Technology April 27, 2016 Last updated April 23rd, 2016 1,740 Reads share

Ideas Matter: How to Generate Great Content Headlines

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Are you tired of seeing the same generic articles recycled all over the web? Sure, you’re laughing right now because you’ve seen plenty of articles about how to make great content, how to come up with great content ideas.

But what I’m after is the elusive answer to these questions: what sets a piece of content apart? What makes it great? How do you capture that certain something and channel it into your work?

Some might say ‘that certain something’ can’t be boiled down into a formula. But we can still try to put a finger on it. Apart from everything mentioned above how about great content headlines?

Making great content

Here’s a perception I’ve come across in my time as a content creator: landing a content idea that leads to engagement and conversions is like hunting for buried treasure.

I don’t think this is true in the old, harebrained and hackneyed sense of treasure hunting, where X marks the spot. But there’s actually some truth to it.

Modern treasure hunters take advantage of modern technology in the form of metal detectors—they do location research and delve into geology, biology, electronics, and meteorology. They know different kinds of metal are inevitably cached beneath the surface. If—through research and technology—they narrow down where treasure might be, the chances of finding it are higher.

The same notion applies to modern content creation. Research and technology are huge assistants in the search to create content people will truly treasure. If they treasure the content, they’ll treasure your blog, your brand, and your product or service.

Great content: the starting point 

What do you want to accomplish? Are you looking for a piece that will yield more powerful backlinks for your site? First, consider the format. Here are some tips in that regard:

  • Write super-informative posts—Brian Dean’s list of Google ranking factors is an example
  • Write longer posts—according to Buzzsumo and OkDork, posts 2,000 – 10,000 words long get the most shares
  • Write list posts—Buzzsumo and OkDork also found that lists garner the most shares (in terms of articles)
  • Create infographics—they generate the most backlinks

The great thing about infographics is you can convert any blog post idea into an infographic too. For the purposes of this article, I’m going to analyze the idea generation process itself.

Now that we’ve got a perspective on what type of content we want, it’s time to use technology and research to really zone in on a quality idea.

Technology 1: Hubspot’s Blog Topic Generator

What’s your niche? This topic generator asks you to input three nouns. Choose nouns highly relevant to your niche. In this case, I want to come up with a single, powerful idea. I’ll put in nouns relevant to the topic I’m writing about.


From that, I get five potential article titles:


As you can see above, the topics are serviceable. (Really?! A week of blog topics just for me?) You see post headlines like these all over the web because they work. But are any of these the great idea I’m looking for?

Let’s see what another, competing technology solution generates and compare it with Hubspot’s ideas.

Technology 2: Portent’s Content Idea Generator


This one simply wants me to input the subject. So, to get as close a comparison as possible, I’ll use the same nouns as I did for the Hubspot generator. Let’s see what happens.

First, creativity:


Next, writing:


Finally, innovation:


Portent generates quirkier ideas than Hubspot and, based on what we’re seeing here, emphasizes mystery. According to Portent, the reader wants an answer to ‘How, Why, or What’ questions.

There are also some proper nouns (“Wikipedia” and “Cinnabon”) in these headlines, which makes them more specific. But the proper nouns do more than that: they add the kind of appeal we associate with Wikipedia and warm, sticky cinnamon rolls. (Does anyone else think comparing writing to Cinnabons is a kind of gobbledygook that still makes sense? Therein lies the flaw, and strange flavor, here.)

These headlines beg the reader to click, posing a mystery and claiming to have the answer if you read the article.

Now, I could hypothesize that the best idea will be a synthesis of Hubspot’s standard and reliable fare with Portent’s flashy, click-bait-style quirk.

Let’s look at some real ideas for viral posts and see how close this hypothesis is to the mark.

Technology 3: Buzzsumo


Buzzsumo will tell us which posts are being shared the most. It will also clue us in on who the big influencers are and where they’re publishing.

Once I’ve logged in, it lets me filter the type of content on the left-hand sidebar. I’m looking for articles, infographics, and guest posts.




I need to sleep late more often.



Apparently the appeal of making money cuts through just how generic the headline “Make Money from Home or While Traveling” is.



Note that the majority of these ideas are either tips-and-tricks, how-to articles, or trending topics.

“Cement Your Creativity with These DIYs” comes closest to the Hubspot suggestions, while “How to Raise a Creative Child, Step One: Back Off” comes closest to the sass we get from Portent’s ideas.

At any rate, now we have an arsenal of ideas to emulate. We can take our topic, which is something like ‘how to write great blog posts’, and decide we want to write a list post since they are among the most frequently shared. Heck, we could compile some statistics and make a really useful infographic to go with that list.

If you want to write a trending post it could be, “10 reasons Wil Wheaton’s dead wrong about exposure”. If you want to write a more evergreen, how-to type post, it could be “The surprising life of the creative genius: how to live it”, or “10 sure-fire ways to make money with nothing but a laptop.”

These are just some quick, off-the-cuff headlines. At least now my ideas are more polished and specific than they were when I merely used idea generators. Buzzsumo is not only a tool to help get ideas it’s also a research method on what really works.

CoSchedule and Advanced Marketing Institute both have headline analyzers to help you get a perspective on the quality of your headline.

Still stuck on your headline? Writer, Avantika Monnappa has some tips on how to craft killer headlines:

  • Express urgency
  • Be unique
  • Be useful
  • Be ultra-specific

Think like Wil Wheaton

For the writing subject (in Buzzsumo), the fourth most popular post is Wil Wheaton’s. The third most popular is a Salon post about Wil Wheaton’s post.

Wheaton simply wrote about an issue that matters to the creative world: making money from your work. He used his own personal experience to inform the post, to make it hyper-specific. This is a fantastic way to generate ideas. Find out what people are talking about in your niche, and use your own experience to increase specificity.

Do you have any thoughts on how to come up with great content ideas? I’d love to hear them in the comments!

Images: ”Author’s Own“


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Daniel Matthews

Daniel Matthews

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