Every day, thousands of wonderful articles are published by lawyers around the world that sail through the internets with a “whoosh” sound, completely ignored. Then they sit, expensive and unread, wallowing forever in the self-pity of a brilliantly insightful masterpiece that never got its chance to shine.
And there's a simple reason: the headline sucks.
A headline really has a single purpose in life: to get someone to click on the article.
Alas, most headlines are a casual afterthought, written in haste as the “real work” of the article is completed. Crafting a compelling headline for your latest legal article then gives way to far more pressing client demands and billable budgets.
Thus we have such gems as “April Update” entering the world.
Now the April Update might be a gold mine of useful information, practical advice and nuanced brilliance waiting to be unpacked by analysts around the world. But nobody will read it, and it's your fault.
Let's change that now, and begin writing headlines that have a hope of leading long and fulfilling lives by actually driving traffic to your website.
Step 1 – Actually Think About Your Headline
If the only thing you get from this article is that you start turning your mind to your headline, then I'm going to count it a success.
The simple discipline of considering what people will see before they read your first paragraph will immediately propel you ahead of huge numbers of your competitors who don't bother.
But for those who aspire beyond mediocrity, there is more room to grow.
Step 2 – Forget your Branding
Yes, yes – I know that your newsletter might have a title, or that your firm's brand might be important, but you have to ignore that when it comes to headline writing.
Firstly, it's just lazy. It's a convenient excuse to avoid step 1 (thinking about it).
More importantly, your branding (April Update, Construction News, Death and Taxes) is going to take up critical space in your headline and dramatically diminish its impact in the process by pushing the meaningful parts to one side.
The one exception is if you have managed to develop a publication that has such an amazing reputation people will flock to it simply by virtue of its existence. Most likely, you haven't done that.
Step 3 – Don't Try to Be Too Clever
This is tempting, because we've all found an intriguing play on words from time to time that catches our attention.
And a really clever headline might manage to do just that.
But more often than not, trying to be clever with puns or jargon or plays on words is going to confuse people. The result is that they won't know what your article is about and they're not going to waste their time on it.
If people can't understand your headline enough to be interested in the article itself, then they're going to keep scrolling.
Step 4 – Inform and Invite
Most of a law firm's written content is going to be informative for a select group of our potential clients.
So when it comes to legal articles, a headline's job is to:
- tell the reader what the article is about (more on that below); and
- invite them to find out more.
Clickbait headlines are an obvious no-no. “The Judge entered the Courtroom, and You'll Never Guess What Happened Next”….
Step 5 – Benefits Not Facts
This one isn't always possible, but you need to appreciate why people might want to read your article.
Generally, most people don't want to be informed – they want outcomes.
So they don't want to know the 19 factors that the Court takes into account when considering costs – they want to know how to avoid an adverse costs order.
They don't care how that new personal injuries legislation works – they want to know how to get more compensation (or how to avoid paying it out).
Of course in order to give them the benefit, your article might need to go into the information. But for the headline you need to tell people why the contents of the article will make a material difference to the things they care about avoiding or getting.
Take this article you're reading now for example – I didn't say it was about headlines (because nobody really cares about that other than marketers). I said it was about getting more people to read your articles – that's what people care about.
And yes, my headline was a bit tongue in cheek in the process…
Step 6 – Write Multiple Headlines
The vast majority of you aren't going to do this, because you're busy and you don't care that much.
But if you want to craft a compelling headline for your legal articles, then it's often a good idea to brainstorm a bunch of options before selecting one.
And sure, there are common ways to craft a headline that “work” fairly reliably.
Want a simple way to brainstorm? Take a look at the last non-client related 10 things you've read – emails, newspapers, facebook posts, LinkedIn, advertisements, anything else. What were their headlines and why did you click on them? What was the promise in the headline that made you want to find out more?
Step 7 – Check What Works
I can offer all the general rules for writing good headlines in the world, but the best way to know what your people like to click on is to look at the things they actually click on.
So dig in to those analytics (or get your marketing person to do it for you) and actually see which articles get the most clicks. For this exercise you can ignore everything other than “did they click on the article link at all” – jot down the most successful from that perspective over the last year or so and see if there are any common elements.
After all, the best decisions are made on data, not on speculation.
Are there more ways you could improve your headlines? Sure. Do you need to know them all in order to take a dramatic leap forward? Heck no.
Start today with these fairly easy 7 steps and you'll notice a big uptick as your headlines help you stand out from the crowd.