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7 Headline Elements You Need for Content Marketing Success

06/30/2015 07:39 pm ET | Updated Jun 30, 2016

Headlines are more important now than they've ever been. According to research by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, 51 percent of all U.S. online readers identified a compelling headline as the reason why they clicked on a given story. The quality of the article's source was only responsible for motivating 37 percent of people to click. What that means for you, as a content marketer, is that the strength of your headline is responsible for whether or not the rest of your article gets read. You could have a landmark piece of research written in eloquent, captivating style, but without a strong headline to bring someone in, it won't matter.

These seven headline qualities will help you craft the great titles necessary to attract that initial traffic:

1. Conciseness. For the most part, the shorter your headline is, the better. It might take you two or three sentences to accurately summarize your article, but you'll have far less space than that to capture your target's interest. Your goal should be to make each word in your headline a significant word, allowing you to use fewer words to drive your significance home. Some researchers have attempted to identify the "perfect" length of a headline, but there have been mixed results; QuickSprout claims the magic number is six words, and based on my experience, that seems accurate. Also, keep in mind that search engines will cut off your title if it's more than 70 characters (including spaces).

2. Specificity. Vague or difficult to interpret headlines aren't going to attract any visitors. Instead, you need to work to be as specific as possible. For example, take the headline "Why Cranberries Are Good" versus "7 Ways Cranberries Improve Your Immune System." In the former, the word "good" could refer to health benefits, environmental benefits, taste, culinary use, or any number of other uses. In the latter, this is concisely yet specifically elaborated upon. If you're concerned about this, evaluate the ambiguity of each word in your headline -- is there any word with multiple meanings that you can replace with something stronger?

3. Numbers. Numbers are catchy when used in headlines for two reasons. First, they serve as a specific indicator, giving people the promise of a tangible takeaway from the article. If you see an article with "5 Turkey-Cooking Tips for Thanksgiving," you'll feel more compelled than you will for one with "Turkey-Cooking Strategies for Thanksgiving" because there's a quantifiable number backing the claim. Second, they imply immediately that the article is well-organized, and therefore scannable. If you're looking for quick tips, you can jump into the article, read down through the list, and go on your way, rather than hashing your way through a tangled mess of paragraphs.

4. Strong Adjectives. Powerful adjectives breathe life into an otherwise flat headline. Think of them as the color that will liven up your drawing. Strong adjectives are ones that immediately and clearly communicate some sort of emotional response. As an example, take the word "fun" -- you see this word and immediately think about the sensation of fun, which compels you to click the article and see what all the fun is about. It works for negative adjectives, too, like "heartbreaking," which encourage you to click out of morbid curiosity. Just remember -- ambiguous adjectives, like "good" above, won't cut it.

5. Utility. If you can imply some sort of actual takeaway that readers will get from your article, you'll see a higher click rate. People like to read articles that give them new information, new skills, or new ideas. For example, think about the headline "6 Summer Activity Ideas" versus "6 Summer Activities to Meet New Friends" or "6 Summer Activities to Help You Get Fit." The latter two headlines are more appealing because they offer some level of practical advice. The vague activities in the former headline might be useful to some people, but the headline doesn't explain why.

6. Urgency. The degree of urgency in your headline can also affect whether someone clicks, though it's more of a controversial quality in terms of journalistic integrity. Over-sensationalized headlines have become the norm, and while they do attract more click-throughs, they also carry a light stigma. Be judicious when crafting your headlines to evoke a sense of urgency without turning your article into a total gimmick. For example, tacking on a phrase like "you can't live without" or "you won't believe" can give you headline just enough urgency to draw in a user without totally crossing the line.

7. Reader Relatability. Headlines that speak directly to readers often do better than their counterparts. How you approach this is up to you; you can either call out the reader directly by using the word "you" or phrase something in a way that mirrors your reader. For example, consider the phrases "Why You Should Never Drink Tap Water in China" and "Is It Safe to Drink Tap Water in China?" Both call to the reader directly, but in different ways. The headline "The Safety of Tap Water in China" doesn't call to the reader at all.

Today's audiences don't have time to read articles that don't immediately capture their interest. Before publishing or syndicating your article, make sure your title is in perfect shape. Invest the time necessary to go through multiple revisions and polish those headlines to perfection; otherwise, your article might not even be seen.