Welcome to the seventh blogging case study installment. In update six I showed you how to generate tons of blog post ideas so that you can keep your blog updated with fresh, valuable content on a regular basis. In this update I’m going to show you how to take those ideas and turn them into blog posts which readers love and other bloggers link to.
The information here has mostly been taken from my own blog posts on ViperChill, since what I said in the past and the examples I gave are still as relevant today as they were back then.
My Basic Writing Process
Adding up over 100 posts for PluginID, around 35 guest posts, and other articles I produced, I wouldn’t be surprised if I wrote over 200,000 published words in 2009. Now with 91 articles on ViperChill in the last two years, the average of which being around 3,000 words, there’s another 250,000+. Not even counting any guest posts, comments, emails or interviews. The reason I’m telling you this is because my writing ‘ability’ back in 2009 was dreadful and I’m sure in 2013 (as long as the world doesn’t end) I’ll look back on the articles here and know much better ways to get my points across.
A lot of you may be thinking that you don’t enjoy writing or maybe you don’t think you’re very good at it. All I can say is that the more you write and check your work, the less frequently you make simple mistakes and you also learn to enjoy the struggle of putting together coherent sentences. The journey of mastery in this area is one of many ups, downs, and plateaus, but if you continue to read and write regularly then you will start to become a better writer. Even the Bronte sisters got off to a bad start.
When I start to write a blog post I always have an idea of what I’m going to write about. I don’t just open my minimalist text editor and have a new idea start leaking itself onto my screen.
Oftentimes I’ll have a title in mind and then simply fill out the content of the post. On occasion I’ll still tweak a post just minutes before it goes live if I re-read it and something doesn’t look right or I think it could be improved.
Something quite unique about my writing process is that I will never edit posts as I go along. I may fix the odd spelling error, but usually I’ll leave all of my mistakes in there. I prefer to say everything I have to say about a subject first before making changes. I’ve found that correcting myself on the go tends to take the flow out of writing.
I didn’t want to say too much on this topic since you’ll undoubtedly come up with your own writing process, but hopefully it gave you some ideas.
How to Write Viral Headlines
Your headline, in my opinion, is by far the most important element of your article or blog post. It of course matters what you say after the headline, but only if you can actually get people to read your article. The job of your headline is simply to get people to read the first sentence of your post.
Your headline doesn’t just need to be attractive to people who stop by your blog regularly. If you use Google Reader in a list format for example – like I do – then your headline determines whether myself or anyone else using the service will click on your listing to read the post. Similarly, if I see content posted on Facebook or retweeted on Twitter, that same headline will determine whether I click through to your website.
The following advice is my take on how to create a headline that draws your readers in and helps your content go viral.
Don’t tell me something I know: If your headline says something like “Why exercise is good for you” or “How to increase your feed subscribers” then I probably won’t read it. It gives me nothing but the expectation that I already know most of what the article is going to share. If you want someone to keep reading, you need them to feel like they’ll actually get value out of the time they’re going to spend doing so.
Headline example: Printer Cartridges Are Expensive
Challenge someones beliefs: One of my most popular posts on PluginID bore the title ‘Smoking is Good for you’. As everyone knows, there are many reasons why smoking is detrimental to your health, so this caused quite a stir and invoked the desire for people to continue reading. I followed up the title with a good twist in the article, which is important if you’re going to write your headline with such an angle.
If you write an article – with the content to back it up – which tells me why “running is bad for you”, “people don’t read blogs anymore” or “[common tactic] no longer works”, I’m going to read the post. Humans love taking in new information, but we hate holding on to information which is incorrect, so challenging beliefs can be a very powerful to get eyeballs on your content.
Headline example: Why Buying Another Printer is Cheaper Than Buying Ink
Offer a hidden insight: This one is very common in the internet marketing space, with titles offering ‘keys’, ‘secrets’ and ‘crucial aspects’ about different topics. I’ve used them myself in blog posts like my article on ‘The Secret to Growing Your Blog Twice as Fast with Half the Effort‘.
This works so well because the title suggests that by reading the article, we’ll learn something we wouldn’t have known otherwise. A year or two ago I did this for a popular topic – how to increase feed subscribers – but in a way that was new and promised value. The title was ‘How to Increase RSS Subscribers (One Method You Probably Don’t Know About)’. Are you more likely to read that article than an article with the same title, but without the brackets?
Headline example: The Real Reason Behind the High-Cost of Printer Cartridges
Ask a question: If the question you ask is relevant and intriguing, people are going to read your post to see why you feel a certain way about something. Headlines with questions are also one of the best ways to get people to leave comments on your posts. The question automatically gives them something to say in response.
Discussions start from questions, and this is a great way to get a conversation going in your community, especially if you make bold statements on a hot topic. There’s a great example of this kind of post at Copyblogger, where the author asks: Is Commenting on Blogs a Smart Traffic Strategy? [Link]
Headline example: Do You Know Why Printer Ink is so Expensive? We Reveal the Truth
I’ve received a lot of praise for the headlines I use in posts and I’ve been asked numerous times whether headline writing comes naturally to me. The answer is no, it doesn’t. I find inspiration from magazine covers, books, and other bloggers along with my own imagination. I also spend quite a lot of time on each title and it’s never something I just “throw out there.”
Keep these ideas in mind, and you’ll soon be writing headlines which capture the attention of your audience and help your content go viral.
I’ve analysed dozens of blogs to find out what types of headlines result in posts getting hundreds of links. Before I share the result of my findings, let’s give a quick personal example…
Actual Headline Analysis
Though I think the following analysis is far more important than my own examples, some people will need some “proof” that I know what I’m talking about. For those people, here’s a few of my posts, with their accompanying link count:
- WordPress SEO: The Only Guide You Need – 433 links
- Guest Blogging: The Ultimate Guide – 297 links
- The Highest Converting Facebook Page I’ve Ever Seen – 307 links
And it’s not just in the marketing niche where I can do it either. Here’s an example for a guest post that I wrote in the personal development field:
- 8 Harsh Truths That Will Dramatically Improve Your Life – 225 links
Do you notice anything in common with those blog posts? Since I didn’t link to them, the commonality shouldn’t be too hard to spot. For those of you who are confused, they all – at least, in my opinion – have excellent headlines. They have headlines which make you want to read the post, and content which you’ll get value from.
They are ultimately the type of post that other sites naturally want to link to.
Getting links is so important not only for increased search engine rankings, but for the sheer number of new visitors who can land on your website when other blogs talk about you. As these links can decide whether you rise to the ranks of the A-list or continue to write for an audience of one, let’s continue to look at how you can craft headlines which get read, and get links.
The Item-Hype Formula: Secret Template Revealed
The Item:Hype formula is simply the name I’ve attached to a style of headline I see that is both popular and effective. It basically allows you to create a title that catches people’s attention that can work in any industry. The name of this headline style is actually the headline style itself. Item: is the subject you’re talking about and Hype is the follow up which makes people want to read it.
For example, a post I mentioned earlier, WordPress SEO: The Only Guide You Need. The start is the item – the topic I’m talking about – and after the colon is the hype.
Other bloggers have successfully used this title, in cases such as:
- Open Source Blogging: Feel Free to Steal My Content – 1,638 links
- Geek to Freak: How I Gained 34 lbs. of Muscle in 4 Weeks – 1,310 links
This simple strategy can even make shoes and conversion testing interesting. Don’t believe me?
- Vibram Five Fingers: The Barefoot Alternative – 607 links
There’s an alternative to going barefoot? People actually walk around barefoot? The headline creates questions in my mind, and I want to read the post to get answers. If you get creative, you can even flip this format around.
The Last Guide to Writing Headlines You’ll Ever Need…
…is a great example of another headline structure which gets attention, and ultimately links. The aim of this second type of headline is to provide some sort of ultimate ending, or hint of “finality” (I’m sure there’s a proper word for that) in the search for good content on a certain topic.
Based on how it is processed in our minds, it may even lead you to read a post on a topic you wouldn’t normally be interested in, since you don’t want to miss the chance to get the best content on that subject.
“What do you have to lose? It will only take a few minutes to read. I don’t want to regret not having read this in the future.”
That’s the thought process we want happening in the minds of our readers. Some popular headlines in this category include:
- 15 Coolest Firefox Tricks Ever – 697 links
- Zen To Done: The Ultimate Simple Productivity System – 1,277 links
- How to Discover Your Life Purpose in About 20 Minutes – 1,407 links
- The Bloggers Guide to SEO – 2,540 links
The first headline makes me think two things. One, it’s okay that I missed other Firefox tricks guides posted online. Two, no better post has ever been written on this topic, so I should read it. If I was looking for a productivity system, then the second headline assures me that I’ve found the one I should be following.
Explore how you can use the “end of the search” concept in your post titles. Words like “Ultimate”, “Ever”, “Need”, and “Greatest” should help get you started.
Six Examples of Powerful Headlines
You can’t write a post on attractive headlines that doesn’t include the list post. It’s something that has been around for years and remains popular to this day. List posts are attractive because they give the idea of quality, variety, and a post that is easy to read. You can find them on almost every big blog out there, and they can easily go viral if done well.
- 10 Virtually Instant Ways to Improve Your Life – 232 links
- The Not-To-Do List: 9 Habits to Stop Now – 872 links
- 10 Benefits of Rising Early, and How to Do It – 1195 links
- 101 Ways to Build Link Popularity – 5,570 links
- 40+ Tips to Improve your Grammar and Punctuation – 209 links
- 279 Days to Overnight Success – 3,330 links
Of course, putting a number in your headline alone wont help to make the post a success. Think of using a list headline for an idea that already has the chance to go viral. For example, “Virtually Instant Ways to Improve Your Life” and “The Not-To-Do List: The Habits to Stop Now” are good titles, and brilliant post ideas. They’re simply made more attractive with the introduction of figures.
My Best Example By Far
The final headline concept I’ve found to work well is to invoke curiosity. You can peak someone’s interest so much that they have little choice but to click on your post headline — even if it isn’t clear what your article is about. Similarly, you can “tease” people and give them a taster with your headline. If the bait is tempting enough, you’ll get them to read the post.
Some articles that put this into action include:
- Travel Full-Time for Less than $14,000 Per Year – 369 links
- 7 Secrets of the Super Organised – 279 links
- 10 Reasons You Should Never Get a Job – 3,390 links
The first example is an excellent one in my opinion because it gives us the bait, and promises to solve it with a surprise. Being able to “travel full-time” is going to get anyone’s attention, especially if you couple it with such a low price point. The second headline makes me curious to know what those secrets are, and the third sounds interesting with a bit of controversy thrown in, so I want to read that as well.
Taking the idea from the first headline, I could also use the three other template examples in this post to craft attractive titles around the same concept:
- Travel Ninja: How to See the World on a Miniscule Budget (Item:Hype Formula)
- The Last Guide to Travel Hacking You’ll Ever Need to Read (Finality Formula)
- 21 Steps to Exploring the Planet for Next to Nothing (List Post Formula)
- Discover How Travelling the Globe Is Cheaper Than Renting An Apartment (Curiosity Formula)
It’s so easy to use these formulas to come up with headlines that are going to – quite simply – get a lot more people reading your content. If you just spend an hour or so trying to put these into practice, you should easily be able to come up with 20 ideas which follow a proven methods of getting links.
How to Quickly Make All Of This Irrelevant
It’s going to be next to impossible to get hundreds of links to your post if you read all of this but forget to take something very important into account. If you don’t have the content to “back up” your awesome headline, then it’s pointless crafting such a good headline in the first place.
Your headline, first and foremost, is purely designed to get people to read the rest of your post. Even though they’re reading it, they still have to enjoy it if they’re going to share it. If that wasn’t obvious.
If I’m going to write a post about WordPress SEO and call it “the only guide you need” then I can’t just give a few generic tips on the subject, I literally have to make it the best guide online. If I call my link trio method a “simple, yet powerful, link building tactic” then it has to be both simple to implement and highly effective.
Just adding this in for any nitpickers: The link counts for the posts are never going to be perfectly accurate. I took the counts from both the Yahoo Site Explorer and the Open Site Explorer. The point of the post remains intact: Good headlines help posts get links. Thanks to the following sites for providing me with these excellent examples: DumbLittleMan, ZenHabits, Lifehack, FourHourWorkWeek, Chris Guillebeau, SEO Book, Steve Pavlina and I Will Teach You To Be Rich.
Some of you may think that these sites are big, so that’s why they get hundreds of links to their posts. I would personally argue that they’re big because they get hundreds of links to their posts. ViperChill certainly hasn’t grown to 19,000 subscribers so quickly because I write the same content as everyone else.
Your content is what sets you apart from any other blog, so don’t take its importance for granted. You can improve your writing today just by deciding today that you will start reading books regularly if you aren’t already. We’ve shown that the length of your blog posts should generally vary quite a lot depending on which niche you operate in.
Creating viral content starts with your headline, but continues with the message you have to share. Both should be thought of in equal measure.