Pop quiz: What type of headline is this?
"3 Ways to Protect Your Precious Digital Memories"
If you said a number headline, you would be right. And that's the top formula for effective content marketing headlines. But… that's not what I was looking for.
The answer I wanted is B2C or business-to-consumer. The reason that's important is that the overall recipe for B2B will be different from B2C headlines. The same goes for the article's content as well.
There is a big difference between consumer copy and business copy. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.
But first… why are effective headline formulas so important?
People read headlines first.
Therefore, their effectiveness is crucial to getting your article read. The headline should never be taken lightly, nor "tacked on" as an afterthought. (Oh, yeah…I need to title this masterpiece, don't I?)
In Copyblogger's eBook – How to Write Magnetic Headlines – the introduction states:
"On average, 8 out of 10 people will read your headline copy, but only 2 out of 10 will read the rest…The better your headline, the better your odds of beating the averages and getting what you've written read by a larger percentage of people."
Headlines are so important that founder Brian Clark suggests you write them first, before writing any other content or copy. Obviously, you've planned your topic and done your research. But before you go any further, write that headline.
It's the rule I use 98.76% of the time, maybe more. In fact, I'll often free write a whole page of headlines – sometimes as many as 30 – before I start on the content. The exact headline may change in the final draft…but starting with a headline in front of you gives focus to your writing.
There are several important reasons for free writing headlines…but that's a topic for another article.
One last thought on headline importance, and then we'll move on to the formulas. Remember the last time you sat at the doctor's office, waiting for an appointment?
You picked up a magazine and started flipping through it, searching for some reading material to pass the time. You glanced at the cover and table of contents, and picked out an article. Why that article?
My money's on the headline.
1. The number headline
The number headline mentioned previously could be used by an online service to explain backing up files and photos to a home user. Let's change it to a B2B headline for an IT Managed Services company:
"3 Ways to Protect Your Business from Data Corruption or Loss"
In a number headline, use the numeral instead of the spelled out number (i.e. 3 instead of three). They stand out better in a crowd. It'll make your grammar checker go bonkers, but it just works more effectively.
Go to Buzzfeed's home page and see which headlines jump out at you. Number headlines pull your eye to them automatically. And they draw more readers into the article. Studies show that number headlines resonate with readers more than any other formula.
2 . The benefit headline
Many benefit headlines begin with "How." Don't confuse this with the "how-to" headline formula. In the benefit formula, you take a key feature from the article and present it as a benefit. Using our previous example, you could rewrite it like this:
"How IT Managed Services Protect Business Data from Corruption and Loss"
Protected business data is a benefit. The article would explain the features an ITMS company uses to safeguard data from hackers, failed hardware, compromised infrastructure and file corruption.
3. The "how-to" headline
Since I mentioned it, let's cover the how-to headline. This headline signals that the content to follow is instructional and explains a process or procedure. For example, here's our ITMS article with a how-to formula:
"How to Select an IT Managed Services Provider for Your Data Protection Plan"
Obviously, the content marketing article would explain the things to look for in an ITMS company, the costs involved and other pertinent information.
The "how-to" doesn't need to be explicitly spelled out, but can be implied. For example, the "How to Select…" headline could be rewritten as "Selecting an IT Managed Services Company…" or "Considerations When Choosing…" and it would still be a how-to headline. It still describes a process or procedure.
4 & 5. The question headline (plus a sidekick)
A question headline is very effective at capturing a reader's attention. It asks a question for which the reader may already have an idea or opinion. Or it may answer a question that the reader is already asking. Either way, it's worth the read.
When coupled with a comparison headline formula, it packs a one-two punch. Here's our ITMS Company, going at it again:
"Are IT Managed Services a Worthwhile Investment… Or an Unnecessary Expense?"
Do you see how the comparison clause makes the question headline stronger? Without the second half, the article would appear one-sided in favor of ITMS. But the way it was written, the reader is interested to see how the article is slanted – pro or con.
Pump up the volume
Let's talk superlatives.
These words or phrases add more kick to your headlines. Just don't overdo it. They're often placed before another adjective or adverb, but can be used with nouns as well. Let's use a previous headline for an example. In its first incarnation, the headline reads:
"3 Ways to Protect Your Business from Data Corruption or Loss"
We can add a superlative to make the headline stronger:
"The 3 Most Effective Ways to Protect Your Business from Data Corruption or Loss"
Now the reader has more information to go on: They are the most effective ways to protect data. Thus, the article is worth reading. Or we could write it this way:
"3 Ways to Protect Your Business from Incapacitating Data Corruption or Loss"
The superlative "Incapacitating" shifts the emphasis to the result of not protecting your data: it will disrupt, even stop business. It also places more urgency on the article content. Lost time equals lost money. No business wants to lose money to corrupted or lost data.
Superlatives often change the tone or urgency of the headline. But – as I mentioned above – don't overdo it. Again, the previous studies also show that the more superlatives you use, the less effective the headline may become. Excessive superlative use moves the headline from interesting and intriguing to just too much hyperbole.
Effective B2B headlines take practice
They take practice because all of us – without exception – grew up as consumers first. All our lives, we've been exposed to headlines, copy and content that was written for B2C.
If Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz was a B2C copywriter, she might say: "Teasers, emotions, and hype. Oh my!"
Many new writers going into the B2B fields – and even experienced writers transitioning to B2B – have difficulty shaking old consumer copywriting habits and models. Many B2C techniques and tools are no longer valid and may prove detrimental. New tools and techniques must be learned and employed.
Dorothy's new chant may very well be, "Features and benefits and logic. Of course!" It may not be as fun to say…
But it pays off really, really well.