Do You Have to Write 25 Headlines to Get an Awesome One?

Headlines hold special power.

They determine whether people tap on a blog post or a LinkedIn article to read more, or whether they swipe past it.

“One of the best ways to make your content shareable, get found on search engines and grow your traffic is to write great headlines,” says Nathan Ellering of the marketing calendar company called Co-Schedule.

How do you create irresistible headlines?

“Write 25 different headlines for every post,” advises Garrett Moon, the co-founder of CoSchedule.

This echoes career blogger Penelope Trunk‘s mantra in her course on reaching your goals through blogging.

“Your title [or headline] is extremely important,” she says. “It should tell people what’s there beyond the click, and how it relates to your reader and how their life will change.”

Realizing that I devote hours to each blog post, but only spend a few minutes on a headline when I’m getting ready to publish, I knew it was time to switch the focus.

Quick Hacks to Help You Come Up with Attractive Blog Post Headlines by Marko Saric led me to CoSchedule’s headline analyzer.

Type in any headline. You’ll get instant data on word balance, headline type, length analysis, first 3 and last 3 words, keywords, and sentiment (positive, neutral or negative).

Plus, you’ll see how your headline will appear in a Google search or as an email subject line. Those first few words really matter.

Headlines are scored on a scale from 0 to 100. The best headlines (green) score at 70 and above. Average headlines (yellow) are 55 to 69, and bad headlines (red) are 54 and below.

This made me wonder how all of my blog headlines would stack up. So I did a little experiment. I entered all 152 of them into the headline analyzer.

And what a humbling experience it was. Only 36 headlines were green, 55 were yellow and 61 were red. Ouch!

What went wrong?

Two things stand out.

First, I was writing short headlines that would fit better into my current WordPress theme. I tried to be too clever and too brief so the headline would fit on a single line. As a result, the headlines weren’t fully describing what the post was about.

Second, I suffered from “the curse of knowledge.” This is a trick our brains play on us. When we’re highly familiar with certain information, we tend to assume that others are similarly informed, even though that logically makes no sense.

Because of this, I wasn’t assessing my headlines from the point of view of someone who didn’t know as much about the subject as I did. My brain filled in details, but since they weren’t in the headline, not enough information was there to interest a reader.

Yet there was a silver lining. In the last 9 months my headlines have been all green and yellow, with 50% in each category. Why? I wrote longer, more descriptive headlines. And this showed up in the analyzer scores.

Looking beyond the scores, I could see what headline types I was using. According to Ellering, the most effective types of headlines are list posts, how to’s, and questions.

The sentiment scores also attracted my attention. Headlines with neutral sentiment get the least engagement. Positive headlines attract the most attention. This is consistent with other data I’ve found on people being more inclined to share positive stores.

Then there’s the emotional angle to consider. The Advanced Marketing Institute developed an Emotional Marketing Value (EMV) score. This tells you how much of an emotional chord you’re striking with your readers.

As I wrote 25 headlines for this post, I tried the top-scoring ones in the Emotional Marketing Value Headline Analyzer.

Disappointingly, the top-scoring headline with a 76 – “Will the 25th Headline You Write be the Best?” – only rated a 22.22% EMV. That’s not great when a target of 30-40% EMV words is desirable, and higher is even better.

I chose this particular headline because I wanted to prove a point in this post. Writing 25 headlines helps get your creativity flowing, and you start writing better headlines once you get to 10 or 12. However, diminishing returns can set in. Rarely will the 25th headline be the best one.

But in the process you’ll come up with an optimal headline. While your 25th headline won’t likely be your best, there’s tremendous value in training your brain to write that many headlines.

Unfortunately my top headline didn’t hit enough emotional notes. So I went to the next-highest-scoring headline and made a few tweaks. I came up with “Do You Really Have to Write 25 Headlines to Get an Awesome One?

This got an EMV score of 46.15%. That euphoric feeling only lasted until I entered it in the headline analyzer. Too many words, it said.

Is there a happy medium between the scientifically optimal headline and the emotionally appealing headline?

For this post, it turned out to be “Do You Have to Write 25 Headlines to Get an Awesome One?” Taking the “too wordy” feedback to heart, I eliminated the word “really.”

It was a balance between a 73 green score in the headline analyzer . . .

. . . and a 41.67% EMV score.

So what if the headline analyzer still said it was too wordy? Those words may just elicit more emotion – and more engagement with this post.

For now I’ll live with the cognitive dissonance of a headline analyzer that identifies 0% emotional words and an emotional marketing value analysis above 40%. Clearly the algorithms differ, so it’s something to explore in future posts.

And the most fun of all? The science of words is starting to turn me into a data geek after all.

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Caroline Leach

Hi, I’m Caroline Leach. I help people and organizations tell their stories.

I’m a Marketing VP at AT&T, a former Communications VP at DIRECTV and an alum of the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

This blog, Social Media Savvy for Corporate Professionals, shows you how to build your personal brand, advance your career and embrace your future. It helps you promote your employer and your network too.

Opinions expressed in this blog are my own.

Your comments are welcomed and encouraged. I’d love to hear from you!

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