Headlines are not easy. In fact, getting them right can be straight up tough. And in an age where there is a genuine saturation of content in every direction we look, they’ve never been more important.
Your headline is, for want of a better word, your ‘sell’. As a user scrolls through their various social platforms, you essentially have a second or less to entice and engage.
Too often have we spoken with clients who have created excellent pieces that have been viewed less than a hundred times simply because of a weak first impression.
But getting them right is about far more than choosing the right words, using a catchy format or toying with the curiosity gap. Instead, it's about aligning your headline with what your audience really wants – and using it to show them that you can give them the information they seek.
By taking this psychology-led approach to your headlines, you can ensure that good content gets the levels of attention it truly deserves.
Nail down the basics with the driver-barrier-opportunity model
When you set out on a content creating journey, be it a single piece or a full-blown strategic campaign, you need to first decide who the piece is for – and in some detail.
As a business, you probably already have an idea of what your ideal customer looks like. However, within this profile, you should be able to pin down clearer pictures of who these people are, what they want, and how you can provide this for them.
An inbound philosophy should be human, helpful and holistic – and a great way to nail this down is to use the driver-barrier-opportunity model.
It couldn't be more straightforward:
- Identify the drivers that will make your prospective customers want to do business with you;
- Identify the barriers (real or imagined) that will give them cause for hesitation;
- Identify the opportunities that arise out of these – things that will make the drivers seem more visible, and will make the barriers seem more surmountable.
Let's break it down step by step.
Let’s say that you're running a small digital agency and your persona is a gentleman named David who owns and operates an emerging accounting services firm.
Although David is getting a reasonable footfall into his business, and has a website, he has not yet launched any form of digital strategy to make the most of his online presence.
So, what are the factors that would encourage or ‘drive’ David to work with your digital agency? Some examples might be:
- David wants to grow his business and increase revenue
- He realises digital is more cost-effective than alternatives, particularly at lower budgets
- He knows bringing in expertise can save time and make the process more effective
- And that digital offers more precise targeting capabilities – which is ideal for smaller businesses and niche industries
Now, we need to pin down the potential obstacles that would cause ol' Dave to second-guess his desire to work with you.
What could possibly get in the way?
- He might believe that working with an agency will be too time-consuming
- And that it will be too expensive
- He has little industry knowledge – therefore difficult to choose one agency versus another in a large field of competitors
- He might be embarrassed about his knowledge gap in digital, and doesn't want to initiate the conversation
- He believes that the business is too niche for a digital campaign
By analysing David’s barriers and drivers, you should be able to quickly identify content opportunities that will encourage his incentives and highlight how the potential (and often misconceived) obstacles can easily be overcome.
Methodically address your persona's thought processes and simply identify avenues that can educate and help them develop their knowledge base further...
And now... get scribbling
Once you have identified the opportunities that can be derived from your persona's drivers and barriers, it's time to get to work.
With just a few words at your disposal, it's crucial that you hang your headline around the opportunities that you have pinned down. Not only will these stand out more plainly on social, on your landing pages and in your email subject lines – but they will also be far more likely to align with your audience's search intent.
As long as you keep them short, to the point and easy to understand, you'll be on the right track – just have a look at this sample set below (with the key trigger phrases highlighted in blue).
By establishing this firm structure and strategic approach to your headlines, you can be sure of producing engaging titles that will improve your content's performance across every metric.
If David thinks that engaging with a digital agency will be a little too saucy for his liking, highlight the high return on investment that can be derived from an effective strategy and back it up with hard numbers and stats.
If he doesn’t have a lot of time, show him how little effort and time it takes to get where he needs to be - with your business as his helpful, caring guide.
Whatever the driver or barrier may be, your headline (and, crucially, the content behind it) should always aim to help your target persona move forward and guide them onto the next stage of the buyer’s journey.