First impressions matter.

A well-crafted headline (or a mundane one) directly impacts how many people consume a piece of digital content. Great headlines have the power to drive organic traffic, increase social shares and engagement, and attract new social audiences. Bad headlines, on the other hand, may deter consumers from even reading the content that follows, representing a significant threat to your company’s ability to garner and convert leads.

Not convinced? Here’s why great headlines are essential:

Headlines Frame Your Content

Headlines are the doorway to whatever content they’re introducing. If a doorway is dingy and uninteresting, no one will walk through it. But if your doorway piques curiosity by distilling and conveying the most compelling aspect of whatever lies behind it, people will gladly step through.

“A headline changes the way people read an article and the way they remember it,” says Maria Konnikova for the New Yorker. “The headline frames the rest of the experience. A headline can tell you what kind of article you’re about to read — news, opinion, research, LOLcats — and it sets the tone for what follows.”

By drawing attention to certain details or facts contained within the article, the headline can affect what existing knowledge is activated in a reader’s mind. What’s more, as time passes, a reader may not recall every detail of a complex article — but a bold headline will stick in her mind, serving as a talking point when the more minute details of the argument have faded from memory.

Optimize Your Headlines and Graphics

So how can writers identify the sliver of vital information that their headline should convey? When it comes to producing potentially viral content, human intuition doesn’t go as far as you might think. Thankfully, there’s an abundance of effective headline testing tools available to online marketers.

Services like Taboola, Optimizely, and AppSumo assist authors in optimizing not only headlines, but sub headlines and images as well. Once headlines and images are optimized for your brand’s website, these services can take that information and apply it to social content and email marketing campaigns. The most compelling headlines often make the best tweets or Facebook posts, driving the ultimate volume of engagement.

While writers may certainly have a natural knack for headline composition, digital tools remove human bias and produce data-driven insights, creating combinations of keywords with the most potential to go viral.

Curiosity vs. Clickbait

There are scientific reasons why clickbait headlines work — but that’s not to say all marketers must give in to the practice. With major social networks working to combat the most egregious cases of clickbait, marketers should work to create headlines that pull readers in without disappointing them. It’s not always easy to be both interesting and accurate, but content that does not meet the expectations set by its headline creates a negative brand interaction for consumers and leaves them disinclined to return to your content in the future.

Webaholic reports that, according to Upworthy, a good headline can be the difference between 1,000 or 1,000,000 people reading your story. When properly optimized, headlines drive both social and organic traffic, and create a memorable impression that encourages readers to click through. Content marketers should take every possible measure to ensure that once a click-through is earned, their content delivers on its initial promise to readers.

Longneck and Thunderfoot offer content marketing services and strategies to transform your company blog into an authoritative trade publication. Click to learn more about how to produce great content and prove ROI on your marketing efforts.

Author Grace Stearns

A graduate of Pepperdine University, Grace has worked in PR and brand communications at publishing giants like Condé Nast, Hearst Magazines Digital Media, and Simon & Schuster. She writes about content marketing, social media, and technology for L&T's blog. A reluctant West Coast transplant, Grace lives in Brooklyn and spends a majority of her free time curled up with a good book.

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