9 Tips for Writing Great Headlines in 2017
If an advertisement or a content piece lacks a great headline, it doesn’t matter how good what’s inside is. You might as well toss out the effort you spent writing it and setting up your campaign.
There’s no sense in dedicating any time to creating content or running ads if your headlines aren’t compelling. It’s like writing a wonderful book and giving it an awful cover. Potential readers won’t click to read more if there’s nothing to pique their interest. (For example, if this post was titled “Headline Advice” you probably wouldn’t be reading it right now.)
So what strategies work for creative, clickable headlines right now? Let’s take a look at nine powerful, reproducible ways to write a great headline this year, with plenty of examples. Let’s make sure your content gets the traffic it deserves!
Tip #1: Use Simple but Powerful Language
The language you choose naturally impacts the click-worthiness of your headline. When using words that are bland, uninspiring, or unknown by most, your potential readers are going to be turned off.
Instead stick with language that is simple, but powerful. For example, try turning your headline into a call-to-action with words such as “Try” or “Click,” or addressing the reader directly by using the word “You.” Transform a generic headline with a power word like “never.”
Positive vs. negative headlines
Keeping the language simple will be your best bet to getting more eyes on your post. Don’t use the word “utilize” when the word “use” will do.
Examples of headlines with simple but powerful language:
- How to fix all your sleep problems with science – via Bright Side
- NASA released a ton of software for free and here’s some you should try – via TechCrunch
Tip #2: Target a Keyword with High Search Volume
What use is running an ad or creating a video if people aren’t even interested in the topic? Every headline you write should target a specific keyword with significant search volume – this not only ensures that your headline is optimized to drive targeted traffic through organic or paid search, but it proves that people are actively looking for information related to the topic. Is the keyword you’re targeting something that people are actually searching for? If the answer is no, then it’s useless.
There are plenty of tools you can use to find high-volume keywords to use in your headlines, from WordStream’s Free Keyword Tool to paid tools like Moz’s Keyword Explorer. If you have an AdWords account, you can use their Keyword Planner (under “Tools” > “Keyword Planner”).
Type in some potential keywords to get an idea of their volume, and target terms with medium to high search volume. Just keep in mind that for keywords with very high search volume, the competition is going to be much steeper, and your content will have to be that much more amazing to rank on the SERP.
Using Keyword Planner to research keyword volume for “tropical vacations”
Tip #3: Make a Bold Statement
Introducing a shock factor into your headline will almost always ensure high click-through rates. Think about ways to spice your title up, and word it in a way that instantly draws readers in. Making a bold, opinionated or controversial statement is a sure way to do this.
One brand that absolutely kills their headline game time and time again is Refinery29, an online publication that caters to women readers. I have to actively resist opening their email newsletters, since I’ll end up spending 30 minutes more then I planned to on my phone (but it’s hard because their subject lines are so enticing!).
The reason Refinery29 excels at this is because their headlines are typically very opinionated, and leave the reader wanting more. Check out the examples below – Chrissy Teigen had cosmetic surgery?! Why would I want to anger Beyonce’s publicist? You get the point!
Here are a few more examples of headlines that make bold claims:
- Become a millionaire by age 30 – via Business Insider
- There’s no such thing as a good Trump voter – via Slate
Tip #4: Include Numbers in Your Headline
This tip may seem obnoxiously obvious, but I couldn’t leave it out because it’s proven time and time again to be effective. People are inherently attracted to numbers and lists. They’re easy for the brain to process, and they ensure your future reader that the format is going to be easy to digest (like this post, and mostly every single post I write).
“Numbers work well in headlines because humans like predictability and dislike uncertainty,” says Buffer’s Courtney Seiter. Conductor also conducted a study where they found that headlines with numbers significantly outperform headlines without numbers.
Headlines with numbers are 36% more popular
Examples of great headlines with numbers:
- 45 Productivity Tips for Extremely Busy People – via The Muse
- 9 Things You Should Never Say When Asking for a Raise – via Salary.com
- 40 Essential Social Media Marketing Statistics for 2017 – via this blog right here
Tip #5: Do Your Competitive Research
Have your competitors written articles or run ads around the same topic you’re planning to cover? What headlines did they use? What are the headlines of the pages that are already ranking in Google? How can you make yours better?
These are the types of questions you should be asking in order to write more compelling headlines. If your headline doesn’t stand out from the millions that are laid upon us every single day, then the chances of grabbing high CTR’s are low.
Buzzsumo research reveals popular headlines on the topic of “tattoos”
Google your keyword and see what pops up in that #1 ranking. Also, use content curation tools like Buzzsumo to search for your keyword/topic, and see which related articles have gotten the most shares. Why was that? A great headline often drives people to reshare it with their audience. How can you craft a headline that’s even more enticing? Research is critical!
Tip #6: Ask a Strange or Funny Question
Questions, especially weird ones, are the perfect way to grab someone's attention in a way that leaves them wanting more, creating a so-called curiosity gap. Why? Because the instinct is to want to uncover the answer, which can’t be done unless they click on the headline and visit your website. If used right, this method guarantees high CTR’s.
“Questions appeal to reader emotions like few others can,” says Helen Nesterenko of Writtent. “It promotes that ever-important conversational tone vital to a good blog post. It makes readers want to know more.”
It’s important to be strategic about your question asking strategy. Copyhackers recommends never asking questions in a misleading way, which could turn potential readers away.
Examples of great headlines based on questions:
- Why are you still using Microsoft Word? – via Gizmodo
- Could you pass a 1954 Home Economics class? – via Buzzfeed
- Is bloody pink chicken safe to eat? – via Epicurious
Tip #7: Create a Sense of Urgency
FOMO (fear of missing out) is a real thing, and it works tremendously well when writing headlines. Instill a sense of urgency by giving a date when a special offer expires and using urgent language like in the example AdWords ad below.
The description line reads, “Book Now & Get Extra $15 on JetBlue Airlines, Flights Tickets. Hurry!” By using the word “Hurry!” you’re urging your reader to click-through and take advantage of this limited-time offer. This can work even better when giving an exact deadline time, for example “3 hours left!” or “Limited Tickets! 20% Discount Expires Tonight.” Learn more about using countdown customizers in your ads to make this process automated here, and try this technique out in your headlines too.
Examples of headlines that build urgency:
- Marketers: Are you ready for Canada’s July 1 spam law? – via Venture Beat
- 19 Simple Tips to Reduce Your Bounce Rate Today – via ConversionXL
Tip #8: Leave an Air of Mystery
There’s an art to how much information you should divulge in a headline, but you should never reveal your main takeaway. If you do, the reader will have no reason to click-through and read the rest of your content.
For example, check out the three articles trending on Today.com below. All three of them are intriguing, and all of them leave the reader wanting to learn more.
For example, the first headline reveals that Jimmy Kimmel has an update on his baby, but we aren’t sure what that update is. The second headline implies that Chrissy Metz wore a tight dress to the MTV movie awards, but we can’t see the full dress, and we’re also not given the message she delivered to body shamers. Finally, the third headline doesn’t tell us whether talcum powder causes cancer or not. We have to click to get the answers!
There’s a fine line, though, between too much and too little information, so make sure you’re giving enough information to build interest, but not so much that the reader feels fully informed just by reading the headline.
(Protip: This technique also works if you're trying to write a great introduction.)
Examples of great headlines that will make you oh-so-curious:
- 17 Facts You Won’t Believe Are True – via Buzzfeed
- Three Job Interview Mistakes You Think You Avoided But Actually Didn’t – via Fast Company
- Earthworms are more important than pandas (if you want to save the planet) – via The Conversation
- 7 Reasons the Best Employees Quit, Even When They Like Their Job – via Inc.
- Here’s Why You Should Never Get Up To Pee In The Middle Of The Night – via Little Things
Tip #9: Write Multiple Headlines and Vote on the Best
This is a strategy I’ve used ever since I started writing headlines for articles and titles for presentations. Let yourself do a complete brain dump of all the headline ideas you have. Think about ways that you can mix and match them together. Then share the top three to five best headlines with your team and ask them to vote. You’ll likely come to a clear consensus in no time.
With these tips, your headline writing game has the potential to reach new click-through rate highs!