It’s easy to let headlines take the back seat in your writing process. Headlines can wind up as a quick afterthought, but really should be treated with much more consideration. In fact, your headline is arguably more important than the article itself. After all, who cares how great your blog post is if no one even reads it?
Headline writing rules have changed quite a bit since the great online migration
Out of all the folks who read your headline, only 20% will read the article copy. Whether it’s for email subject lines, blog posts, ebooks, or webinars, you need a powerful, sexy headline to make readers swoon.
Modern online article headlines are tricky – they need to be SEO keyword friendly, but also should be unique and creative. The end result needs to be super clickable, irresistible headlines.
If you’re like me, your eyeballs encounter nearly a hundred headlines before you’ve finished your first cup of coffee. What makes you read one story over another? It’s all about the headline – that magical string of words that allures and excites.
What makes a killer captivating headline? We’re dishing out 19 headline writing tips to help.
1. Numbers, digits, & lists
We’ve talked before about how much readers are mesmerized by lists. Starting your headline with a number helps the headline stand out. Just as the human eye is drawn to contrasting colors, we’re also naturally drawn to the juxtaposition of digits resting beside text. A list also gives readers a clearer idea of what to expect in your post, as well as promising a quick, scan-friendly read.
Some great list words to get you started:
2. Define What the Article is About
While there’s much to be said for mystery and intrigue, you can’t leave readers hanging without a clue of what to expect from your blog post. Your blog post headline needs to clearly articulate what you’ll be covering in the article. No one is going to click a vague headline.
- Bad Headline: Write a Song
- Good Headline: How to Compose Your Own Song: Songwriting 101
3. Demonstrate Your Value
In our post about social media landing pages, we talk a lot about pushing your value proposition – explaining to visitors why your offer is valuable. In a way, your article headline needs to do the same, although more subtly. You want to explain to readers, in so many words, why your article is worth reading.
Ex. Create an Eye-Catching Infographic in Minutes
The headline above promises a fast (and therefore, probably also easy) way to crate high-quality infographics. Sounds like it’s worth reading more about! Promising a desired result (eye-catching infographics) within a set time period (minutes) is a classic winning headline writing strategy.
They key is to prove that you are useful and that you are providing essential info!
4. Breed Distrust
Us humans can be a cynical bunch, and we’ll often jump at the chance to read about how we are being manipulated, deceived, or given the run around.
Headline writing examples:
- 6 Lies Your Car Dealer Will Try to Tell You
- Is Your Doctor Telling the Truth About Prescribing Your Kids Ritalin?
- Sun Damage is Bad, But is Sunscreen Even Worse?
5. Educate the Masses
People often search online to educate themselves or learn more about a particular concept. They want to learn how to build a fire pit, where to see an off-Broadway musical, how to eat an apple core (hey, I don’t know, people are wacky!)
Image from Team Treehouse Blog
Many successful headlines use the “how to” concept with some extra embellishment. Starting all your articles with “how to…” gets really boring really quickly, so think of creative ways to present a “how to” educational article, for example….
- 3 Best Methods for Peeling a Mango
- 6 Strategies for Deterring Burglars
- Build Your Own Firepit: A Beginner’s Guide
- Teaching Your Dog to Fetch: Canine Training 101
Hot headline writing keywords like “101” and “Complete/Beginners Guide” are great to include in educational posts. Using words like these reassures readers that your article will be in layman terms that they can understand, marketed towards beginners.
6. Readers Should be EXCITED to Read Your Article
It’s your job to get reader psyched about reading your post. They should feel like a couple of kids at the entrance of Disney World.
OMG, the momentous fantasy magic. [photo by Chris Harrison]
People aren’t going to read your boring, dry drivel. You are not on their summer reading list. If a 7th grader gets to choose between reading Great Expectations or Harry Potter, you can be sure as hell they won’t need to sleep on the decision. You’re going head to head with other snappy headlines, so you best bring your A game.
Where would you spend your summer? The waterpark or the shovel museum?
7. Don’t be Afraid to Embellish
The best blog post headlines aren’t afraid to sell themselves. Embellish. Exaggerate. Entice.
Is substituting carrot sticks for potato chips a “secret” to losing weight? Not really, but you can act like it is in an article entitled “The Ultimate Diet Secrets for Shedding Serious Pounds.” Don’t be afraid to take a few liberties in headline writing.
A sense of urgency doesn’t hurt either:
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8. Create an Eye-Catching, Unique Title
Captivating headlines are the ones that stand apart from the rest. Great headlines aren’t afraid to be a little weird. While it’s difficult to achieve, the best headline writing straddles the line between clarity and uniqueness.
9. Think About Your Audience and What Matters to Them
You know your audience. You understand their dreams and pain points. Make use of that knowledge in your web headline writing so that your posts truly speak to readers.
Knowing your audience lets you develop some smart, strategic headlines that capitalize on your audience’s wishes or fears.
Ex. 5 Practices That Make You Look Like a Blogging Newb
This headline would certainly have bloggers interested.
10. Remember the 5Ws
In grammar school you probably remember learning the 5Ws:
These engaging, interrogative words are used to gather information. By using them in your headlines, you articulate to readers the kind of information you intend to provide.
11. Address Readers in 2nd Person
While writing prose in 2nd person is infamously awkward, it’s the perfect form for headline writing, grabbing the attention of readers by calling them out.
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12. Break Conventions
Headlines that elicit controversy draw in curious readers.
- Why the iPhone 5 is a Piece of Crap
- Why Your CTR Doesn’t Matter as Much as You Think
13. Brainstorm Lots of Different Headlines
Some experts suggest that writers should devote 80% of their time writing headlines – put your effort into the most important element. Set aside time to brainstorm a healthy smorgasbord of headlines. For a headline writing exercise, try writing at least 10 headlines, each with a different structure or with verb and adjective variations. See which feels the most appealing and ask coworkers for their opinions.
You really need to sit down and brainstorm to get those snappy headline juices flowing. You might not hit that headline writing sweet spot until you’re a few headlines in – chances are the first headline you come up with will never be your best.
14. Use Strong Adjectives and Verbs
As Startup Moon notes, there’s a morbid fascination that seems to hang over us. Readers are often drawn to dark and violent wording. Some dark headline power words include:
But it’s not just ominous words that allure readers – other viral headline words that appear in popular headlines include:
15. Ask Questions
Asking the reader a question helps draw them in, and punctuation helps catch the eye, similar to the way numbers and digits do.
- Think You Know SEO? Quiz Yourself and Find Out!
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16. Use Keywords
Be sure to use topic keywords in your headline – it will help your blog post rank better on Google, as well as make it clear to readers what you’ll be discussing in your post.
17. Keep Headlines Under 70 Characters
If you want your headlines to look good in Google and prevent them from being cut off, make sure your headlines stay under 70 characters.
We don’t get a full understanding of what this article is about due to the chopped headline.
18. Don’t Forget to A/B Test
Buffer did a great study showing folks how to easily A/B test headlines. How? It’s pretty simple:
- Take two headlines that could potentially perform well.
- Schedule two tweets to be sent out with the two different headlines.
- Send the tweets one hour apart (keeping both tweets well within in the AM/PM period – 9am and 10am for example).
- Whichever tweet performs better earns a place as the permanent blog post headline.
19. Use Images to Complement Headlines
Headlines are a big deal, and in many cases on the web, they are the one and only way to introduce your article to the world. However, many social sites like Facebook, Instagram, Pintetrest, and, more recently, Twitter, make it easy to add images alongside your link headlines. This is awesome news because images are insanely powerful and can do a lot to boost the success of your headline.
As Buffer notes, you can’t just use any old image to compliment your headline. The image you should provide a strong visual clue to the topic of the article.
Some image headline examples:
The image accompanying this post by Mashable is an excellent choice – it visually illustrates that the article is about Facebook and political partisanship.
This Wildfire image is simple but effective – it singles out one powerful statistic from the article in a visual asset, sparking our attention and encouraging us to read more.
This image by Intel is an excellent example of how a picture can serve as a perfect visual headline. Without reading any text, we get the message.
Overlaying a relevant image with the main headline or message of your post is an excellent strategy to make the most of a social media photo post. (Full disclosure, this is an article I wrote about buying Twitter followers.)
Be sure to set aside time to focus on good headline writing. Don’t rush through it – choose a few favorites and consider which will work best. A headline can make or break your article, so give it the time and attention it deserves!