How a Few Measly Words Can Dramatically Improve Your Blog Headline and Content

How a Few Measly Words Can Dramatically Improve Your Blog Headline and Content

Reader Comments (64)

  1. Excellent advice – as ever.

    It’s tough trying to nail down the title, and I often find myself spending more time on it than the post itself.

    Note taken!

    Simon Dance

  2. This is sound advice that reflects and expounds on Mark Twain’s famous and pithy proverb, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”

    Nice work.

  3. Great advice…

    I’m tired of seeing:
    “____ is the key to success!”
    “____ is the key to making money online”

    You’re right, it’d be much more powerful expanding those goofy headlines into more complete and specific thoughts.

  4. Thanks for the suggestions! I think you’re right on target–sorry for the lame pun–and just adding that extra layer of specificity will make it easier to write and get people to actually look at your content.

  5. Cool article. I first write the article and then work on the headline. I didn’t have a name to what I was doing until now – adding measly words to the headline.


  6. Very nice article. I’m really glad I’ve subscribed to your RSS feed. This is totally sound advice. Also, the power of just a few words can be huge. If I’m not mistaken, the purpose of every sentence is not only get your message across but also to encourage the reader to move on to the next sentence. So even a few inches can make the difference between someone continuing to read and clicking the back button.

  7. I really loved this article – I’m struggling with this and have read the advice on the 50/50 rule, etc., so this was perfect. Great example building.

    One question: If this was an article that I wrote, I would have balked at the title of the article for one reason: Length. But now I’m questioning that, since the length of the title didn’t deter me from reading this. So the question is, how does the length of the title factor in?

    Thanks – you have no idea how much this helps. Constantly trying to improve the quality of my content with tips like this.

  8. Great post, Sean-

    I totally agree with what you are saying about including key words in the title, but just playing devil’s advocate here- wouldn’t it be possible that perhaps writers are leaving out certain words so that readers will read through the post to find out more about it? Also, there’s the issue (from a journalism standpoint) of the title being too long if you include more words, which in and of itself may bore the reader. Just a thought.

  9. Would you balk at the length of the title? Well, there’s a reason why a title works or doesn’t. To answer your question, I have to refer to a complete article. But I’ll post the answer here (well, the article here) and you’ll see how the length of the headline doesn’t matter at all. What matters is the number of thoughts in the headline.

    So first, let me do some cut and paste. And then at the end direct you to a link, in case this cut and paste doesn’t work out like it should.

    Let’s say I told you to go down to the supermarket.

    And I gave you directions.

    Take the first left, and then take a right at the fifth corner. After which you take a U-Turn at the traffic lights. But don’t miss the right hand turn, which you’ll see right after the roundabout.


    What just went on there, you wonder…

    You see I confused you on purpose. And you knew that. But most of the time, you’re not seeking to confuse customers with your headlines. And yet, time and again, you end up writing headlines that seem to confuse the heck out of everyone.

    What’s worse is that you CAN fix the headline in a flash.

    If you knew what to do, that is.

    So let’s cut the chatter, shall we? Let’s look at why most headlines are confusing. And headlines are confusing, simply because we confuse the thoughts.

    Huh, what do thoughts have to do with headlines?

    Ok, so why were you confused when I gave you directions in the first paragraph? Yes, there were way too many thoughts involved. So while your brain was trying to hold onto one thought, the second thought stomped in, quickly followed by a third and the fourth.

    So let’s look at a confusing headline shall we?

    Example: Is your personal services business struggling to find enough new clients because you are making these classic mistakes with your best clients?

    So how many thoughts did you detect in the line above? Let’s see.

    Thought 1: Struggling to find enough new clients.
    Thought 2: Making classic mistakes with your clients.


    Now let’s separate these thoughts and rewrite them

    Headline 1: Are you struggling to find new consulting clients?
    Headline 2: Are you making these classic mistakes with your clients?

    But, but, but you say…

    Because what I’ve effectively done is treated the concept as two headlines, when in fact the writer wanted to write one headline—and convey the exact thoughts above.

    So how do we use both thoughts without losing the gist of the concept?

    Why, that’s easy. You don’t write it all in one headline.

    That’s the biggest reason why you have sub-headlines.
    I’ll say it again. That’s why you have sub-headlines.

    So yeah, if you’re that peachy keen to get the very same thought in the headline you just go choppity chop, and split the headline down the center!

    And here’s what you’ll get:

    Are you struggling to find new consulting clients?
    (How to avoid making these classic mistakes when prospecting)

    See what just happened above?

    We took two mangled thoughts, and separated them. We bathed them, freshened the thoughts up a bit, and re-presented it without any confusion.

    Confusion that begins once you start exceeding 14-16 words. Or to put it another way, your headlines shouldn’t exceed 14-16 words.

    Come to think of it, none of your lines should exceed 14 words. Why? Because a line represents a thought. And when you write a line that exceeds 14 words, guess what happens?

    Yes, another thought sneaks in through the cracks. Before you know it, a couple or even a trio of thoughts have taken residence. And then your brain feels like a grocery list you can’t remember.

    Imagine having a page, full of grocery lists you can’t remember

    You’re trying to get an idea across, but your client reading the information is inundated with multiple thoughts. And instantly, their brain starts going into shut-down mode. This of course, is the last thing you want.

    And we haven’t even taken the visual aspect into consideration

    We are visual creatures. When we see too much, our brain presses the ‘exit, exit’ button and wants to get out in a massive hurry.

    The longer, denser, and more clumped your headlines, lines, and paragraphs turn out to be, the less it’s going to get read.

    Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that you write less. What I’m suggesting is that you do the following.

    a) Keep your headlines (and lines) focused on one thought.
    b) Keep your lines visually short. It helps readability.
    c) Keep adequate spacing between your paragraphs to avoid overload.

    This simple act of brevity causes your reader to focus on what you really want to tell them.

    Don’t get intimidated with length or lack of length of your headline.

    Concentrate on the power of the thought.

    Um…one, one thought will do just fine!

    The direct link is at:


  10. Janelle: About long and short titles, I’ve answered that above. About leaving things out, yes it’s possible to leave things out, but there needs to be a strategic move towards leaving things out.

    e.g. Do you make these mistakes in English?
    ‘These’ creates curiosity. But it’s strategically placed. And it still has a target: those who want to improve their English. And still has a specific of ‘mistakes’.

    Curiosity can be used to dramatic effect, but in most cases, writers are clueless about the structure of a sad vs. good vs. great headline. I’ve just written a report today , and it took me 25 pages to just explain the various facets of headlines. And I’m only half done 😉

    It’s amazing when you approach headlines as a science vs. just something that you need to write. And the headline has to also do more than just be smart and effective. But more on that later 🙂

  11. Ahhh, the hook, line and sinker headline…

    I’m beginning to wonder if “seeing” the right headline words isn’t part innate talent. Harry sucks – and I mean sucks – at good headlines. He just can’t get them, no matter how hard he tries.

    Chapter titles? He rocks. Go figure.

  12. Great post, Sean.


    Do you ever write a headline only to change it after you’ve written your article so that it reflects your article? Or do you sometimes write a generic headline, write your article (to see what you’re gonna say), and then revise the headline?

    Or – do you always write your headlines first?


  13. @ John – I’ll drop my two cents in on this one. I never write headlines first… because I honestly never know where my post will take me. And as I write, I hit on those magic words that seem to work.

    For me, anyways. They don’t always work to drive traffic.

  14. @ James – I think some people are born with the natural ability to write (and write good headlines). Others can learn, but always struggle at bit more.

    As for my natural ability – I think it’s convincing people to do things for me. It’s kinda like a superpower, but not.

  15. @ Brian – but do you find sometimes as you’re writing you find other things to say and thus you need to augment your headline? Or do you force yourself to stay on your specific topic and save other ideas for other posts?

  16. I recommend Joe Vitale’s book, “Hypnotic Writing”. He says most people want to know 3 things about your content, and I think this applies to headlines:

    1. So what?
    2. Who cares?
    3. What’s in it for me?

  17. Do you ever write a headline only to change it after you’ve written your article so that it reflects your article? Or do you sometimes write a generic headline, write your article (to see what you’re gonna say), and then revise the headline?

    All of the above. If there are fifty ways to leave your lover (according to Paul Simon), well there are fifty ways in which a great headline may be written. I can think up good headlines on the trot, but that doesn’t mean I won’t go back and change them later.

    Or it doesn’t mean that the article won’t cause me to change the headline.

    I can’t say that I’d just write the headline first. But I would say this: If you don’t write your topic and don’t do the ‘target’ and ‘specifics,’ then your article will wander all around the countryside. Not only will your article become harder to write, but your headline will become near impossible as well.

  18. @ Sean – Oh, well, hell, yes, of course I do that. Agreed. Topic and headlines help keep you on course while you write.

    Doesn’t mean I always use them – sometimes it’s very, very cool to wander.

    @ Mark – Ayup. That’s it exactly.

    @ Brian – I dare you to write a page of Lorem Sempum with a kick-ass headline and post it with your name. Bet it gets traffic 😉

  19. James – I think some people are born with the natural ability to write (and write good headlines). Others can learn, but always struggle at bit more.

    Talent isn’t born. It’s purely made.
    And I can prove this not once, but several times over. We’ve had clients who’ve had dyslexia, and Irlens Syndrome (they see words like a waterfall), and hated reading, let alone writing. And when they’ve made their mind to learn to write, they’ve turned out the most fascinating articles on topics as technical as motorcycle ignitions.

    Now I’m not talking about several clients. I’m talking about one client with all those ‘disabilities’. And just like that client, we’ve had others who’ve started to write like they were um…born writers. There’s no such thing as a born-writer.

    It’s a series of pieces of structure, that enable a person to write better, faster and with greater style than another. And this, like driving, can be learned with sufficient practise.

  20. @ Sean – I disagree. Someone may learn something and learn it very well, but if there isn’t an instinctive and natural penchant or the creative hard-wiring in that section of the brain, they will never be truly “born-whatever”.

    Driving is not an instinctive action. It is a learned behavior. We are not born knowing to drive. We learn to combine various abilities we have with others and put them together – but some drivers become racecar drivers and some don’t. Natural talent? I think so.

    And yet, we are born to prefer fingerpainting with colors to scribbles with a pen or stacking blocks or bashing trucks. These preferences are from us from birth and are part of our brains. As we develop, we are either encouraged or learn new techniques that let us achieve better potential – but we have weaknesses in other area. Math, for example. It can be taught, but someone that does not have the natural preference and ability will never achieve great heights.

    You are comparing people with disabilities that hamper their abilities and creativity to human behavior and development – I don’t quite think the two can be compared. Amazing things do happen when we work with those who need help, but I don’t think that’s to be confused with natural-born talent and learned behavior, which are two distinct aspects of human development.

    Talent *is* born. It is NOT made. It can be encouraged, enhanced and developed, but it cannot be a given that all people are talented in all aspects of anything.

  21. I dare you to write a page of Lorem Sempum with a kick-ass headline and post it with your name. Bet it gets traffic 😉

    And how did that become the case, James? You act like I was born with an audience.

    Two years ago, I was unknown. What changed that?

  22. You’re doing that “make James think” thing again.

    But no. You weren’t born with an audience and that’s something that sticks in the forefront of my mind. I realize that more than anyone else, I think. You’re a person, just a guy, and you didn’t even do anything remotely similar in your past career as you do now.

    Which means that you’re no different from me – which means that I can be just like you. (Only not like you. I want to be me. With an audience.) Anyone can be just like you.

    How you became what you are is a good question, and one I think about often. I’m still analyzing and observing, because I don’t think it’s as simple as “Brian writes good headlines” or “Brian tells a good story.”

    One thing I can say is that you present yourself as an authority, and everyone accepts that you are because of how you present yourself.

    Wow. Okay, I’m rambling. (Sorry, that happens when I get thoughtful. I type out my thoughts.) Point is, I’m onto you… 😉

  23. Well, I’ll tell you… I was one of the most heavily invested unknowns ever. I knew I could do this (meaning Copyblogger), but only because of all the pain and screw-ups I endured on the way.

    There are no “over-night” successes. At least none that endure.

  24. @ John – I on the other hand, typically write the title before writing the entire article. Having a natural tendency to ramble indefinitely once I start writing, I find having the title done is useful in keeping my post focused. To each their own – just have to find a style that works best for you.

    @ Brain – I couldn’t agree more. The enduring successes are the ones that made the mistakes and evolved past them. They only look like an “over-night” success to the outside world. You’ve done a remarkable job!

  25. I won’t go into the ‘nature vs. nurture’ debate right now. Just to let you know, this isn’t just an opinion. It’s a system we’ve been testing, and gathering data on for quite a while now. And so have several scientists and thinkers around the world.

    The default statement that we hear from everyone is that we born with talents. So that’s what we believe. All I can say, is that I’ve learned other wise. If you stay close to what we’re saying, you’ll see evidence over time (we’ll publish it on our website for those who want to see it).

    I won’t go into any more about this on this post. 🙂

  26. Change of pace here

    I love the examples that build from the weak titles to the stronger titles. You can really see how each transforms through the process.

    I use a method that is similar. I use it when I don’t have a specific subject or how I want to set up the title or my other efforts and quite bad. Yeah, I know I am not a pro like Brian or others here.

    This is what I do:

    (subject) I take a subject I want to talk about. A subject is simply a person, oject, or action. It can be positive or negative. This subject Will benefit the reader in some way.

    Then I ask myself:

    (object) This subject will benefit who or what? A person, some object, or action.

    (benefit) How will it benefit?

    (descriptors) In what way?

    So Lets say I want to talk about a fertilizer(subject) and this produce(benefit) larger(descriptor) more colorful(descriptor) blooms(object).

    So I start out with:

    [Fertilizer(Subject)] [Produces(Benefit)][Blooms(Object)]

    Then I take the object and clarify:

    So I have:

    [Organic(Specific) Fertilizer(Subject)] [Produces(Benefit)] [Blooms(Object)]

    I can be as general or specific with the subject or object depending on how general or specific I want to be with the article.


    [Organic(Specific) Fertilizer(Subject)] [Produces(Benefit)] [Annual(specific) Blooms(Object)]


    [Fertilizer(Subject)] [Produces(Benefit)] [Annual(specific) blooms(Object)]


    [Organic(Specific) Fertilizer(Subject)] [Produces(Benefit)] [Blooms(Object)]


    [Homemade Organic(Specific) Fertilizer(Subject)] [Produces(Benefit)] [Zinnias(specific object)]

    Then I come up with list of added descriptors and alternatives for subject, benefit, and object if I can think of or need any.

    easy to make



    I then plug the subjects, benefits, and object into a some of my 200 or so collected templates. And have my list handy for descriptors and alternatives.

    Here are a few examples:

    Similar Headline: Uses 2 similar descriptors Words like “Easy To Make” and “effortless” or “Nutrient Rich” and “Healthy”

    Positive Descriptor [Subject] [Benefit] Similar Positive Descriptor [Object]

    [Nutrient Rich(Descriptor)] [Organic(specific) Fertilizer(subject)] That Will [Produce(Benefit)] [Healthy(Descriptor)] [Annual(specific) Blooms(Object)]

    Nutrient Rich Organic Fertilizer That Will Produce Healthy Annual Blooms

    Doubt Play: Gaurantees Positive result

    Without A Doubt This [Subject] Will [Benefit] [Object]

    Without A Doubt This [Nutrient-Rich(Descriptor)] [Organic(specific) Fertilizer(subject)] Will [Produce(Benefit)] [Vibrant(Descriptor)] [Annual(specific) Blooms(Object)]

    Without A Doubt This Nutrient-Rich Organic Fertilizer Will Produce The Most Vibrant Annual Blooms You’ve Ever Seen

    Similar/Doubt Combo:

    Without A Doubt This [Easy To Make(Descriptor)] [Organic(specific) Fertilizer(subject)] Will [Effortlessly(Descriptor)] [Produce(Benefit)] The Most [Vibrant(Descriptor)] [Annual(specific) Blooms(Object)] You’ve Ever Seen

    Without A Doubt This Easy To Make Organic Fertilizer Will Effortlessly Produce The Most Vibrant Annual Blooms You’ve Ever Seen


    A Remarkable [Subject] That Will [Benefit] [Object] Than You Dare To Imagine

    A Remarkable [Easy To Make(Descriptor)] [Organic(specific) Fertilizer(subject)] That Will [Produce(Benefit)] More [Annual(specific) Blooms(Object)] Than You Dare To Imagine

    A Remarkable Easy To Make Organic Fertilizer That Will Produce More Annual Blooms Than You Dare To Imagine

    Now You Can:

    Now You Can [Benefit] [Object] by [Subject]

    Now Your Plants Will [Produce(Benefit)] [Huge(Descriptor)] [Vibrant(Descriptor)] [Blooms(Object)] Simply By Using This [Easy To Make(Descriptor)] [Organic(specific) Fertilizer(subject)]

    Now Yor Plants Will Prodce Huge Vibrant Blooms Simply By Using This Easy To Make Organic Fertilizer

    If You Aren’t:

    If You Aren’t Using This [Subject] Then Your [Object] Won’t [Benefit]

    If You Aren’t Using This [Nutrient Rich(Descriptor)] [Organic(specific) Fertilizer(subject)] Then Your [Annuals(specific object)] Won’t [Produce(Benefit)] [Large(Descriptor)] [Vibrant(Descriptor)] [Blooms(Object)] As They Could Be.

    If You Aren’t Using This Nutrient Rich Organic Fertilizer Then Your Annuals Won’t Prodce Large Vibrant Blooms As They Could Be.


    [Object1], [Object2], and [Object2] With [Subject]

    [Huge(Descriptor)] [Blooms(Object)], [Healthy(Descriptor)] [Foliage(Object)], [Stronger(Descriptor)] [Roots(Object)] Using This One [Homemade (Descriptor)] [Organic(specific) Fertilizer(subject)]

    Huge Blooms, Healthy Foliage, Stronger Roots Using This One Homemade Organic Fertilizer

    When I find one that I like I start tweaking.

  27. What I find most compelling in this post is how properly positioning your headline brings focus and clarity to the writing of the article.

    Thank you.

    The Story Lady

  28. @Janelle v

    Thank You. I usually just open up my big file of titles in a text editor and use a find and replace.

    So in my title file I have it set up like:

    Now You Can [Benefit] [Object] by [Subject]

    Take the benefit object and subject you created. We will use the same from the article above.

    “How a Few Measly [Words(Subject)] can Dramatically [Improve(Benefit)] Your [Blog Headline and Content(Object)]”

    Ex. Do a find and replace for the [Benefit], [Object], and [Subject]

    Doing that I get a huge list (not always worded correctly). I just eye through each one looking for ones that fit the article style and resonates with me.

    Ex. Now you can improve blog headline by words

    Then I pull out my descriptors, alternatives, many times I use negative descriptors and alternatives.
    “Measly” would be a negative descriptor.

    Ex. Now You Can Dramatically Improve Your Blog Headlines and Content By Changing a Few Measly Words

    Another example I pulled out would be Opposite Descritpors: We will use Powerful and Weak

    [Benefit] Negative Descriptor [Object] By Opposite Positive Descriptor [Subject]

    I get:

    Improve Negative Descriptor Blog Titles and Content By Opposite Positive Descriptor Two Powerful Word Types

    Add Descriptors:

    Improve Weak Blog Titles and Content By Adding Two Powerful Word Types


    Destroy Weak Blog Titles and Content Simply By Adding Two Powerful Word Types.

    (Weak and Powerful are opposite descriptors)

    Or –

    Transform Your ‘Sucky’ Blog Titles and Content By Injecting Two Highly Effective Word Types.

    (‘Sucky’ and Highly Effective are opposite descriptors)

  29. Continued…

    I like the last one but refine once more since the article focuses mainly on title:

    Transform Your ‘Sucky’ Blog Titles By Injecting Two Highly Effective Word Types.

    Writing the article is simple as the title outlines everything.

    What are ‘Sucky’ blog titles?

    Why should these be ‘Transformed’?

    What are the ‘Word Types’? – target words and specific words

    Why should they be ‘Injected’ and Why are they ‘Highly Effective’?

    How/Where do you ‘inject’ those words?


    Clarify again the importance

  30. Wow…that’s quite a few comments for this subject.

    If you want people to read your post then you need to convince yourself, without any shadow of a doubt, that the headline is the most important part of your post.

    It is very cut and dry. A good headline will entice people to read your blog. A poorly written and thought out headline will be passed over.

    I am guilty of being in too much of a hurry when it comes to headlines and first sentences. But it is a deadly mistake that I and others make.

    I am vowing not to write anything until the headline is perfect. Without a perfect headline nobody is going to read what I write anyway.

  31. Thanks for the entry. Many times I lose sight of the basics and need a little push to go back. Funny how using odd tactics gets so widely thought about but so many forget the simple things.

  32. Funny how using odd tactics gets so widely thought about but so many forget the simple things.

    Simple things appear simple. But it’s hard work getting to simplicity. Odd tactics just need to be odd or different to get attention. That’s why 🙂

  33. fantastic article! when i was a teacher i had the hardest time convincing the students that their titles were important.

    now that i’ve moved into the digital world, i’ve had the hardest time getting the writers i work with that their titles are important…but they are!

    these are great tips and i’ll make sure to pass this along to everyone i know! 🙂

  34. Wow. Thanks for sharing such an insightful view. It always comes down to the benefits doesn’t it?

    It’s like our users are asking, “Show Me The Benefit!”

    Thanks for sharing!

  35. I’m a bit late to the party here – but this article is right on the money. Amazing how many lame article titles there are out there – with these few pointers, you can dominate with your articles in no time!

  36. Having the right headline is compulsory if you want RSS feed readers to even select the post header and read the post!

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