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Hook Them In: How to Create Powerful B2B Headlines

Hook Them In: How to Create Powerful B2B Headlines

A fishing pole represents the challenge of fishing for strong headlines.

Powerful B2B headlines entice readers to engage with your content. Whether you’re creating content for your website, customer advocacy programs, videos, case studies or social media channels, solid titles pull your audience in. The problem is they’re not easy to write. And with so much B2B marketing content available online, you’ll often see similar headlines.

In this post, I’ll show you how to create effective headlines for your content. I’ll also cover what to watch out for if you’re going to use generative artificial intelligence (AI) tools for your titles. Sure, you could tap AI and not put in any effort. But that’s a bad idea, as you’ll learn below. In addition, I’ll share headline examples to help you create titles that stand out.

First, a little history …

Headline generators and analyzers

Before gen AI became part of everyday life, many marketers used headline generators and analyzers from Portent, CoSchedule and HubSpot, among others. At the time, I didn’t find these tools helpful. They relied on rigid formulas with specific words, character counts and forced emotions. For example, if I wrote a title that was more than 45 characters and wasn’t SHOCKING!! I’d get dinged.

These tools likely had early AI baked into them. But the technology was crude compared to what it is today. Imagine trying to start your great-grandpap’s jalopy instead of a sleek, new Porsche. In short, it was easier to write your own headlines. At least, I did. Since then, headline generators and analyzers have evolved. And many new ones are available now than what marketers had access to at the time. I don’t use them, however. It’s just as easy to use gen AI.

Content marketers share shortcuts

About the time that headline generators and analyzers entered the scene, the internet blew up with content marketing. Suddenly, marketers everywhere were publishing content to improve their visibility. Consequently, they started writing blogs that featured “headline hacks,” “clever titles,” and “proven headlines.”

Their suggestions were formulaic, but they were better than the ones I got from headline generators. The idea behind these was to put your own spin on basic suggestions, such as these:

“What [Famous Person] Can Teach Us About [Blank]”

“[#] Things Your [Blank] Doesn’t Tell You”

“The Ultimate Guide to [Blank]”

I referred to these for inspiration, but I often reworked them. Headline suggestions are a great start, but how many marketers can write an ‘ultimate guide’ to something before it’s not the ultimate anymore?

Fast-forward to gen AI

Little changed with how marketers wrote headlines until gen AI became available. In the interim, they relied on their own creativity and targeted keywords with search engine optimization. Furthermore, they had to do a lot of A/B testing to figure out which titles received the highest engagement. Now, thanks to ChatGPT, Jasper, and many other AI tools, anyone can craft and test an endless number of headlines quickly.

However, get ready for a big “but.” While AI is helpful for getting headline ideas, I wouldn’t rely on it. The content it generates doesn’t sound natural. When was the last time your boss used the words “foster” and “fostering” in conversation? AI uses them though. When I see these in any content, it’s a solid clue that a human didn’t write it. Moreover, AI tools repeat words and phrases, such as:

  • Explore/Exploring
  • Drive/driving
  • Unlock/unlocking
  • Discover/discovering
  • Uncover/uncovering
  • Empower/empowering
  • Navigate/navigating
  • Transform/transforming/transformative
  • Unlock/unlocking
  • Master/mastering/masterful
  • Reveal/revealed/revealing
  • Revolutionize

Another (frustrating) AI weakness

In addition to repeating words, AI tools seem incapable of writing headlines that don’t have colons. Even if your prompts specify to omit colons, you’ll get colons. In a recent experience with Gemini, I repeatedly ordered the tool to exclude colons. It finally did but swapped them out with dashes. Several prompts later, it removed all punctuation like I wanted, but the headlines made no sense.

I wrote, “You fail. Humans win again.”

Gemini responded: “I understand your frustration. While I strive to be informative and helpful, I am still under development and learning to navigate the nuances of human communication.”

What’s the takeaway? If you want variety in your headline styles, AI isn’t your friend. In particular, if you don’t want titles that include colons, AI is especially bad. Headlines that have punctuation are separate thoughts that are strung together. They’re often too long to rank in search. Here are two examples:

“Skyrocket Your Sales: Elevate Your Packaging Design With Eye-Catching Innovation!”

“Struggling to Generate Quality Leads? Drive B2B Growth With Lead Generation Best Practices”

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that you avoid using AI to come up with headlines. But before you use AI tools, try writing headlines yourself. Then, use AI to improve them and add new ones. And be prepared for the AI issues I explained above. Next, I’ll share tips to help you craft compelling titles.

10 tips to help you write great headlines

It takes ingenuity and practice to write clickable headlines. Follow the tips below to build your skills.

1. Write for your audience.

Knowing your target audience is essential to creating valuable content and headlines. If you tap into your current and prospective customers’ priorities, concerns and interests, you’ll entice them to delve further into your content.

Above all, be sure your titles align with the tone that’s appropriate for your audience. For example, if you run an executive recruiting firm for C-suite leaders, you wouldn’t write headlines like these:

“10 Easy Revenue Hacks Every CEO Should Know”

“Revenue Woes? Fire Your Sales Team and Hire a Monkey!”

“Tired of Being Poor? Get Business Secrets to Unlimited Riches”

What’s wrong? They’re unprofessional and overly simplistic. Moreover, they ignore the complex challenges that C-suite leaders face. C-level executives want strategic solutions – not quick fixes.

In contrast, these titles are appropriate and on point:

“Accelerate Growth: Proven Strategies for C-Suite Revenue Success”

“Future-Proof Your Revenue With Data-Driven Strategies”

“Elevate Your Bottom Line With New Revenue Streams”

2. Use active voice.

Active voice makes the subject clear. In passive voice, the subject receives the action. It’s best practice to write in active voice because it’s direct and engaging. Check out these active voice headlines and their passive voice counterparts:

Active: “B2B Marketing Strategies Drive Increased Sales”

Passive: “Increased Sales Generated by B2B Marketing Strategies”

Active: “Targeted Marketing Campaigns Improve Brand Recognition”

Passive: “Improved Brand Recognition Achieved from Targeted Marketing Campaigns”

The key is to keep the verb as close to the subject as possible. In passive voice, the subject is buried at the end.

3. Start with action verbs.

Starting headlines with action verbs injects energy and creates a sense of urgency for your audience to act. Examples include:

  • Accelerate
  • Amplify
  • Boost
  • Build
  • Capture
  • Crush
  • Enhance
  • Ignite
  • Learn
  • Propel
  • Save
  • Spark

Here are three action headlines and their nonaction counterparts: 

Action: “Crush Your Competition With Killer Branding”

Nonaction: “Killer Branding Works Against Your Competition”

Action: “Win at SEO by Optimizing Your Content With Expert Tips”

Nonaction: “SEO Helps Optimize Content”

Action: “Build Infographics in 5 Minutes or Less With Next-Gen AI”

Nonaction: “Next-Gen AI Helps With Infographics”

Be aware that if you use AI tools to generate action headlines, you can anticipate getting the verbs at the beginning of this post. You can prompt AI to omit them, but it may not work. ChatGPT and Gemini often ignore me and do it anyway or cheat and use variations of the same words.

4. Optimize for search, but don’t force it.

Including relevant keywords in your headlines will increase your content’s visibility in search engines. But only do it if it sounds natural. The days of keyword stuffing are long gone. Remember those clunky, awkward titles? Now, algorithms favor natural-sounding, quality content that’s relevant for your audience (see tip 1).

For example, if your top keywords include “B2B content marketing,” you might write these titles:

“Elevate Your Business With Strategic B2B Content Marketing”

“Building Brand Authority: 5 B2B Content Marketing Best Practices” 

“Get Insider Strategies to Boost Brand Awareness With B2B Content Marketing”

But you wouldn’t write these headlines because they don’t sound like a human wrote them, and they repeat the keywords:

“10 B2B Content Marketing Case Studies That Outshine Your B2B Content Marketing Competition”

“Improve Your B2B Content Marketing With Insights from B2B Content Marketing Experts”

5. Be mindful of length.

Headline lengths vary, depending on the deliverables and platforms you’re using.

For example, if you’re working on a leaderboard ad (think long and skinny), you might be limited to three to six words. It depends on whether the includes an image and what size it is.

On the other hand, if you’re writing a headline for a thought leadership article, it’s a safe practice to have eight to 12 words. In short, there’s no “best” length. Keep in mind, however, that long headlines are difficult to read on mobile devices. Therefore, minimize scrolling so that your audience doesn’t click away.

In addition, be aware that Google may truncate headlines in search if they’re more than 60 characters, including spaces. To help ensure your headlines appear in search results without being cut off and to improve your SEO, aim for 60 or fewer characters.

After adhering to applicable platform character count limits, make sure your titles summarize your content clearly and concisely. Readers should grasp the value of your content instantly. In other words, make every word count.

Let’s say your business is expanding to better serve your customers. The title examples below reflect general industry guidelines:

Banner ad: “Closer to Customers: We’re Expanding!” (30-40 characters, including spaces)

Website: “We’re Going the Extra Mile for You With New Locations” (50-60 characters, including spaces)

Blog post: “We’re Growing: Our Expansion Journey and What It Means for You” (60-70 characters, including spaces)

6. Include power words.

Power words are persuasive and invoke emotions. In doing so, they spark interest and motivate your audience to take action. Sometimes, they play on people’s fears. But they can be inspiring and intriguing. Examples include:

  • Beware
  • Bold
  • Breakthrough
  • Crucial
  • Essential
  • Exclusive
  • Foolproof
  • Insider
  • Mistakes
  • Powerful
  • Proven
  • Results
  • Secret
  • Simple
  • Smart
  • Surefire
  • Surprising
  • Tactics

Check out these examples that include power words:

“Beware SEO Strategists Who Guarantee Overnight Success”

 “Get Insider Access to Our Foolproof Case Study Templates”

“6 Surprising Website Mistakes You’re Making and How to Fix Them”

7. Play with alliteration.

Alliteration is repetition of an initial sound – usually a consonant – in two or more consecutive words. “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers” is a famous example of alliteration. The “P” sound makes the phrase memorable. Here are three headline examples that use the technique:

“Fuel Face-Paced Funnels With Frictionless Forms”

 “Magnify Marketing ROI: Measure Metrics Meticulously” 

“Captivate Customers With Compelling Content”

8. Present problems and solutions.

Highlighting customer problems and your solutions in headlines appeals to your audience’s desire to learn and improve. Examples of problem/solution headlines follow:

Problem: You’re not sure if your marketing efforts are paying off.

Solution: Track marketing key performance indicators and return on investment metrics regularly.

Headline 1: “Measure Marketing Success: Track KPIs and ROI for Clarity”

Headline 2: “Track Analytics for B2B Growth and Data-Driven Success”

Problem: Your website traffic is meh, and your boss isn’t happy about it.

Solution: Implement SEO strategies.

Headline 1:Is Your Website Engagement Lacking? Propel Traffic With Proven SEO Solutions”

Headline 2: “Ignite Your Website Engagement With Proven SEO Strategies”

9. Use numbers.

Numbered headlines appeal to readers because they signal organization and structure. Moreover, they imply the content will be concise and feature scannable tips. As a result, these headline attract readers. Examples include:

“8 Amazing AI Tools to Try Right Now for Your Marketing Programs”

“3 Essential Steps to Creating Powerful Sales Presentations” 

“5 Ways to Ensure Your Content Reaches the Right Audience”

10. Avoid clickbait.

Clickbait titles dangle the promise of exciting or shocking content but don’t deliver. Here’s a clickbait example:

“Warning! This B2B Marketing Hack Will Blow Your Mind!”

These headlines might be intriguing and attract clicks, but they’re misleading. As a result, they often backfire by ruining the credibility you’ve worked so hard to build. They also turn away people who would otherwise read your content.

Grab them from the get-go

In conclusion, powerful B2B headlines are essential for engaging your audience and driving meaningful interactions with your content. While AI tools can help you generate titles, exercise caution and maintain a human touch to ensure natural and effective messaging. By following these tips and avoiding common pitfalls, you can create compelling headlines that resonate with your target audience and elevate your B2B marketing.