Why you should be skeptical of the Best Practices Advice headline (except this one)






Welcome. I am worried that you may not find this article.


After all, headlines shouldn't be six words long. And, following internet advice, that's the optimal subject line length.


Search result for “best headline length” showing the advice “The ideal length of a headline is six words” from an article called The Proven Ideal Length Of Every Tweet, Facebook Post, And Headline Online.



You may have discovered a clue to how dubious that advice is. The headline that promises to reveal the optimal word count is twice that “ideal” length: The proven ideal length of every Tweet, Facebook post and online headline .


It's easy to see why people search for headline best practices (and why people write a lot of them). Titles are powerful. Marketers, publishers, and content creators all hope to find a magic formula to drive millions of people to click on headlines and read articles.


But your hopes will go up in smoke if you focus your headlines on the “perfect” box. Let's explore why you should approach most of the advice out there with a tried-and-true attitude.


Subject lines seem to be a magic formula to drive millions of people to read your #content. But don't put all your hopes on the "best" methods, says @AnnGynn via @CMIContent. #WritingTips Click to Tweet



Double check that emotion in the headline analyzer


The subject line tool is a popular way to gauge the quality of a headline. Most calculate a score to indicate how successful a proposed title is. Using artificial intelligence, these tools compare the headline you type with the rules and guidelines fed into the program. But they are far from wrong.


Consider these examples that I included in a title checker. Italicized text indicates the only word I changed:



  1. How to create content Your best No best practices (score 78)

    • Among the reasons: “Emotional words have been shown to promote engagement by stirring up an emotional response in readers. Big headlines often include 10-15% emotion. The emotional words of this headline hit 11%.





  1. How to make a Video Your best No best practices (score 74)

    • The emotional words of this headline hit 0%.




Huh? The only word that has been changed is “content” for “video”. What is the emotional content of the word? Hmm…


Oh, the subject line analyzer reads “CONtent” as “conTENT” – “satisfied state”. Higher scores are attributed to false homonyms.


In addition to emotion, titles are rated based on their emotions (positive, neutral, negative). As the tool explains, positive sentiment often outperforms negative sentiment, while neutral sentiment is the worst.


Test out a new headline – Don't waste your time on these 10 Tricks – and scrutinize the sentimental outcome. Interestingly, the analyzer identifies this headline as a neutral sentiment. Its advice: “Add emotionally positive or negative words to help it stand out and attract more engagement.”


I consider “don’t waste” a negative sentiment. I'm not sure why the headline analyzer doesn't.


Interestingly, at CMI, we found the opposite of the headline analysis sentiment suggestions to be true. Negative headlines (using words like “don’t” or “mistaken”) often attract more clicks than positive-toned headlines.


The lesson from these exercises is simple: If the results don't make sense, do a double. Look closely for potential reasons why results might be biased (i.e. CONtent vs conTENT) or how your own experience might differ from standard advice.


Incorporate keywords in your headline – or not


“Best, book key word in your subject line, but make sure it reads smoothly for your readers. "That advice from Neil Patel seems right. And that is – if SEO is your primary goal for content (and if your title tags reflect the same keywords – more on that later.)


But that advice may conflict with other best practices, such as create curiosity to grab attention and get the reader to click to satisfy that curiosity. But what if including the keyword in the title satisfies that curiosity?


Some headline articles say create a curiosity gap to get people to click and read. Others say include keywords for SEO. Which right? @AnnGynn explained via @CMIContent. Click to Tweet


That's what happened to the story of this young woman who has struggled with a lifelong medical mystery. The writer was careful to create a curious void in her mind – leaving the reader wondering what was causing her problems: “As she got older, Alanna Gardner learned that she couldn't be too active. . If she did, she would faint. ”


But the title makes reading the rest of the story unnecessary: It took a heart attack to reveal her heart defect .


Maybe the headliner focuses on SEO and uses keywords like “heart attack” and “heart defect” – after all, that’s expert advice.


But that SEO-focused title satisfies the reader curious right. They don't have to read the rest of the story to find out what disease the young woman has – title for the answer.


Problem? Find out main target of the content before the content is created, both the body and the header of the content work together.


Figure out the primary goal of #content before the content is created so that both the content and the header work together, @AnnGynn via @CMIContent said. #WritingTips Click to Tweet



Listen to this (really) best advice


After going through all that “best” advice, I offer this advice as the really best advice for your headline. (And yes, it really is the best – no quotes needed.)


Create a title based on your main goal for the piece of content. For example, was it found in the search or was it clicked on in the newsletter? And instead of trying to hit some magic words, do what works best for your brand and target audience.


Take advantage of available title tools and tips with a fresh perspective. Research the data you already have. Create a spreadsheet with the following columns:



  • Main goal of content

  • Title

  • Number of words

  • Number of characters

  • Keywords (if SEO is the goal)

  • Pageviews from search

  • Number of pageviews from other sources (email, social networks, etc.)

  • Convert to indicate how the subject line and subsequent content are delivered (i.e. in response to the on-page CTA)


Then review the results. Is there an average word or character count that works best? Which subject line leads to the most conversions?


Your data will tell you many things about your title. Then you'll have a better idea if the "best" method is really the best for your content marketing.


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Cover photo of Joseph Kalinowski / Content Marketing Institute








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