Frame a Powerful Story Starting with a Strong Headline and an Effective Call to Action

Your great idea deserves a powerful story. A good story can be the backbone of your marketing strategy and encourage customers to connect with you.  But you’re never going to attract an audience if you don’t first give them an enticing headline. And you’re not going to grow your business without a clear (and non-spammy) call to action.

Russian guards
A powerful story connects you with the right person. (Photo: Pexels)

Does Every Story Need a. Headline and a Call to Action?

It depends. What are your goals? 

If you’re writing for yourself, then no. People write all the time and don’t worry about this stuff. Say you’re capturing vacation details for friends and family. They’ll read your content anyway; no need to worry about headlines or calls to action.

But if your goal is a business one, to attract readers who become customers or followers, then yes, you need a strong headline and a call to action that will generate the results

Sure, cute puppy pictures will get attention. You still need a headline. (Photo: Elena Mozhvilo on Unsplash)

How to Write Eye-Catching Headlines

Here’s where the experts will drive you crazy. I’m going to give you the best advice I can, at the time this content is published. However,

  • Search engines evolve and trends change. What makes a good headline today may not work next month.
  • You’re a human being writing for other humans. Don’t let your desire for great search rankings get in the way of good writing.
  • Above all, don’t go all click-baity.

Headline Guidelines

This step is easier If you’ve done some planning and keyword research. A deep understanding of your audience will help you craft an appealing headline.

Headline Length

Some experts will tell you headlines should be four to six words long for legibility on mobile devices. Others insist headlines need to be at least 10 words long  to get attention from search engines.

 I’ve found it depends on the platform on which you’re publishing. For example, social media apps are designed for quick, easily-digestible chunks of content viewed on mobile devices. Other platforms  are  intended for long form content (Medium is an example.). These are designed for reading on any device, from phones to laptops to tablets.

Your readers’ expectations,  your writing style, and editorial considerations should guide your decision.

Readers will find you on any device, anywhere. (Photo: Mitchell Ng Liang, Unsplash)

Incorporate Your Target Keyword

The closer to the beginning of your headline you can place it, the better for both human readers and search engines. It quickly signals the topic you’re going to cover

Promise to Address a Problem, Explain a Benefit, or Offer a Feature

Build expertise into your headline with phrases like “How to…” “Three Challenges Facing…”, “Worried About….”, “Why You Need….”

Drafting Your Headline

Unfortunately, there’s not much magic here. Writing a great headline is hard work. It takes practice. I’m still practicing and I’ve been writing for years.

Create a list of 5-10 candidate headlines. Play with the sequence of words, rearrange them to see if that adds punch. Look for a combination of powerful, emotional, and uncommon words. 

If you’re new to this, an online headline checker like CoSchedule or ShareThrough can be helpful. Both tools will give you great feedback and share useful tips on how to improve by scoring each headline you try with suggestions for alternative words.

But Don’t Write Clickbait

You know those headlines that scream at you with sensational promises but deliver nothing but junk? That’s clickbait. Don’t write clickbait.. 

Here’s why: some  search engines can identify clickbait and will score your content lower if they think you’ve written some.

So don’t write clickbait.

Engage Readers With a Call to Action

A call to action (CTA) is what you want your reader to do once they’ve finished reading your content. You might want them to:

  • Download a freebie like a white paper, a checklist, or a template.
  • Sign up for your newsletter, a webinar, or an event where you’ll be showcased.
  • Follow you on social media.
  • Buy your product or service.

The action you’ll want will be different depending on your goals, where you are in the marketing funnel, and what kind of relationship you have with the reader. 

I Hate Calls to Action!

I get that; some people worry about sounding too “sales-y.” But hang on a sec. Remember you’re promising to solve a problem for a customer. Why lead them this far then drop them like a bowl of hot popcorn?

If you want to build a relationship with your reader, this is where you nudge them to the next step. You don’t have to be all “call me now!!!!” Use a gentle approach to let the reader know it’s up to them: they can choose to follow your CTA to not. If they like what you’re saying, they will continue the conversation with you; the decision is in their hands. It’s as simple as that.

How to Write a Strong CTA

Sign: Everything is going to be alright
(Photo: MB Deans)

Call to Action Done? You’re Almost Ready to Write.

Take a deep breath and pat yourself on the back. The hardest part is done.

Now that you have an opening, a closing, and your keywords, outline the major points that will tell a powerful story. As you’re writing, identify where you want to add:

  • Links to other websites
  • At least one link to a page in your website
  • Links to other interesting sources of information like research, videos, or data sources.
  • Images and video

Tools You Can Use

I use three headline checkers, depending on what I’m writing:

  • CoSchedule’s freemium headline analyzer is a great way to learn how to write headlines. (You want a score of 70 or higher.) 
  • StrikeThrough is equally good. It’s pitched towards advertising and social media headlines, but I find its context word dictionary very useful. (Shoot for a score of 71 or higher.)
  • Another great analyzer is the American Marketing Institute’s Emotional Marketing Value analyzer. (Scoring is a bit different: aim for 30-40% emotional value.)

A thesaurus is an incredibly valuable tool for writing headlines and calls to action. I love WordHippo for the way they’ve grouped synonyms and RelatedWords for those times when you need something that’s not-quite-a-synonym. 

Pro Tips

  • Take your time. Search algorithms aside, you’re writing for busy people. You have just a few seconds to grab their attention. It’s worth sleeping on an idea and fretting about getting the wording just right.
  • Don’t be afraid to be bold, but know there’s a fine line between bold and off-putting. Follow your gut on this one: balance your comfort level against what will get attention.
  • At the risk of repeating myself one more time, don’t miss an opportunity to include a call to action. Seriously. You went to all this work, why blow the payoff? (You’d be surprised how many people get this far and forget this last step.)

Next Up

Congratulations! You’ve completed three steps out of my four step road map for writing great content. Next up: “Write Content That Tells Your Unique Story.

How Can I Help?

Tired of worrying over a headline? Stuck on your call to action? Schedule some time on my calendar for a 30-minute conversation. Let me help you with this tough task.