How One Headline Can Make or Break Your Content Marketing Success

How much time are you spending on your headline or subject line? Often once a text (blog post, email, etc.) is finished, we quickly write a few words that come to mind. And that’s it.

Does it surprise you that PR people often spend at least as much time on the headline of a messaging document as on the document itself? And rightly so.

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The headline often is the only thing that people get to see before they decide to click on your link or open an email. You have this small fraction of a second to convince your potential audience that it is worth to open your content for more information. A lazy or thoughtless headline can thus easily be the decisive factor in success or failure of your complete campaign.

We have done some tests on some articles of ours. Sometimes, the headlines we came up with did not show so much of a difference, but sometimes the difference is enormous.

Can you remember Jonathan’s article on “The Dark Side of Content Marketing”? We have played around a little with titles for this post. This worked well because this post allowed for some diverse titles.

Here are our top three:

  • The Dark and Immoral Side of Content Marketing
  • What Angelina Jolie’s breasts have to do with content marketing
  • It was near perfect #contentmarketing. And it’s probably killing people, right now.

As you know, we published the post with the first title. The second seems to have all the ingredients of a perfect headline: A Celebrity, Sex, and the topic.

But the best working title was the third: Maybe we should change it for the post.

So why was it? It hinted at some drama, made the audience curious but left so much for guesswork that apparently people were drawn in and clicked.

Use your perfect headlines to get more out of your social media efforts. We show you how in our ebook “The Social Traffic Code.”


Was that a one-time phenomenon? No, not at all.

There are complete businesses built on this. Do you know Upworthy? Probably you have seen at least some of their updates shared on your Facebook feed.

Bildschirmfoto 2015-07-02 um 15.28.22What do they do? They find interesting stories on the web. They add a catchy headline and a few sentences and drive traffic to their website with this. And they excel at this: A while ago they were the fastest growing website, basically by coming up with better headlines than the ones of the original news.


So how do they do it? How can they come up with headlines that make their content get shared and clicked?

First you need to understand, that a headline that gets shares does not necessarily get clicks as well. To make your content spread AND drive traffic you need both:

Bildschirmfoto 2015-07-02 um 15.33.49


Maybe you can now understand, why this is not easily achieved, and results are never certain. You may think you have the perfect headline, and still your post does neither get clicks nor shares. While another time you thought your headline was boring, you suddenly see visitors flocking in and sharing like hell.

Success is not a given. But you can certainly try hard.

Upworthy spends a lot of time on crafting perfect headlines – well not only the headlines but everything else that is helping clicks and shares, like the image that goes with the share and the teaser text.

Bildschirmfoto 2015-07-02 um 15.41.08And still, not all of their posts are burners. Some simply don’t cut it.


So, even for the pros from Upworthy with all their experience and their effort, only 0.3% make it really big. But let us be honest, for most of us “normal” bloggers even the top 10% would mean a huge impact.

Still, most bloggers are not spending a lot of time on crafting headlines.

I have even seen articles published with the simple name “Social Media Marketing.” No question that this one was not a burning success.

While many of us spend ages on finding an interesting topic and trying our best to provide value with our articles – once finished we seem to be so happy that our work is done, that we neglect one of the most important components of Social Media success: The headline.

But, could you do it, too? That is up to you. Many have tried it; the space is already crowded with others who try the same. But your can indeed learn from Upworthy, how to craft the perfect headline. Here is what they usually do:

Come up with 25 different headlines for each piece of content you publish

Why 25? Because less won’t cut it. With 5 or even 10 you can still write headlines following the same idea as the first. But crafting 25 means you have to get creative. And this is what is going to make the difference: Think different, to find the last 5 to make the 25.

Here are some hints from Upworthy you should consider while crafting your headlines:

  • Don’t say it all in the headline
  • Don’t be shrill
  • Don’t (over) sexualize
  • Don’t overthink

Once you have your 25 headlines, choose your favorite 5. Wait a day, sleep on it and take another look at the 5 headlines. Pick one. In the beginning, you might even try all of these for the same article in tweets. Use Buffer for the tweeting and they will tell you which one worked best. Be careful with the results: Different times for the tweets or other factors might influence the results. But it still gives a first impression.One headline can make all the difference between huge success and total failure. Your headlines have tremendous power. Here is to get them right!

Upworthy is writing headlines for news. But the process works for bloggers as well. But bloggers may even have an advantage: To help you with coming up with good ideas for your 25 headlines, you can profit from some of the most experienced bloggers. Because there is a pattern to what works and what does not. Some types of headlines seem to resonate better with a social audience than others. Jeff Bullas, for instance, analyzed which kinds of headlines work best for his blog. Here is his list of types of headlines, which work best on his blog:

  1. Lists – you all know list posts, don’t you?
  2. How-tos – like “How to craft better headlines.”
  3. Get what you want headlines i.e. “The secret to making money blogging.”
  4. Best or worst headlines “The easiest way to get signups from Twitter” (Jeff Bullas claims that negative headlines work better.)
  5. Statistics, facts, and figures – I love stats, I am a mathematician 🙂
  6. Predictions i.e. “Marketing trends you should not ignore.”

List post headlines often are a no-brainer: a large number of interesting facts always works. But we cannot and do not want to write list posts all the time. So, please consider some of the other ideas…

Now, you have all the tools to craft better headlines in the future: Some ideas on what kind of headlines do work with a social audience – and a process, which everyone can use to craft better headlines. Are you going to try something like this? Tell me about your experience. I would love to hear from you in the comments!

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This article was proofread and edited by myself with the help of Grammarly. If you are blogging in English and cannot afford a professional editor, Try Grammarly Now! It rocks.

  • Carol Deffry Trimmer

    Hi Susanna,
    Great post! I realized as I was reading it that I’ve been making a mistake. Although I’ve been experimenting with different headlines, I have only been writing 6 or 7 before choosing. And, many of those headlines used the same idea but with just slightly different words.

    It makes sense that brainstorming to get 25 headlines is going give you more creative ideas. Picking up my legal pad and favorite pen to start brainstorming and sharing this article on Twitter.


  • JR Horsting

    It’s a great post. I can make it quick & dirty. “I hate your idea, prove me wrong!”
    trolls tend to win

  • Dilyana

    Great article! A colleague of mine always said: “Never
    reveal your strength in the beginning. Build up to it. Lead your readers
    towards your Big Bang.” That’s why your title shouldn’t say it all but shouldn’t
    be too general either. I work for Brand24, a growing social media monitoring
    tool, and I have seen companies use their insights from social listening to
    craft their content strategies as well. Regarding headlines, in particular, I
    think you need a combination of suspense or attention-catching words (maybe
    celebrities and sex still work out for others) and keywords that actually
    interest your target. Sometimes for me, the catchy titles are too cheesy and
    necessarily targeted to me personally, so I would never open the article. L

  • Andi Munich

    Great insight, thanks!!

  • Judy Caroll

    Awesome article. You’re right that headlines are very important because once it is not catchy to the eyes of the readers, there will be a tendency that they will not go over with your article instead, they will neglect it. It depend to what kind of headline others will get interested because people’s choices differs. Thanks for this.