How To Combine Two Headline Tools to Catch All Flaws in Your Titles
Combine two free headline analyzers to cover all your bases
If you’ve been writing for a while, you most definitely know this. You might even struggle with this one. I know I do.
Writing a great headline requires equal parts of creativity, knowledge, and luck. Sometimes, no matter how many logical rules you follow, it doesn’t really matter if it doesn’t connect with the audience at that particular moment in time.
Consider this: A headline about the Spice Girls would drive insane amounts of traffic 20 years ago; today they’d be lucky to get even half of it. Another example would be a headline about a man flying over the Atlantic; it wouldn’t really spike your interest today, would it?
Following rules and guidelines can lead you the right way, but never let an algorithm dictate what’s right or wrong.
Optimize Your Headline Using Science
There are two platforms I know and use when I’m working on my headlines: Sharethrough’s Headline Analyzer and Headline Analyzer from CoSchedule. I don’t find either particularly better than the other; I think it’s just a matter of preference.
Each of them has its own metrics, but they both function similarly. You start by entering a headline, and their algorithm will calculate its score; the higher the number, the better your headline is.
When I entered the headline for this article, I got very similar scores on both platforms: 70 on Sharethrough and 65 on CoSchedule. But there’s more.
At first glance, it’s clear Sharethrough wants to help you make your headline as clickable as possible. Looking at my analysis, we see tips like try adding a celebrity, and bad news sells. While that may be true, it certainly won’t be applicable to many of us.
Looking at the analysis from CoSchedule, it seems their algorithm focuses more on statistical data, giving us percentages for word balance. If you’re like me, you’re probably finding out for the first time words can be categorized as common, uncommon, emotional, and power.
What I like about their breakdown is that they point out what I did right. For this specific headline, I make limited use of positive sentiment and passive language, and there’s a strong human connection — but what does that mean?
Sharethrough believes negative emotions drive more traffic, while positive sentiment can disinterest the reader. I don’t know about you, but I can say that that is true for me. My interest tends to spike over what went wrong, rather than what went right.
The human connection comes from using words that relate to people, the body, or self. That’s why fitness and wellness are industries that do really great online; it’s in our human nature to want to be better.
As for passive language, you’d want to avoid that at all times, as it directly impacts how confident you portray yourself to others. You wouldn’t be reading this if I had written “How to Write Headlines that Might Resonate With Your Audience.” How would that be of any help to you?
Suggestions for a Better Headline
As encouraging as it is to know I did something well, the list of suggestions is much more extensive. Some suggestions we can immediately ignore, such as including a brand or a celebrity, but what about the rest?
Increase headline length
Sharethrough partnered with Nielsen Neuro to analyze how the brains of 226 people reacted to headlines and words, using an electroencephalogram (EEG) machine to record brain activity.
Among their many conclusions, they found out people respond better to headlines that contain between 21 to 28 words. That sounds like an insane amount of words to me!
Use more alert words
The purpose of these words is to incite an emotion on the reader. They suggest using words that cause anxiety can drive great amounts of traffic but may tarnish your brand if used excessively.
Use context words
During their analysis, Sharethrough came up with a list of 1,072 words that are guaranteed to grab your audience’s attention. These words are split into four categories: insight, time, space, and motion.
Like CoSchedule, they also have a percentage target for how many context words you should include in your headline, and that’s 17%.
This analysis can be frustrating at times as it mostly focuses on how many words of a given group you use. However, in other ways, CoSchedule gives you more insight into how to craft the perfect headline.
Up to 20–30% of the words you choose should be common. These include words like how, that, with, things, ever, and so on. These are the words that should hold your headline together.
My headline is made of 32% common words, and those are and, that, with, and your.
These words are said to give substance to your headline and should account for 10%–20% of the words used — mine has 0. Words like awesome, love, time, reasons, or something, are all considered uncommon.
This is one point where both algorithms agree: Emotional headlines have the power to grab the reader’s attention. Your headline should be made up of 10%–15% emotional words.
Some examples of such words are absolutely, danger, bravery, worry, wonderful, or spotlight. You can see a complete list of emotional words on the CoSchedule site.
This one is easy: You just have to include one power word. What’s funny is that the examples CoSchedule gives us are made up of multiple words: for the first time, in the world, no questions asked, you need to know, or what happened to.
Suggestions for a Better Headline
Unlike Sharethrough, CoSchedule believes 55 is the ideal average number of characters in a great headline — but you can see their focus is on search engine optimization (SEO) value, rather than emotional engagement.
Ideal character length
Something we’ve all come to realize over time is that what does well on a platform might not do so great on another. The same applies to headlines and where they’re being viewed.
According to a very comprehensive analysis by CoSchedule, these are the ideal character lengths for each communication channel:
- Twitter: 71–100 characters
- Facebook: 40 characters
- LinkedIn: 80–120 characters
- Pinterest: 200 characters
- Email subject: 50 characters
Now, you obviously can’t write five different headlines for the same article, but you can have the character length in mind when promoting it. Hashtags shouldn’t be taken into account, though, when drafting your perfect-length posts.
Their analysis suggests that when skimming through content, readers are more likely to read the first and last three words of a headline. In my case, that would mean How to Write and Message and Your Audience.
That means that you should include the most important words of your headline at the beginning. In my case, that would be Write Headlines, as my article focuses on writing headlines.
Nonetheless, How to Write is still a pretty good hook, and it might capture the attention of people who want to write all sorts of things: headlines, poems, plays, anything.
What Advice Should You Follow?
As corny as it may sound, follow your heart — or your intuition if that’s what you want to call it. You saw how my headline is flawed, and there are certainly ways to improve it, following the tips I got from both algorithms.
At the end of the day, you should choose a headline that makes sense for you.
On one hand, the article “I’m Going to Earn $100 in November and You Can, Too! Follow These 5 Steps” is my third best-performing, despite the low headline score. On the other hand, “How to Make Money on Medium” isn’t even among my top five stories.
The important thing to remember is that you shouldn’t obsess over getting a positive green score on your headline. I used to spend hours playing around with words just so I could please these algorithms — don’t do that.
If you can’t come up with the perfect headline, you may be able to get inspired by some of the examples below. See how many different headlines I could have used for the exact same article, depending on what I’m trying to achieve.
“How To [do something] That [causes emotion] for [someone]”
E.g., “How To Write Headlines That Resonate With Your Message and Audience”
“I [did something] That [gives certain results]. Here’s [the solution]”
E.g., “I Wrote a Headline That Drove Hundreds of Views. Here’s How You Can Do It”
“[Numbered List] for [goal]”
E.g., “The 2 Top Tools I Use to Write Engaging Headlines”
“[Ask a question]”
E.g., “What Should You Focus on When Writing Engaging Headlines?”
What are the biggest struggles you face when coming up with headlines for your articles?