How Great Headlines Score Traffic

So, it’s Wednesday morning of this week, and I’m right in the middle of the daily train wreck that occurs as soon as the kids roll out of bed.

As I deftly prevent the 18 month old from bashing his head on the corner of my desk, the old IM chimes, and despite myself I cannot resist its Siren call.

It’s Markus from AU interactive, and he wants some quick headline advice for a post he’s about to release.

We quickly bang it out, and go our separate ways.

Later on in the day, I notice that his post, 10 Things That Will Make or Break Your Website is on the front page of Digg. Last I looked it had scored over 1100 votes, a bunch of Delicious bookmarks, and spent time on TechMeme.

Not bad.

First off, the post is excellent. Not only is it well written, but the content is unique because it’s a summary of points made by presenters at the Future of Web Apps Conference.

But as we all know by now, the exact same content might slip through the cracks if you don’t write a great headline. Markus knew when he contacted me that just sticking the number “10” in front of your post title is not the end of the analysis.

So, let’s have some headline fun.

If you have a post that you’ve just written, or perhaps an older post that didn’t do as well as you thought it should have, or even if you want to write a brand new post that you think will do well…

Drop the URL in the comments to this post. I’ll pick as many as I can and rewrite the headline (or tell you your post title already rocks). Then I’ll link to the posts late next week and maybe we’ll all learn something in the process.

And let’s make this open source—all the copywriters who read this blog (along with the bloggers who have mad skillz when it comes to post titles) are welcome to choose their own selections, rewrite the post titles, and put it all in a blog post of their own. I’ll link to all those as well.

I can’t promise you your resulting post is going to get the attention that Markus got. There are simply too many variables.

But I think this kind of exercise may be more helpful for some than simply reading another article on headline writing.

So, let me have those posts!

UPDATE: First five headline remixes are here.

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Reader Comments (121)

  1. danielb says

    I’d change:

    “A good reason to have Favicons…Firefox Tabs”

    to something like:

    “Improve Every Page On Your Site In 5 Minutes” or
    “5 Minutes Work = A More Effective Website”

  2. says

    I just had a conversation with a friend about this same thing this morning – the unbelievable butterfly effect that a headline can have (Mine is living proof).

    It was originally slated to be “10 Things Every Webmaster Should Know”, but right as I was IM’ing Brian, it hit me (the one I went with).

    A good headline or a single word can mean the difference between obscurity and 20,000 visits in 48 hours (enough to crash a server). And thank you, Brian, for all the great posts – it really helped me get there.

    Will YouTube Be The Attack Dog of American Politics? :: Will YouTube Lose Hillary the Election?

    12 steps to a sound sleep and lively wake up :: Sleep Smarter: How to get the most out of your night.

    Basic B&W – The Next Step :: How to Bring Colorless Photos Back to Life in 5 Seconds

    A good reason to have Favicons…Firefox Tabs :: Get Crunked up with Icons – or – Why My Site Looks better then Yours in Firefox

    How to Keep Your Relationship Healthy with Your Wife :: How to Fall in Love with your Wife – or – 5 Ways to Stay out of Divorce Court and Get More Sex

    Skip the Writing, Just Lie About White Papers :: How We Became FOX News

  3. says

    Wow, I was just thinking that it would be great to have someone like you to consult about posts titles (which I do struggle with) and then you made that great offer! Cool!

  4. says

    I’m writing a series of posts on my personal (non-commercial) blog about how I entered the adult industry. The posts are oh-so-cleverly titled “my adult industry history part [I-VI].” Surely there is a better title out there. Brian?

  5. says

    I have a website that doesn’t fit in any neat little boxes — it’s sort of a band, sort of a cartoon, and sort of a flash site to play around in. We’re trying to get it on digg, reddit etc, but I’m having a hard time figuring out what angle to take or what category to put it in. Any thoughts on how best to frame it to drive traffic, and what headline to use on digg, would be great. I’ve previously tried “Cool flash 3D effect- very artistic” which committed a number of sins including not really being true, it’s only fake 3D.

    http://www.tower8.net

  6. says

    Hendry Lee,

    > Starting a Blog? Here Are 8 Different Blogging Business Models

    The article content doesn’t exclusively target beginning bloggers, so the “Starting a Blog?” portion should be dropped.

    “Here Are 8 Different Blogging Business Models” is much too passive. “The 8 Different Blogging Business Models” sounds more authoritative … but there’s still no hook.

    Something like “8 Business Models to Help You Succeed in Blogging” would be better.

  7. says

    I’m planning on releasing a series of posts containing solid advice on the building of a website, from planning, to production, to launch.

    The series will be comprehensive, and therefore split into several posts, I was planning on using the following:

    The Secrets Of Building a Homepage From Scratch – Part 1

    But, I would love to hear your comments before I actually post the first part.

    Thank you in advance.

    And thank you for a great website, I love the content, and use it as inspiration for writing.

  8. says

    @Markus,
    On 8/29 you said “Why My Site Looks better then Yours in Firefox.” It should be “Why My Site Looks better than Yours in Firefox.”

    This is a mistake that’s becoming more and more common. So common, in fact, that I started to question my understanding of the two – so I looked it up.

    http://www.sparknotes.com/writing/style/topic_172.html

    Please don’t take this as me trolling, I just wanted to make sure any advice that gets passed around is accurate.

    Great post.

  9. says

    Wow … I was just thinking that it would be great to have someone like you to consult about posts titles (which I do struggle with) and then you made that great offer!
    Cool!

  10. says

    How to write headline that help to rank well in search engines and attract readers attention, this the problem of most online marketer.

  11. says

    Unique is the keyword! A good header is indeed a great way to create traffic for websites and for weblogs. A headline that makes people ask them selfs what? … is perfect!

  12. says

    I write about how to get my readers motivated.

    My favorite headline so far is:

    Swim away from the cake.

    http://jangelos.wordpress.com/2009/12/23/swim-away-from-the-cake-updated-motivational-technique/

    It’s about how my sister would follow me up and down the lanes during swim meets in high school SCREAMING HER HEAD OFF.

    To get fire under my strokes she used to say to pretend we were swimming toward a chocolate cake or away from sharks.

    Now she says to swim away from the cake.

    This headline has brought a lot of readers. I think it is because it’s personal, tells a story and motivates.

    How about you? What’s your angle?

    Julie


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