Crafting poker headlines that convert

Crafting poker headlines that convert

8cd6ed6e729911394f0bb4a2f77177acI’ve spent the last year really studying online traffic and how to increase it. Before I go any further, I am talking about good targeted traffic, not random traffic. Anyone can trick 5,000 people to looking at a page if they put the effort in, but those people will just close the browser and never visit again.

Part of this research has come in learning to craft really compelling headlines. I’m not at liberty to share the numbers, but we have managed to greatly increase the number of people who read the news page at because we have spent more time drafting the headline. No matter how good your work is, it’s pointless if nobody reads it. Not only does your headline fight for attention on your homepage, it does so also on Twitter and Facebook. So improving your headline writing skills will also improve your social media efforts.

You can measure your traffic using a service called Google Analytics, which is probably one of the best free resources available to webmasters and you can learn so much using it.

The basics of good headline writing

I won’t spend much time teaching you the art of crafting compelling headlines because there is so much good free copywriting material out there already, I think you are better off going elsewhere for it. As a general guideline, however, a good headline should have one or more of the following qualities:

Curiosity: You should open up a knowledge gap that needs to be filled.
An example from last week  – 23 players register for One Drop

Nice and simple, there is no mention of which players, so obviously this creates curiosity and most people want to know who is on the list. Had we just gone with ‘Ivey, Galfond and Esfandiari confirmed for One Drop’ we may have given them the whole cow.

The biggest mistake you can probably make here is being overly aloof with your headlines and trying too hard. We got good hits last week for a “Gus Hansen wins $1 million in a day” headline, because his star power (and his publicised losses) outweigh the need to create curiosity. Had we gone with a ‘guess who won $1 million?’ or ‘guess how much Gus won?’ headline it might have yielded less interest.

New/Surprising/Controversy: The headline should promise something interesting that the reader hasn’t heard of before (FYI generic ‘[Unknown player] wins [Random Tournament]’ tend to yield very poor results)

This year one of our biggest traffic successes was “Phil Ivey went broke – Dan Bilzerian’s controversial claim” This scores high on the ‘new’ scales because almost every story about Ivey ever was of him winning millions. Anything that suggests he might actually be in the poor house is obviously going to invoke both curiosity and novelty.

• Self-interest: Always write with your audience in mind as they are usually asking what’s in it for them? Appealing to self-interest works well for more sales based copy and in the case of poker, strategy content. Instead of titling a piece ‘3-betting advice’ or ‘3-betting mistakes’, label it ‘Are you making these 3-betting errors’ or ‘Five 3-betting mistakes you don’t know you are making’.

With my basic mantra for headlines out of the way, here are some poker specific examples that seem to do the job better than others. Every time one of these manages to make its way into a headline, I’ve found it has a profound impact on how many people click to read it.

Money amounts

gus-hansen-7As with the Gus Hansen example above, I think it is always best to mention money amounts when they are large. It probably fits into the ‘surprising’ category, because even though we are used to hearing of seven-figure scores, there is something innately jaw dropping about the amounts of money on the table in some poker games.

There is also something incredibly aspirational, especially when you consider your core audience is dreaming of one day playing these games and even trying to satellite in to them.


Howard_Lederer_Poker_Players_Championship_2010Again fits into the surprising category and sadly poker has plenty of them. In fact, this is probably not poker specific at all, I’m sure that the numbers for non-poker headlines that feature words like ‘scandal’ and ‘controversy’ convert in exactly the same way.

The thing I struggle with the most here is whether it’s good for the industry to sensationalise these stories.

I must admit it has created a conflict in me of late. I do believe it’s good for the industry to shame cheaters and scammers, but I am also very aware that there is probably a disproportionate amount of doom and gloom in poker news reporting.

It also doesn’t make much business sense, because the poker website business model would not make money on clicks alone from advertising based on page views. Most poker websites make money from poker players playing poker, and if anything scandal for scandal’s sake would harm the likelihood of that.

Busto rumours

phil-ivey-pokerThis ties in with the first few points, but poker players love gossiping about whether or not another player has gone broke. Right now anything with Gus Hansen on it is getting lots of hits, because every day he seems to bleed hundreds of thousands of dollars from his seemingly infinite bankroll.

In poker terms, I guess a player going broke is the equivalent of a sex scandal for a real celebrity in mainstream media – one of the rare moments we mere mortals get to feel superior to them.

Phil Ivey

Obviously any celebrity player is going to increase interest in a news piece, but literally anything we write with Ivey in the headline gets double the views of its nearest equivalent piece.

Prop bets

las_vegas_apuestas_extraordinarias_01Right up there with money amounts and busto rumours, prop bet stories attract a lot of attention because they are what poker players gossip about, they are entertaining and they are usually very surprising.

This works out very well for me, hopefully, as I am currently putting the finishing touches to a book of prop bet stories. If you have any funny stories I may not have heard of, let me know in the comments box.

The balancing act

Before you look at something I write (or even this blog post) and point out that a headline doesn’t conform to the guidelines above, know that it is a balancing act. Making a headline too controversial and extreme will only disappoint the reader when they read it. Making it too coy and mysterious might actually not give away enough of the core story to spark interest in the first place. You also only have a certain amount of words available for your headline, so you will always have to omit something you would prefer to be in there.

The most important piece of advice is really to think about this more. You’ll make plenty of mistakes and things wont work out as expected, but the very fact that I have spent more time thinking about headlines has ultimately led to more people clicking because of them.

Did you find this blog post useful? If so, could you do me a big favour and share it with your friends using one of the share buttons below? I’d really appreciate it.

Finally if you enjoyed this content, why not sign up for occasional free email updates by putting your email in the box below and pressing enter?