010 How to Use RSS to Write Better Headlines

Is 90 minutes of your time worth learning about which headlines actually work online? Then listen on …

Ever wonder why some headlines are better than others? I mean what makes some headlines irresistible and others fall flat?

More importantly, ever dream of actually writing headlines that clothes line people and then flings them into your article so they read every word of it?

Fortunately for you there are some rules you can learn with this quick and dirty experiment.

In this roughly 10-minute episode you’ll discover:

  • The right mix of blogs you should read to write better headlines
  • The two misfits who gave me this experiment idea
  • How to develop a sense for what works online
  • The little book of rules that will transform your headlines
  • A great tool for testing headlines

How to Use RSS to Write Better Headlines

Demian Farnworth Hi, welcome to Rough Draft, your daily dose of essential web writing advice. I’m your host, Demian Farnworth, Chief Content Writer for Copyblogger Media. And thank you for sharing the next four minutes of your life with me.

This is episode 10 and it’s called “Write Better Headlines with this 7-Step Google Reader Experiment.”

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Now on to the episode.

The Right Mix of Blogs You Should Read to Write Better Headlines

*Update: Google killed Reader on July 1, 2013. This framework, however, still works on RSS readers like Feedly. Give it a shot.

Step One: Subscribe to 100 blogs

If you want a great way to subscribe to 50 blogs in about ten minutes, search for the top marketing blogs of 2014…or enter your topic of choice.

But I don’t recommend subscribing to more than 50 of these blogs. Here’s why: you want a mix of blogs in your Google reader. And when I say mix, I mean blogs across different industries.

Choose the bulk from the marketing and advertising world, but also choose blogs that deal with politics, environmentalism, science, history, SEO, fiction writing, news and economics.

Really, choose anything you are interested in.

Step Two: Let Them Build for a Day or Two

How to Develop a Sense for What Works Online

Step Three: Start Scanning Blog Post Headlines
Time: 35 minutes

Get ready, because this is where the rubber meets the road.

Open up Google Reader, hit the “g” key then “a” which will allow you to view all items. You will want to view all the posts through this single stream. It’s fast and seamless.

Next, grab a pencil, piece of paper and position your index finger and thumb over the “j” and “k” keys. [These two keys are responsible for toggling forward and backward through your lists.]

The only other key you need is “s.” This key will “star” an item for you. In other words, it will store it in a folder with your other favorite blog posts.

And when you’re ready, star scanning headlines.

As you come across headlines you like, star that post. Try not to evaluate it…just go by gut instinct. And if you need to leave a comment, do so in the Notes section provided.

By the way, you can go back.

On a number of occasions I was five or six posts past a post when I thought “Hey, that was a pretty good headline.” At times I starred it. At other times I didn’t.

The point is you can go back to post if you feel it tugging on you.

Step Four: Review Your Favorites
Time: 15 minutes.

A Little Book of Rules that will Transform Your Headlines

Once you’ve rifled through all the post headings, open up your Star folder. Start looking at those that you starred and thinking about why you liked them so much.

Was it provocative? Did it ask a question? Was there an element of urgency involved? Profanity? Ultra-specific? Just plain weird? Record your answer on the sheet of paper at your desk.

Step Five: Document Rules
Time: 20 minutes.

At this step your job is to create a list of the characteristics your favorite headlines have. Do this by writing the name of the blog post down on the paper and recording the rules underneath it.

Use the 4 Us. Use for emotional language.

When you’ve examined all of your favorite headlines, go to step six.

Step Six: Look for Patterns
Time: 5 minutes

Once you work through your list of 20 or 30 favorite post headlines, you should see obvious patterns. In just the two examples I used above we saw that “useful” showed up in both.

That should tell us something. People might like useful information. Which brings us to our last step.

A Great Tool for Testing Headlines

Step Seven: Test Your Rules
Time: Indefinite

Now that you have a list of rules to write attention-grabbing headlines, it’s time to test those rules. That means start writing headlines for your posts that incorporate these rules, publish and track results.

What should you track? Track the number of people who read it, comment, link to it and share on social media sites like Twitter.

And once you’re finished with your experiment, do me a favor: share your results with me. I’m curious.

I’m pretty confident if you follow this 7-step experiment you’ll walk away with a solid understanding of what it takes to write headlines that attract attention, get opened and read.

And I’m confident, too, that the more often you put the rules you learn from this experiment into practice, the stronger you’ll become at actually writing excellent headlines.

By the way: what rules do you think I used when I wrote the headline for this post?

In the next episode what we are going to talk about are the 3 Cs. Everything you need to know will be actually summed up in three words.