According to David Ogilvy, father of modern advertising, 5 times as many people read headlines as they do body content of any piece of copywriting. If you don’t get the headline right, says Ogilvy, you waste 90 cents on your advertising dollar.
That seems a little unfair. Why should 10 or so words at the head of an article have so much power over the 2,000 that follow? What makes them so special?
In the constant battle for attention that is modern life in the marketing world, headlines are like mini sales-pitches. Writers know they have only one chance to win your precious attention, so they must use those 10 words to answer the reader’s question: “What’s in it for me?”
The reward? A click.
That much is obvious. But have you ever stopped to think what that click might say about the readers themselves? Could it be a window into their specific content needs?
As Conversion Rate Optimization expert Tommy Walker says, “Clicks are the best insight we have into what drives people to action.” In other words, clicks uncover motivation and show us what people deem worthy of their precious attention.
And in a world where attention is scarce, that’s not an insignificant insight to have.
So how do you get it?
In order to discover which types of headlines get the most clicks, BuzzSumo recently ran an analysis of 10 million articles shared on LinkedIn.
While you could look at a study like that one, pull out a few winning formulas for headline writing and call it day, I think you’d sell yourself short. As important as those metrics are, without penetrating beneath the surface, you’ll never learn why those headlines are so successful.
So today, we’re going to take a quick look at what Buzzsumo found, then ask the deeper question: what do winning headlines tell us about the types of content B2B readers value most? And after that, we’re going to put those insights to work.
3 Not-So-Surprising Things We Can Learn from Highly Shared Headlines
Buzzsumo’s study is helpful, but it doesn’t offer a ton by way of analysis. So here’s what we’ll do. I’ll take a look at three of their results, offer my own analysis and move on to the meatier stuff: what do you actually do with this?
Headline #1 : Business readers want to learn
Right away, we learn that the most commonly shared posts on LinkedIn began with some variation of the formula, “X Ways To.” That’s not exactly surprising news. Even novice content writers know that people love any variation of the ‘How To’ headline, especially when numbers are involved.
But, let’s ask the deeper question. What does that tell us about what readers are looking for?
For one thing, it tells us they want an easily skimmable piece that will quickly deliver on the promise of “X ways to Y.” If we go deeper, however, we learn something even more basic.
Readers want to learn something from your piece. The promise this type of headline makes is that, if you read this article, you’ll leave with a few new tricks in your bag. For a business reader, a few new insights or best practices could very well mean money in the bank.
Headline #2: Business readers want to know what's working in their industries
If we take another look at the above chart, we notice “The Future of” in second place. If we correlate that with the following chart, we see something interesting:
Look down the list. Do you notice that the names of key industry players dominate the field?
What Buzzsumo picks up on - and I agree - is that B2B readers care deeply about news that affects their own industry. Naturally, articles sharing information on trends and key industry leaders attract more attention than others.
Headline #3: Business readers don't waste time
The last chart I want to look at shows performance data based on length of headlines:
Shorter headlines perform decidedly better on LinkedIn than on Facebook. This is especially significant for B2B content marketers, because your audience more likely lives on LinkedIn than Facebook.
The key insight I want to draw from that is this: B2B readers don’t have time to deal with rambling, imprecise headlines.
The key concept here is urgency, and it extends beyond the headline and into the piece itself. Unlike the average guy on the subway flipping through his Facebook feed to pass the time, your B2B audience want something actionable, and they want it as quickly and concisely as possible.
How to Put These Insights to Work
From the headline insights we gleaned above, there are three specific things we can say about business readers and the type of content they want from you:
Now, it’s time to take what we’ve learned and put it to work on your own content development. Here are the three strategies you need to address your readers’ concerns:
Excited to learn how? Let’s get to it.
Strategy 1: Educate your readers in a way that drives action
When a reader clicks on a headline like “Top 7 Ways to Market Using the Psychology of Influence”, they don’t do so because they have an infatuation with the number 7. As a matter of fact, they’re probably not even vaguely interested in the psychology of influence.
No. What these readers want is to learn how to do one specific thing: market.
Business readers engage with your content to find practical advice that will improve their own business. It’s as simple as that. Every piece of B2B content you develop should equip readers to take specific action in their businesses.
That doesn’t mean every post will pay off its readers with 3 ways to do X or 5 steps to accomplish Y. But it does mean they should leave your articles with a clear sense on how to apply the information to their work in a concrete way.
Use this formula to organize your material so that it drives a specific action:
I am going to tell my readers about X so they can do Y, which will lead to Z.
For content marketers and copywriters, there’s one more reason to write content that drives action: conversion. If our readers act when they read what we write, we shorten the logical distance from external action (what they do with our content).
In other words: the more we move them to act on our advice, the less resistance there will be to when we ask them to convert.
Strategy 2: Use industry statistics and trends to pique interest
Everybody loves a good article on industry trends or statistics, especially when they’re listified and published near the beginning of the year.
Consider some of these popular headlines:
Why do business readers gobble up these articles like 5-year olds eat M&M’s?
There are a few reasons:
Keeping these things in mind, let’s look at a few ways to capitalize on readers’ deep desire to take what’s going on in their industry and apply to their own business.
Strategy 3: Hold attention by satisfying your readers' sense of urgency
We learned above that business readers possess a greater sense of urgency than other readers. To be sure, this isn’t the same kind of ginned-up urgency you catch from clickbait-headed articles, like:
Business readers are savvy; they won’t be cowed into reading your content. Their urgent reading radar runs through a ‘no-BS’ filter, honed by years of industry experience and refined by sifting through scores of digital filler masquerading as genuine content.
So, how do you satisfy that particular sense of urgency? Here’s how:
Take Your Readers On a Ride – Don’t be boring! Take your readers on a journey from intro to conclusion. Draw them in with stories that reveal where they are, and leave them with a vision of where they could be.
In this post, we reviewed some of the latest findings about popular headlines among B2B audiences. We discovered two important insights: that business readers are motivated by a desire to learn, and constrained in their reading by a sense of urgency. Their particular interest in industry trends, statistics and best practices clearly manifests these two points.
As a result, we determined that successfully designed content must make use of industry news to connect with and support readers, whenever possible. More importantly, however, high-quality B2B content must be written in a straightforward, concise and compelling way to propel readers through the content and leave them with a concrete understanding of how they can use your material to benefit their business.
With these things in mind, you’re ready to get those clicks! You know what to do … revisit your own work, tweak it, and develop new content that’s specifically tailored to speak to your audience’s deepest needs. Have at!