Sucks, doesn’t it?
You know how important headlines are. You know the success of your blog hinges on your headlines. And you know that yours aren’t getting the job done.
Your blog posts just sit there collecting e-dust because your headlines barely get clicked.
So what are you doing wrong?
What are your headlines missing?
Well, chances are your headlines don’t exploit your audience’s human nature enough.
If you want your headlines to connect with your audience, you need to exploit their drives, their instincts, and, at the risk of sounding cynical, their utter self-absorption.
In fact, if you want to write better headlines, you should take lessons from those who exploit human nature on a daily basis — con artists, sleazy politicians, and anyone who manipulates people to further their own agenda.
You just have to be careful not to cross over to the dark side.
Let me explain…
Why You Must Write Headlines Like a Skilled Manipulator (Even If That’s Not Your Style)
Con men will say whatever you want to hear to get inside your wallet. Sleazy politicians will make any false promise and tell any half-truth if it means they’ll get your vote.
These skilled manipulators know exactly which buttons to push to get people to do what they want. They’re rotten scoundrels — and you, my friend, could stand to be more like them.
“What? I don’t want to be a scoundrel! I don’t want to manipulate anyone!”
Relax. I’m not saying you should.
As bloggers, we’re not in the market of manipulation — but we are in the market of persuasion. And there’s only the finest of lines between the two.
Think about it. The goal for both is to convince people to do what you want them to do. Con men want you to give them their money, while politicians want you to give them your vote. You want people to click your headlines and read your posts.
The only difference is that manipulation implies a degree of deception, while persuasion does not.
It’s no wonder the success of both relies on pushing the right buttons.
Want to find out what those are?
How to Push the Right Buttons and Make Your Headlines Irresistibly Clickable
We all respond when certain buttons are pushed.
When we lose someone we love, we cry. When something pisses us off, we raise our voice. And when we open a bag of Cheetos, that sucker is empty ten minutes later.
It’s not exactly the same for everybody, but no matter how we respond, we will respond.
It’s in our nature.
And if you want to write headlines that appeal to your audience and get them to respond with a click, you need to know how to push the right buttons.
So let’s find out how to push those.
#1. Promise to Grant Their Wishes
Okay, this one’s familiar, right? You’ve probably heard your headline should offer the reader something they want.
But as familiar as it is, too many bloggers get this one wrong. They focus their headline on something they want their audience to want, or something they think their audience should want.
When you use this appeal in your headlines you have to ask yourself, “If I asked my audience what they wanted most right now, would anyone give this as an answer?”
At first glance, the first one doesn’t look half bad. But if you asked an audience of entrepreneurs what they wanted most right now, would anyone answer, “I want to write a stellar business plan”?
On the other hand, they might well answer that they want investors to fund their business.
That’s the difference.
#2. Give Them a Scapegoat
“It’s not your fault.”
Those are four words everybody loves to hear when they feel like they’ve failed or made a mistake.
Because let’s face it, we all hate feeling like a failure or screw-up. Our egos would much rather shift the blame elsewhere so we can keep feeling good about ourselves.
So when your headline offers readers a valid excuse for not achieving their hopes and dreams, they’ll eat that up like warm chocolate pie.
#3. Point the Finger of Blame
You can also take the opposite approach. Instead of pointing the finger at someone else, you can point it at your reader. You tell them their failures are all their own fault.
This appeals to the same basic desire as before — the desire not to feel like a screw-up. We’ll do anything to avoid mistakes and get things right because we want to avoid making fools of ourselves.
If we’re doing something wrong, we want to know so we can fix it.
#4. Call Upon Their Tribal Sense
We are social creatures with an instinctual drive to belong. We don’t live in tribes in the same way our ancestors did, but this drive still exists in us nonetheless. These days, we use personal attributes to define which tribes we belong to.
For example, you might be a man, 40-something, married, entrepreneur, father, and theater fan. Or you might be a woman, 20-something, single, blogger, writer, and book lover.
These are all different kinds of “tribes” you might be part of. Calling one out in your headline will get the attention of anyone who feels like they belong to it.
But that’s not all. You can also use tribes to which your audience aspires to belong — the ones they wish they were a part of but aren’t quite yet. For instance, if you aspire to be a six-figure entrepreneur or best-selling author, any headline that mentions these tribes would get your attention too.
*Notice how this headline states both the tribe the audience belongs to (Startups) AND the tribe they aspire to be part of (Top Silicon Valley Companies).
#5. Scare the Living Crap Out of Them
Fear and anxiety are powerful emotions. Everyone has experienced them at some point in their lives. They’re primal instincts that can override our brains and make us forget about everything else around us.
So imagine the power of a headline that stokes your readers’ biggest fears and anxieties.
Is their worst nightmare coming true? Are they right to be afraid? They’ll have to click to find out.
#6. Put Their Worried Mind to Rest
While scaring the daylights out of your readers is fun, it’s not the only way you can use fear in your headlines. You can also take the opposite approach.
Just like your mom used to do when you were scared as a child, tell them there’s nothing to be afraid of.
Promise they can avoid the situations that cripple them with anxiety. Promise they can keep their nightmares from coming true. Promise they can take their desired actions without the disastrous consequences.
If your headline promises to relieve their fears, they’ll want to find out more.
#7. Help Them Be Lazier
Let’s face it. If given the choice, we want to get stuff done quickly and easily, so we have more time to relax and do the things we enjoy.
Unfortunately, we often get stuck with tedious or complicated tasks that take a lot of time and effort to complete.
Can you help your audience simplify or fast-forward through those tasks? Use this promise in your headline.
#8. Confirm Their Worst Suspicions
Have you ever watched a movie where you guessed the twist before it happened? Didn’t it make you feel smart for seeing it coming way before anyone else?
That’s the emotion we want to evoke with this appeal. Everybody loves having their suspicions, theories or opinions validated with some cold, hard proof. Let’s face it, we just love being proven right. (It beats being wrong!)
So when a headline promises to give us that validation, we want to know more. Because having uninformed opinions is one thing, but having facts to back them up — that’s catnip.
#9. Demolish Their Conventional Wisdom
Breaking with conventional wisdom is a powerful way to grab attention.
When everyone repeats a certain idea, we’re prone to accept it as true. And the more we see an idea repeated, the stronger our belief in that idea becomes. At some point, we treat these beliefs as common sense.
But we don’t always get it right, do we? And when you can point out how everyone else got it wrong, you’ll shock people out of their comatose state.
They’ll either be curious to find out whether you can back up your claim, or eager to prove you wrong. But in either case, they click.
#10. Hate on Your Common Enemies
You may have heard this phrase before: The enemy of my enemy is my friend.
And it’s true. Shared animosity is a powerful unifier.
So when your headline takes aim at someone (or something) your audience hates, they’ll feel like you’re on their side. They’ll want to find out what you have to say because, as mentioned before, people are always looking for confirmation.
It’s a powerful appeal, but try not to become an outright hate-monger. Remember, we’re trying not to cross over to the dark side!
Exploit Human Nature and Get Your Headlines Clicked
As a blogger, you know that understanding your audience is key to your success. But that goes deeper than understanding their unique struggles and interests. You must also understand their very nature.
You must know what makes people tick. You must know what drives them. You must know which buttons to push to make them click your headlines.
Go through the list above and answer all the questions. That will give you a list of topics to write about.
Put each one in a headline template, add a power word or two, and you’ll end up with amazingly appealing headlines.
If you push the right buttons, your audience can’t help but respond.
So go ahead and push those buttons.