Get 10,000 Views on a Single Article – Lesson 1
Here are some highlights from this free training. Todd Brison and I go pretty deep on these topics, so I haven’t put everything we discussed. My suggestion is to scan the written content below, and also watch the videos for theory, examples, and discussion around why we believe this stuff is so important.
What is a headline?
A headline is a bold statement, a list, a way to define the target audience, the title of your story or essay. If your headline sucks, your story will not get read. The headline is arguably the most important part of any piece of writing.
How to write better headlines
The best way to get better at writing headlines is to write them every single day. The other day, I (Tim) was nearly asleep when a great headline popped into my head. I literally pulled myself out of bed and emailed it to myself. That way when I wake up in the morning, I’ve got a fresh headline waiting in my inbox. That’s my process. There are actually 148 headlines in my inbox right now just waiting to be written.
Writing headlines every day isn’t just helpful for getting better at writing headlines, it’s also great for preventing writer’s block. Your headline collection tells you where to start writing. When you write as many headlines as I do, you’ll never start from scratch again.
Todd uses a slightly different process but the same principle. He uses Evernote to collect ideas for headlines. Every Sunday he reviews them all and picks out 3-5 ideas that he’s going to write that week.
My process always starts with writing headlines first. After I’ve got the headline down, I’ll write the article. Instead of using all my creative juice for an article with no headline, I’ll write a whole bunch of headlines and send them to myself.
What makes a good headline?
As previously mentioned, a good headline is direct and to the point. People should not be confused about the meaning of your article when they read the headlines.
A clickbait headline is not a good headline. Plus, if you’re writing on Medium, there is no chance a clickbait headline will get curated. Here are a few examples of how to fix a clickbait headline:
- Clickbait: You’ll Never Believe What this Great Investor Said About the Way Money Will Work in 2020 and Beyond.
- Not Clickbait: Warren Buffett’s Recent Explanation of How Money Now Works Is the Most Important in History (This is an actual article I wrote)
- Explanation: The second headline is more specific. I’m telling you exactly what you are goign to get in this article.
- Clickbait: The Most Horrendous Branding Choice Any Company has Ever Made
- Not Clickbait: The Worst Rebrand in the History of Orange Juice (This is a post my friend Niklas Goke wrote)
- Explanation: By dialing back from “any company” to just “orange juice,” Nik had a real chance to actually defend this claim.
- Clickbait: These 4 Super Simple Hacks will Change your Life Forever
- Not Clickbait: How to Manage Your Time and Learn New Things Every Day (This is a post Todd wrote)
- Explanation: Again, this is a more specific headline. Todd is talking about two specific ways to improve your life. He gives clear guidance for each one in the post.
Bottom line – if you’re worried about your headline sounding like clickbait, make it more specific.
How can you make your headlines different?
You don’t want to make your headlines completely esoteric and vague. (The headline “On Writing” is a terrible headline). But you do want to make your headline a little more unique than the thousands of other headlines your potential reader will see in a day.
Think of a headline like this: what are you adding to the conversation?
Make your headline all about the reader. Address their problem, desire, goal, or a common thing they should avoid. Keep it simple. Use words people know. “Hoodwinked” is a word people have to google the meaning of. Try something like “tricked” instead.
My two best hacks for writing headlines
I almost don’t want to share these, but it’s too good of a trick to keep from you. Here are my two bulletproof ways to come up with headlines when they aren’t popping into my head in the shower or while I’m trying to fall asleep.
#1 – Take the top highlight of an article and use it as a headline.
On Medium, you can see the top highlight on anyone’s post. Since you know that language resonates with people, why not simply use it as a headline? That’s exactly what I did with my post 3 Hours of Creative Flow Each Day is All You Need to Change Your Life.
This line was originally written by my friend Ben Hardy. I give him credit in the article, of course, which is a practice I highly recommend you follow.
#2 – Take the first sentence of a social media post and use it as a headline
If you have a bit of a social media habit like I do, why not use your platform to test out headline ideas?
When one of my posts does well on LinkedIn, I’ll take the first sentence of that post and use it as the headline for an article. I’ll then use the rest of the posts to expand on the article.
You don’t have to have a massive following for this to work. Pretend you have 712 followers on Twitter. You tweet something. 8 people like it and one person retweets it. This should tell you something.
What is a Subhead?
A subtitle is just an alternative headline. One Medium, this is the other part of what people see when they are scrolling through articles to read. Subtitle mastery is kind of a dark art. It takes some time to understand. But it’s invaluable for getting those 10,000 views.
A few good formulas for subhead
Here are two easy hacks to writing subtitles that work:
- Give your first point in the subtitle
- Pull a quote in as your subtitle
For example, I once wrote an internet friendly post called “13 Ways I Completely Changed My Life in a Year and So Can You.” My subtitle was simply the second point in the article: “Take a shit job.”
I also could have used a quote from the post as a subhead. “Denial is the enemy of reinvention.” That’s a pretty good subhead.