. know that biased mom approval!
    When I was introduced to blogging my publisher told me to always use catchy titles like headlines to draw people’s attention…. yes…. your post definitely speaks to me…. haha! I have a problem with keeping sentences short and I tend to explain everything to death! Having a short phrase that sounds intriguing and in some way summing up the content often gets a challenge. (Doing my quotes is a daily challenge… lol!) Sometimes I am lucky and I have the title in mind and write the post after. But mostly it is the other way around. Great tips, Sacha!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. lol I really didn’t! But I am glad it speaks to you nonetheless.

      Yeah I think publishers want to see how well we authors can market ourselves too.

      I can imagine your daily quotes is exhausting. Lovely and inspiring to read though😀❤

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The good thing about my quotes is: The just happen! They occur through interactions or are simply inspired during the communication. Some I can take from my posts because they just nail what I want to say. 😄

        Liked by 1 person

  2. HA! I had one of those painful realizations as well. I analyzed some of my headlines and inserted only ones that conformed to formulaic magic as a joke, but then the darn public actually went and clicked on them. I thought to myself, nah, that had to be a fluke. I used another one. Alakazam. Another (relative) outperforming post. Then I started to pay attention to what articles I was clicking on. That’s when it hit me. Not only do these headline thingies work, but I am a click-sheep.

    Sometimes the truth hurts.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Every now and then I will analyze them just to see if I am getting better on my own, but most of the time I don’t bother. Then again, as another blogging friend of mine is kind enough to point out, I am one of the worst self-promoters out there.

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      2. I have to say, I don’t think I have seen a book promo from you… But I also think this is topic dependent. By that I mean not everyones blog theme/genre suits titles that are catchy or markety – whilst it might work for book promos of any kind, it won’t for some types of blogs

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      3. I’m like a subtle product placement for beer or soda (I would say wine, but let’s be honest, that stuff sells itself). You don’t know you’ve been exposed until you realize you are thirsty.

        At least that’s what I tell myself.

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  3. SO MUCH THIS. I get fed up of being told I should write to please myself, or ‘because the stories need to be written’, as if it’s somehow sullying the writing process by wanting someone to actually read them. It always reminds me of that crap of if a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, what noise does it make? So, if I write a story and no one reads it, then what’s the point?

    I experimented with changing to headlines that actually give you an idea of the content, so instead of ‘My trip to Florence’ I changed it to ‘5 Things You Must See in Florence’. It moves the focus from me to the reader, and turns it into more of an informative post than a diary entry. Seems to be working!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know right. How do people come up with this bullshit? Love the fact that you experimented with headlines and it worked too. That’s the thing – if it works then you have to keep going, even when it feels like soul selling! :p

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      1. Yeah I have to agree actually. I am currently doing research on mental health and villains, because I think there’s a lot of misrepresentation but also because I love the psychology of villainy, I think the better you get that the better the villain. Almost as important as motive.

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  4. All my titles are fun, witty eye grabbers. At least I’m sure they are when I make them up. They indulge my love of puns mostly, not that they are all puns. I recall you made me do a list for the guest post you generously hosted. Felt totally not me but hey you have taken the blogsphere by storm so you are De (wo) Man. I enjoy the idea people read my stuff; I guess I’d like that to grow (as in I’d love that to grow) but not at the expense of doing things mostly my way. Maybe I should give it a go your way for a while, just as an experiment. I’ll do a post with ‘sex’ in the title this week and see how much extra traffic I get from a bunch of creeps and loons.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. You are spot-on! But, ugh, I hate headlines and titles to begin with so the soul-sucking, marketing-mumbo-jumbo, fear-mongering ones really get to me. They do get attention and I like your reasoning that new people will find your excellent writing. I use the Co-shedule analyzer for articles I write and I’m satisfied with the 60-70 (B+) range. I’m so bad at titles, I stay generic and let my editors guide me (lazy, I know). But I have some really good editors. I think I knew from another post but forgot; what’s your MB?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah I know what you mean about the fear mongering ones, like, I know writers, let me just play on all your insecurities…. and then we fall for it hook line and sinker! UGH. lol, my MBTI is ENTJ, what made you think of MBTI?

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  6. I tried the numbers thing. Didn’t work for me. Tried the headline analyser too. Didn’t like the sleazy titles I wound up with. Prefer my titles to say what my content is about. I guess that’s old fashioned, and why I’ll never have as many views as you, but I like them as they are. This post was quite an eye opener, not least for some of the confessions contained within it! Well done, Sacha another great post and catchy headline! 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ahaha, not all the confessions (if you mean the headline suggestions) are truthful….

      But you’re right, these sleazy titles aren’t for everyone, I hate them. Really do, and also I don’t think everyones content lends itself to these types of titles either.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Holy crap! I have a post about this. Specifically about CoShedule. I had a field day with that headline analyzer! I absolutely love coming up with titles (especially on my fiction blog) and the titles all got like a C- or something. But my blog doesn’t lend itself to listicles or how-to posts. So… I just have fun with titles. It was really interesting, though, seeing the breakdown of emotion words, power words, etc. You’re right. Yours are always Pinterest-ready and Twitter-ready. And they look fab on those photos of yours. 💖

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Do you really? No way lol, had you scheduled it already? You’re right, not every blog lends itself to titles like this, and to be honest, I don’t think they are right for everyone anyway. Thanks by the way, appreciate the comment, glad you like my photos.❤

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I don’t schedule anything. Though I should. It’s just written. I got a kick out of the terrible grades I was getting and had fun playing.

        Hope you have a wonderful birthday tomorrow. ❤️🎁🎈

        Liked by 1 person

  8. OMG You Crack me up woman! I love your style. And I love the stuff you share with all your raw humour. I’m sooo looking forward to that newsletter! You are a powerhouse of sharing info, and how ironic is it that I too just came across Jon Morrow’s newletter. Are we travelling the same path? Fantastic Sacha, rock on girlfriend! xo🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. hehe, glad I amuse someone other than myself! :p I know I ought to pull my finger out with that newsletter, another couple weeks and Ill get it out, I don’t want to swamp inboxes anyway.

      Ohhh you found Jon Morrow, what do you think? I ended up unsubscribing truth be known, too much sales for my liking. It started to feel unauthentic, and like he cared more about money and sales than readers. But that was just my personal finding.

      I suspect we are, maybe one day our paths will cross too….. I hope so anyway❤

      Liked by 1 person

  9. “But here’s the math.” Since when did you become American? lol

    I agree with everything you say. The title (headline) is the first thing people read and if it doesn’t grab the attention of the reader then off they go. I’ve started using one-word titles recently and they seem to work quite well.

    Still can’t get the hang of Pinterest, but I have discovered StumleUpon which is now my ‘god of the social media world.’

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Okay, I forgive you for using it then. 😀

        Yes, I’m getting more and more into it. Terri, my guest blogger of the month, introduced me to it and knows more about it than I do. You can’t stumble your own content (well you can but if you do it’s classed as spam and you may get kicked off), but it’s bought lots of traffic my way. Some posts get no traffic at all from it, but other posts get a huge amount. It all comes down to those headline-grabbing titles. 😀

        Liked by 1 person

  10. This is a GREAT post, Sacha. I skimmed through the comments because I have to get to work, but if anyone said what I’m about to say, well, it deserves to be said twice. It is so authentically you, the voice is so crystal clear. Being informative and subversive at the same time is a hard trick to pull off, but you do it brilliantly here. I’m going to be back to read it again and mine it more, but just want to thank you for your perspective. It’s a tonic. You clearly have not lost your soul, and you may have given me back a piece of mine.😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Paula, I’m not sure how to respond, thank you for being so lovely. This is the kind of comment I will come back to and re-read on those days when I am strangled by lack of confidence or writers block.

      But what’s most lovely, is the fact you said I may have given you back a piece of your soul❤. I guess we are writers in kind, maybe we should start a rebellion…. just saying, I like a bit of mischief :p

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Yeah, I need to work on this. To be honest many of my headlines are almost deliverable obscure, because that’s how it think. I probably need to be much more straightforward. Maybe I’ll change a few and see what happens. Some good tips here, Sacha🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  12. This was an excellent post, Sacha. Since I am a reviewer, most of my headlines are book titles. When I go off on a tangent and write a post about something else, I usually experience brain freeze.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Michelle, well, these kinds of titles aren’t appropriate for everyone, I probably should have said that, but maybe at the end of the year in a round up? 10 must read books of 2015 or something. Ah, I dunno, like I said, not everyones content suits this stuff and nor should it, world would be a boring place if we all did the same things.

      Like

  13. Great post and full of humour throughout. Titles are something I really need to work on for my posts. I’ve been mulling it over for the last few days but actually implementing something is the next step. I found your tips really useful, thank you.

    Like

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