How to write a headline that will stand out among your competition's blog posts
by Brittany Taylor
published August 10, 2016
updated May 30, 2018
¶ Let's start with the truth: blog post headline formulas work. Those templates we pass around on Pinterest? They're traffic gold.
They are. It's why we use them. But they're also a little...boring. Generic. Been there, done that, right? If you've seen the template five times before, you can guess where just about any cookie-cutter piece of content is going.
Sometimes, generic is OK. Sometimes, cookie cutter is actually a good thing. Sometimes, you want your audience to be able to forecast what they're getting from a piece of content.
But every so often, you need to mix it up. Why? Because if you don't, you'll start blending in to the background. Your content will become indistinguishable from the content your competition creates.
And becoming a stand-out starts with your blog post headline.
We're going to take a look at why going against the grain can be a good thing—and what it takes to make an unusual blog post headline work for your blog.“Is your summer too busy…or will you be bored to tears?”
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My first job out of college was as the online editor at The Magazine, a tween publication for girls that I'd grown up reading. It was awesome, mostly because I was constantly writing.
But I didn't just write stuff. As the online editor, I also dug through a lot of numbers. One of my stranger findings was how kick-ass one of our site’s quizzes was.
It was a run-of-the-mill, “we need to post a new quiz today” type thing. Nothing about it was different except for the headline. There were no keywords, no numbers, no signs that this would be the knock-out that it was—and is—it still ranks high in popularity, 5 years after it was created. The only thing unique about this headline was how long, weird, and rambling it was.
The title of the quiz is:
It shot to the top of our analytics sheets week after week. We joked in meetings that it was the quiz that couldn’t be beat. It was the Simone Biles of quizzes.
And there’s a reason for that.
If you take current headline-writing advice into consideration, there is no way this quiz’s headline should ever have made it a knock-out. It has nothing the prototypical strong headline should have.
No numbers (usually, the bigger and less common, the better).
No keywords or keyword strings.
No urgency, no promises of quick or easy or free solutions.
It even has an ellipsis, for Chrissakes!
For all the strikes against it, this headline’s success wasn’t actually as far-fetched as it seemed at the time.
The biggest thing it had going for it, actually, was its uniqueness.
In an internet full of “6 easy ways to get beach-ready biceps before Memorial Day,” the so obviously not clickbait headline of “Is your summer too busy…or will you be bored to tears?” is refreshing. Nothing about that headline is formulaic. It’s well and truly odd in the same way that our speech patterns are odd.
That’s another plus for this weirdo: It sounds like something a real person would actually say. It’s conversational.
What does that mean, exactly? Here's how the website was primed to make this particular headline and the content it was attached to a success:
¶ These three elements are ones you should be working to build with your content and social media marketing, and with every single website tweak, not just because they’re good practice, like the much-extolled recommended headline formats, but because they offer major dividends.
Build it now, enjoy the compounding benefits later.
I’ve joked about this particular quiz headline a lot, but I’m still a believer. These sorts of headlines make regular appearances here, and they perform well—especially on social media.
¶ Not sure how to start brainstorming black sheep blog post headlines? Just do it, y’all. Think weird thoughts. Think human thoughts. And try these tips.
The basic Yoast SEO plugin is free for WordPress users, and it allows you to designate a headline for use by search engines only. That means that you can craft two headlines that suit two different purposes.
¶ If you’re worried that your website doesn't currently take advantage of SEO, this is a great tool to use.
If your website theme allows you to include subheadlines on your blog posts, use those subheadlines! If you’re handy with coding, there are plugins you can use to alter your theme to include subheads, as well.
If neither of those are an option, try brainstorming alternate blog post headlines anyway. Think of them as taglines for your posts, and include them on pin-able images or in social media promo copy, instead, to warm up this part of your brain.
Your brain isn't a muscle, but it works like one, sometimes. The more you use different parts of it to complete specific gets, the more natural those tasks become and the better you get at them.
The same is true with brainstorming, which is why I do it every day. I want to keep myself sharp, and I invite you to join me in that.
Follow me on Instagram @seebrittwrite to get brainstorming prompts in your feed every single day.
My name is Brittany, but my friends and clients call me "Britt." Online small business owners hire me to create content strategies and write their blog posts, email newsletters, and social media updates. I work with bosses around the world from the marshes of Charleston, S.C.