By now, you should understand that your readers’ loyalty is not unconditional. You owe it to them to be direct. After all, it’s not their fault that the average Internet user has the attention span of a gnat.

It starts with an intriguing headline. Think about it this way. The majority of your readers are probably going to find your post one of two ways:

1) A social newsfeed or stream. There’s literally hundreds of options vying for their attention at once. Your headline is what jumps up and down screaming “Pick me!” Don’t let this be a repeat of gym class basketball. Your business won’t last long if you’re picked last again.

2) A search results page. Congratulations, your reader wants to find you! It’s up to you to be compelling. At best, you need to stick out and be relevant on a page with 10 results. At worst (if the search is a thorough one) you’re up against hundreds or thousands of results.

Your headline plays an important role in grabbing your readers’ attention. That small handful of words is what they’ll base their decision to continue reading on.

I know headlines are the shortest part of the post. It’s tempting to skimp on them, treating them like an afterthought. But given that they play such an important role, you need to pay a little more attention and care, if you want to truly grab people’s attention.

Follow these seven headline tips for expanding your audience.

After all, you put thought and care into the rest of your message. You want people to read it and act, right?

Make (and keep) alluring promises — What is it that you are accomplishing with your post? What does the reader who makes it to the last word walk away with? Tell people up front and be as specific as possible. Don’t just tell your readers that they’ll lose weight (there’s hundreds of weight loss articles out there). Tell them they’ll be able to do it in an easy way that they’ve never before thought of. They’re busy people. Tell them that something they previously thought of as difficult isn’t nearly as hard as they think it is. Then deliver.

State the benefit — Here’s the bottom line: Your readers are a selfish bunch. Don’t judge them for it. They’re busy, and they have a lot of options for information and entertainment. If your piece doesn’t fit in their wheelhouse immediately, they can move on. What can you do about this? Make sure that your headline answers the basic question on everyone’s mind: “What’s in it for me?” Make sure they understand what kind of benefit they’ll receive from the investment of reading your post.

Power in numbers — Lists are psychological crack for readers. They don’t just find out how to accomplish something new, they do it in 5 easy steps. Headlines that offer that numeral up front tend to perform better. They’re specific about what the reader can expect to take away from the experience. They make something that previously seemed difficult or complicated that much easier.

Use provoking adjectives — You’re not working with a lot of real estate when you’re writing an attention-grabbing headline. Make sure that you’re using words that will draw people in. Your readers are depending on you to be the expert, and relay information in a digestible manner. Your headline should relax expectations on your subject matter. Here are some adjectives that can help you accomplish that: effortless, fun, exciting, strange, free, easy, different, and essential. This list is in no way all-inclusive. Pay attention to tabloids and spammy links that appear on news sites. They’re experts at using this kind of alluring language.

A quick explanation — Journalists call it the 5w’s, and every good story should include them. But sometimes clearing up the expectations early on can clue readers into exactly what to expect. What is the take away readers can expect in the most clear and concise form? Let’s say there’s a piece of industry advice floating around there that you find repulsive B.S. This is a good format to tell us. For example “Why exercise makes you fat,” or “How watering your lawn can be damaging,” could both be intriguing to the reader. A headline that teases the explanation can draw a lot of attention.

Be Specific — You can assume that your competition is already on to some of these tricks. They’re already rattling off the benefits in the posts that they write. Remember, you’re trying to stand out in this crowd. So be as specific as possible. Don’t just offer people tips. Offer them easy tips that can be followed in less than 10 minutes. Or offer them ways to accomplish something that will fit in their budget. The more specific you can be in your headline, the better.

Break away from the routine — Variety is key in any type of marketing, and headline writing is no different. You’ll need to find multiple ways to connect with your audience in order to consistently grab their attention. It’s important to avoid predictability. Here’s a great post with some headlines designed to connect with your audience on a human level.

Conclusion

Social media is going to play an increasingly important role in being found online. That means you need to produce quality posts that your audience can identify with. A good headline is only the start. It’s the way to lure readers into the rest of your post. The goal of each sequential sentence should be to keep people reading.

I highly recommend reading a book about headlines. It will jumpstart your creativity, and keep you immersed in blog ideas. The two I’d recommend are Jon Morrow’s Headline Hacks (HeadlineHacks.com) and David Garfinkel’s Headlines That Make You Rich. 

Spend a little more time on the headlines for your upcoming posts, and monitor your analytics. Take a look at the ones that are being retweeted and shared. This will give you greater insight into what works, and what doesn’t.

What headline rules have worked for you? Let me know in the comment section below.

Matt Brennan is a Chicago-based marketing writer and copy editor

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