How to craft compelling headlines that capture clicks

You could be the smartest person in the room, but if you show up wearing a tacky sweater and parachute pants, nobody will care what you have to say.

The same goes for headlines: spending hours researching and formatting your blog posts is useless if nobody reads them. At Ghost Works, we often say that creation is only 50% of the content game: without distribution, the content doesn’t play. Engagement is the lubrication of distribution: posts that engage organically get more shares and capture more attention.

Writing the perfect headline requires a delicate balance of art and science. But if it’s done correctly, you can surge past the competition — and there’s data to show how. Here are five evidence-based strategies for writing clickable headlines.

1. Ask questions?

In an analysis of over a million blog posts,  TrackMaven discovered that nearly 95% of the headlines did not contain a question mark. However, the 5% of blog posts that did ask a question accounted for 46% of the total social shares.

Question-based headlines are far more engaging than simply shoving information at readers. Questions trigger curiosity and a desire to know the answer. That being said, slapping a question mark at the end of a headline won’t cut it (see this subheader as an example!)

Question-based headlines must deliver a real and thorough answer to the question posed. And be warned: many readers are skeptical of these types of headlines.

Consider Betterridge’s Law of Headlines:

“Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.”

Although this adage is humorous, it proves itself true more often than not.

Bottom line: Inspire curiosity, but if the automatic response to a headline is “no,” go back to the drawing board.

2. Optimize for keywords and length

Optimizing your blog posts for SEO is smart. But when 59% of people are sharing headlines without even reading the article, that’s a sign you should channel your creativity towards better headlines.

There are two key elements of the search-friendly headline: relevant keywords and a reasonable length.

1. Keywords: Descriptive language isn’t just better for search engines, it’s appealing to readers too. Consider these two headlines:

“You’ll love our new delicious ice cream flavor”

“Looking for treats in Cincinnati? This Maple-Bacon Ice Cream Will Make Your Jaw Drop”

You can guess which one will be on top of the reader’s mind (and on top of the Google results).

Just be sure that these SEO keywords are relevant to the article and not just to the search engine. Think of the reader first, and then the search algorithm.

2. Length: Keep the length reasonable. According to Outbrain, 16 to 18 words is the ideal headline length. This keeps a headline shareable on social media while also ensuring the headline isn’t cut off in search results.

3. Use numb3rs

The human brain craves clarity. And like it or not, lists and numbers are the simplest way to break down complexity. As you can see from this study by Conductor, that preference is no different when it comes to headlines.

Numbers are easier to understand for most people.

But numbered headlines are more than just a preference. In addition to how straightforward numbered headlines are for writers, Hubspot identifies other advantages of list posts for publishers, including:

  • More clicks
  • More engagement
  • More social sharing
  • More time on page
  • More organic traffic
  • More conversions
  • More comments
  • Lower bounce rate

Readers associate long lists with greater value. It’s not uncommon to see lists of 25 or even 100 things go viral. This relates to numerosity, or our unconscious preference for large numbers.

While the brain is wired to see larger quantities as more favorable, the quantity also matters: An odd number stands out even more.

Headlines with odd numbers generate 20% more clicks than headlines with even numbers. -Hubspot

Bottom line: Get specific. The more details the better. Telling the reader exactly what they’ll learn can entice them to click, not to mention those keywords are good for SEO.

4. Use cliffhangers

If you thought cliffhangers were reserved for TV shows, think again. A cliffhanger is one of the most powerful (and profitable) tools for capturing a reader’s attention.

Not long ago, Moz conducted an overhaul of its landing page that resulted in over $1 million in revenue. The strategy? Remove phrases like “buy now” or “check out…” from headlines and use headlines like this instead: “When eBay and Disney need SEO help, here’s what they do…”

Just like an addicting Netflix series, a cliffhanger headline creates an open loop in the back of the reader’s mind that can only be closed by reading the article. For example:

Instead of…

“Try These Social Media Tips to Optimize Your Conversion Rate”

Try…

“These 5 Silly Mistakes Are Costing You Thousands of Clicks – Even Though You Don’t Know It”

Bottom line: Just like with questions, make the reader want to find out the answer. Just be sure to deliver on the cliffhanger surprise. If it’s a let down, the reader could feel ripped off. This diminishes the positive brand building aspects of content marketing.

5. Make it about your reader, not your brand

Buffer analyzed the word choice in 3,016 headlines from 24 of the most popular websites on the web. These are the results:

Notice that (other than neutral words like “the” and “this”) “you” was the among the most popular words. “Your” in the top 20 as well. Combined, these two pronouns appeared in 16% of all the headlines in the study.

Bottom line: Content that addresses the reader, and add value to his or her life, generally performs well. Talking too much about your brand is tantamount to being a boring dinner party guest. A great conversationalist asks questions, listens, and makes it about the other person. Provide value and watch your shares go up!

Putting it all together

Now that we broke down the formula for irresistible headlines, here’s an example of all five components tied together:

Do You Eat These 3 Superfoods After High-Intensity Cardio? The Results Are Life-Changing.

Question? ✅

Number? ✅

Keywords? ✅

Cliffhanger? ✅

Reader-oriented? ✅

Now that you have a compelling content, just be sure to craft compelling content to match!

9 essential content marketing stats for brand marketers in 2018

If there’s one truism in the world of content marketing, it’s that things are fluid. The digital world moves at a fast-pace, Which means that brand marketers must keep up. Every marketing mix should have some breathing room for experimentation, as emerging techniques and trends often deliver outsize results compared to the investment.

Even so, we know that keeping up can be exhausting. Just when you think you got a handle on one new channel, another one pops up!

Or, once you hit your stride, that particular channel changes its rules. So rather than just chasing the shiny new thing, consider how consumer preferences impact the types of content you create, the channels you invest time, and the overall marketing mix you pursue.

Here are nine essential content marketing stats for brand marketers in 2018. We pulled these interesting content marketing stats first into a full infographic, with the text to follow.

#1: Video on the rise

Video continues to be an important piece of any content marketing strategy — especially when targeting decision makers. There is real utility for video on landing pages, social media, websites, and throughout the buyer journey. It informs and educates potential prospects and current customers, as well as increases the diversity of content offered by your brand.

With 59% of executives most likely to choose video over text (per Tubular Insights), it’s important to offer this medium to your decision makers in their buying journey.

#2: Let’s try live

Beyond scripted videos with high-production values, many consumers in B2B and B2C contexts are watching live videos. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Twitch: live is what’s next. Per Wyzowl, while not all marketers have tried broadcasting live, those that did found it to be effective.

#3: Video means conversion

Video is an effective boost to conversion. By building trust and authenticity, video shows prospects more about your company. Consider adding a video to your landing page to improve your conversions, as well as using video to answer any common questions or important education topics. Per Bonfire Marketing, the vast majority of people who viewed a brand video were convinced to purchase.

#4: Video means revenue

By increasing conversions through video, marketers are able to deliver stronger revenue results when compared to peers that do not use video. The reality is that there are options and opportunities that can be amplified and enhanced through smart content, especially in an engaging format like video. Content marketing must include video!

#5: In content we trust

No one trusts overt marketing messaging. It’s a fact that we all know and experience in our own consumer lives. Use content to show your brand’s authentic self — it works to humanize! Research from Cohn and Wolf shows how vital honesty and authenticity are when people choose companies to do business with.

#6: Use more data

Data and research is the backbone of good content marketing. By using data, research, and statistics to support your content, you offer social proof and increase trust. DemandGenReport’s annual Content Preferences Report found that B2B decision makers are hungry for more data. It’s simply more powerful to back up any statements you make in your content with data and research.

#7: Podcasts still useful

It seems like we have been talking about the growth in popularity of podcasts for years! This still holds true today in content marketing. Especially for those at the top of the funnel. As consumers spend more time in cars, as well as other activities where audio can be played at the same time, there’s a true opportunity to use branded podcasts (i.e. creating your own podcast rather than just ads) to make an impression with consumers.

#8: Blogs matter most

Also increasing in importance are company blogs. Decision makers refer to these blogs throughout the buying journey and use them to determine which companies they want to do business with.

So, while we are biased here at Ghost Works, consider how your company blog can be integrated throughout the funnel to inform, educate, and entertain. The company blog is a fantastic resource that requires much less investment than paid marketing channels, like PPC/SEM, and earned marketing channels, like public relations.

#9: Organic lift through sharing

A focus on compelling, shareable content allows brands to expand their reach. Decision-makers often share content during the buying journey. This exposes new audiences to the brands behind the shared content — an extra bonus that extends ROI of the content.

DemandGenReport found the following sharing habits in its latest 2018 Content Preferences Report. As you can see, it’s clear that B2B buyers share content with colleagues; this behavior is not limited to the B2C setting.

How much should you pay a freelancer to write for your company blog?

One of the challenges of running a company blog is finding affordable writers that can deliver content reliably. It’s not easy finding a capable writer who both has availability to take on new clients and fits the budget. That’s why many content marketing platforms are able to charge thousands of dollars per month for access to vetted freelancer marketplaces.

This availability issue is also one of the reasons why many traditional publishers have launched in-house content studios. Providing access to journalists with an editorial approach to commercial content, many media brands are able to find a stronger profit margin. Of course, these custom campaigns come with a hefty price tag.

So, for those who do not have thousands of dollars for content marketing software or tens of thousands for a custom branded content campaign, below are some benchmarks for what you should pay a freelancer to write for your company’s blog. Payoneer’s global report pegs freelancer rates at $19 per hour across all professions. However, there’s a great variance when it comes to freelance writers as Venngage discovers in this epic analysis of how many words writers need to publish to afford to live in various American cities:

Clearly, it’s not cheap to use high-quality writers that are subject matter experts. And when reviewing these figures, don’t forget to include the time it takes to find, vet, and manage your freelancers. Often this is overlooked, and really adds a lot of sunk cost into managing your brand’s blog.

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The dollar menu

When you order something off the dollar menu you know that you’re making trade-offs and quality. It might be cheap and taste good in the short term, but in the long-term, you know that it’s not really doing any good.

Long gone are the days when churning out basic blog posts was sufficient to win in SEO or content marketing. Sure, there are still sites like Fiverr that can connect you to cheap sources of writing. If you really want to commit to caring about your brand, it pays to have quality content.

And beware of asking experts to work for less. Not only is it demeaning, but it can backfire. Comments on forums for freelancers can be quick to highlight bad clients, as the quote below shows. And some places, such as either this rate tracker or this rate tracker, disclose brand names!

At the moment, several clients demand expert level offering a 5-dollar-budget.

-Worker on Upwork

All that being said, we get that there are times when speed and price trump quality. In those cases, you can expect to pay about $20 for a blog article. It’ll be a little less if you’re just looking to get something edited.

Here are a few services in this category, some of which overlap with others below as quality can vary greatly:

The flea market

At the flea market, quality controls are there but not stringent. Some markets are curated and others are welcome to anyone who pays the fee. Be wary of Platforms that connect to freelancers. Other can definitely be diamond in the ruff, there are plenty of vendors that are less than scrupulous.

Generally seen as content mills, the writing quality can vary tremendously…so be sure to ask for writing samples and references. And pay attention to reviews: You want to be sure that you get the work promised in the time allotted.

Fiverr homepage

Given the competitiveness of these sites, and the fact that many writers are not based in more expensive western areas, expect to pay between $5 and $20 an hour. With a blog post taking anywhere from 1 to 4 hours, you should pay no more than $100 per blog article.

Services in this category:

  • Fiverr
  • myBlogSquad
  • Upwork
  • WriterAccess
  • Freelancer.com
  • TextBroker
  • Amazon’s Mechanical Turk

The mall

One of the benefits for retailers who choose to set up shop in malls is the so-called billboard effect. Simply being there exposes them to foot traffic. This is kind of like a journalist working for media outlets: There work at the outlet speaks for itself, and often drives business to a freelance career. After all, many journalists are not making that much money anymore.

One of the most straightforward ways to find a writer you like is to approach…a writer you like! You already have an idea of their area of expertise, their writing style, and their voice.

In most cases, expect to pay around $10-$30 an hour or around $150-$200 an article. Not all writers will be available for freelance commercial work, and some will be far more expensive than this. However, journalists in one industry are likely to know other writers who might be available for freelance projects.

A quality writer costs a minimum of $150 per article. For an eBook expect to pay over $2,000.

-per Kapost, a content marketing platform

If you’ve been unsuccessful in finding a journalist, there are services that offer a matching platform. Of course, the company is taking a significant chunk from the writer’s take. So even if there is a subscription model plus content creation fees, the writer is still being paid far less than that they what they would be if you contracted with them directly. This can lead to high writer churn and constant on-boarding commitments on the client’s side.

One key advantage, like many malls, is the variety of outlets with different levels of quality and price. You can generally find the right resource for the right project — even if it takes some time to shop around. And those vendors that are on these platforms are generally more professional and experienced.

Services in this category are numerous, as it’s the most popular blend of freelancer matching platform and content management software:

  • Upwork
  • Scripted
  • Contently
  • NewsCred
  • Skyword
  • Kapost
  • nDash
  • Constant Content
  • Express Writers
  • The Content Company
  • Fiverr Pro
  • BlogHands
  • BlogMutt
  • ClearVoice

The boutique

A boutique is all about the curated approach to retailing. It’s about creating an environment, an atmosphere. This type of craft takes time, just like building your brand. Brand building is a long-term activity. It’s a marathon that begins to pay dividends as time goes on.

Some of the journalists that we mentioned in the previous section may not actually be available at a rate of less than $30 dollars an hour (if at all).

For a well-researched original article, expect to pay between $150 and $750 depending on experience, length, and availability of any required research. Here’s how that pans out for writers with domain expertise:

  • $150 to $200: A ‘straight news’ type story, with some essential analysis and quotes, but not any direct interviews
  • $25o to $350: An interview-style story. These always take time: scheduling the interview, transcribing the interview, and then formatting into a story. These pieces are deceptively simple.
  • $350 and up: Any article that requires in-depth research or data deep dives. You need to build enough time in the budget for the writer to follow the story.

Deep domain expertise is increasingly hard to find, and so it’s worth paying for foundational knowledge. You’ll spend less time onboarding them, and far less time explaining your industry or dealing with misunderstandings about how a particular issue or trend is playing out in your industry.

And of course, at Ghost Works, we’re all about the boutique approach! It’s that personal attention that gives us the deepest insight into the right kind of content to create for any organization. We want to be a team member in your organization, not a temporary resource. We see our service as effectively replacing .5 of a seat that you might otherwise hire.

Services in this category often overlap with “the mall,” as many of the enterprise-level tools offer both bespoke service and a platform for connecting brands to freelancers:

  • IZEA Custom Content
  • NewsCred
  • Contently
  • Ghost Works
  • Full-service creative agencies
  • Publisher content studios

Price right for minimal headaches

When benchmarking against the highest quality workers, we like to refer to the Editorial Freelancers Association. This organization’s members are at the top of their respective fields, and this association has the most comprehensive view of the market rate for quality work (full rate recommendations here).

EFA recommends these rates for quality writers.

While it may seem easier to price by the hour, it’s far more effective than the medium term to set a per-article price. There’s less confusion with writers, and you’ll generally get better output. As this self-disclosed database of freelancer rates shows, paying per article is the most popular.

Whichever route you go, from the dollar menu all the way up to the boutique, always remember that the quality of the content matters more than ever. Capturing the attention of valuable prospects takes time, commitment, and a team that collaborates to tell an organization’s most compelling stories.