In this article, I’m going to share a step-by-step process to make your headlines powerful, attractive, and useful for your readers. According to Copyblogger, 80% of your visitors will read your headline – but only 20% will go on to finish the article.
So you must take the time to make your blog post headlines the best they can be. Fortunately, when it comes to headline writing, little tweaks can go a long way.
For example, one recent study conducted by Content Marketing Institute found that including a hyphen or colon in the headline increased the click-through rate by 9% over headlines without either.
Headlines fail when they don’t match the article written or aren’t relevant to a specific theme. When the length also exceeds 62 characters, search engines tend to ignore the remainder of the headline, and this could decrease the conversion rate as well in the long run.
Download this important cheat sheet to write powerful headlines.
Let’s discuss the five steps to writing powerful headlines that will boost your search traffic, rankings, and social shares.
Step #1: Use specific numbers & data in your headline
The headline accounts for up to 50% of your blog post’s effectiveness. If you fail to make it powerful and clickable, every other marketing step you take will be a total waste of time.
Integrating specific numbers and data into your headline is an effective way to make your headlines more enticing to readers. Several research studies have shown that headlines with numbers tend to generate 73% more social shares and engagement.
According to Debra Jason, one of the reasons why using numbers work in headlines is because numbers are like “brain candy.” In other words, the brain is receptive to numbers.
Again, it’s very important to understand the science behind odd numbers. Often, you find viral blog posts with odd numbers in the headlines and you may have wondered why the authors didn’t use even numbers. Here are typical examples from Buzzfeed.com:
According to Content Marketing Institute, the brain seems to believe odd numbers more than even numbers. Odd numbers also seem to help people digest and recall information more easily.
And what’s more, when a headline was tweaked to include an odd number 7, click-through rate increased by 20%.
Ideally, instead of using the word “seven,” you should replace it with the numeral “7” in headlines. So instead of writing “Seven Steps To Start A Home Business,” use “7 Steps To Start a Home-Based Business.”
Note: If you’re writing a step-by-step guide, don’t include more than nine steps, because the human brain typically finds it difficult to process more than nine items at a go. However, if you’re writing about tools or different ways to do a thing, there is no limit to the number you can go.
Headlines with even numbers also perform well. Most times, even numbers outperform odd numbers, especially when the marketer or author promotes the content actively.
Here are some examples of successful headlines with odd numbers are:
17 Untapped Backlink Sources (Updated)
Step #2: Utilize a unique rationale
I’ve used unique rationales to write headlines that went viral. The word “rationale” simply means “an underlying reason why something should be done.” If you want people to read your content, do you have a good reason for that?
89% of blog posts get less than 100 shares. To avoid wasting time on content, give people a strong reason why they should click, read, and share your content.
Some of the rationales you can include in your headlines are:
Here are examples:
- 5 Tips to Write Blog Introductions Like a Pro
- 15 Lessons I Learned the Hard Way as a 3-Year-Old Blogger
- 8 Principles for Designing a Perfect Landing Page
- 17 Facts About Content Marketing That You Didn’t Know
Step #3: Call for attention
The purpose of the headline is to get your viewer to read the first sentence. Every headline should call for attention. “Attention” simply means mental focus and serious concentration on a given task.
Keep in mind that your customers are human beings with several things vying for their attention. Unfortunately, people’s attention span has been decreasing every single year. According to Statistica, these days the average person’s attention span is 8.25 seconds.
Social sharing is a lot easier when your visitors are engaged on your site. A survey by AddThis this showed that in Q1 of 2014, Facebook sharing accounted for 26% of share activity.
If you’re a small business owner, one of the ways to acquire and retain customers is by engaging them with great content. And great content starts with a headline that captures your reader’s attention.
You’ve got to convince your customers and prospects to keep reading. The headline can build that momentum for you.
That’s actually the headline’s true purpose. If you accomplish that goal, the introduction, the subtitles, the bullet points and storytelling will take care of the rest and convert the reader into a customer.
Before I show you some simple ways to write headlines that will call for attention, here are four rules to follow. They’re considered the “4 U’s” of writing attention-driven headlines:
The four U’s are:
- Make the headline unique
- Be ultra-specific
- It should convey a sense of urgency
- Your headline has to be useful
a). Unique headlines: A blogger friend of mine once told me that anytime he finds a compelling headline, he will tweak and make it unique for his audience.
“Unique” means being “one of a kind.” In other words, your headline has to be different from others.
So how do you make sure your headline is unique?
Simple: plug it into Google and enclose in double quotation marks. Here’s an example:
Note: You’ve got to use the double quotation marks, in order to get the exact result that you want. In the above Google search results, the headline has “no results founds.”
Of course, thousands of people may be targeting the same keyword (conversion rate optimization), but your goal is to write a headline that no one else has.
One blog that understands the usefulness of unique headlines is KISSmetrics. They generate lots of social shares, since readers can’t find similar content of the same quality (with same headline), they’d rather share this one with others.
b). Ultra-specific headlines: The second rule for writing a headline that calls for attention is: be ultra-specific. According to The New York Times, lack of focus, vision and planning is one of the reasons why 33% of small businesses fail.
Your content’s headline controls every piece you put out there, no matter what format or platform you use to publish it.
The more precise you can be, the more authority you’ll command in your industry and the easier you’ll find it to build a strong connection with customers.
I know there are times when you might want to mask the content’s real purpose from your target audience, and use click triggers such as power words and strong adjectives in your headline.
There’s nothing wrong with this, exactly. However, headlines that are ultra-specific give the reader a sense of what they should expect as they click to read the content.
Whether you’re an established content marketer or a beginner, you need to set specific and realistic objectives. Don’t confuse your readers with your headline. Avoid vagueness. Get straight to the point.
If you’re sharing five steps to achieve something, go ahead and make it known in the headline. This is another reason why you need to choose your niche carefully.
Know your audience and write headlines that will meet their needs.
So how do you write such ultra-specific headlines?
Let’s assume that your target keyword is “small business plan.” Here are specific headline variations that would work:
- 3 Simple Steps to Write a Small Business Plan for Beginners
- Top 10 Small Business Plan Templates That Succeeded
- Learn How to Write a Small Business Plan From Scratch
- Step-by-Step Process for Writing a Small Business Plan in 30 Minutes
Did you notice how specific the above headlines are? The underlined portions contain phrases that make the entire headline ultra-specific (directed at something). Admittedly, they may not be unique – it’s very difficult to achieve both uniqueness and specificity in a single headline.
Steve Kamb of NerdFitness.com writes specific headlines about meals that help you stay fit and healthy.
I’ve studied Peep Laja’s headline styles for a long time as well. He uses only specific titles that help his conversion rate optimization community. Here’s an example:
c). It should convey a sense of urgency: In a recent post, Derek Christian, founder of Cleaning Business Today, said “Effective marketing boils down to creating a fear of losing out on an amazing deal.”
This was exactly what Michael Hyatt explained in the “Urgency Wheel.”
Unless you infuse your headline with urgency, your readers are likely to put off reading your content or even bookmark and never come back to it again. The purpose is to get readers to click your headline now.
In BigThink’s recent interview, Carol Sawdye shares an emotional experience of how she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease at the age of 25. She become more active in the pursuit of her career goals.
Your own case may not be health-related, but we’re all in the same boat. Everybody is looking for the propelling force that will nudge them to do something right now, and not put it off until tomorrow. That’s what urgency does when you use it in your headline writing.
A sense of urgency is not only applicable to content marketing. It cuts across your personal life and productivity as well. Hyatt simplifies it below
Copywriters usually improve conversion rate when they strategically use a sense of urgency in their copy. Potential customers tend to respond quickly, because their psychology is wired to persuade them to buy based on emotions, but to justify that decision based on logic.
Scarcity and urgency are two powerful copy elements that usually go together to produce outstanding results. I first came across the model at WiderFunnel and still use it.
Ecommerce sites use urgency and scarcity a lot. This is how Amazon uses both elements to sell more physical products, especially in the electronics and gadgets category:
Urgency-based headlines will always grab attention, because it makes the reader anticipate what comes next. Consider Upworthy’s well-known headlines:
Ideally, you want to tailor your message based on where your customers are in the decision process.
They’re not going to ignore your headline, because they don’t want to miss out on what’s on the other side of the headline, once it’s clicked. The only way they can find out is to click and read.
If you’ve been following Spencer Haw’s authority site project, you’ve probably noticed how his updates use urgency in the headline, in order to get more clicks and engagement.
Ramsay Taplin also uses the same strategy to write his headlines, especially lately. Here’s a typical example:
If you’re an author and want to coach other people to become great at writing, then these urgency-infused headlines will do:
- 5 Steps I Took to Write My First Kindle Book (And How You Can Do It in 4 Steps)
- I Was Scared of Writing In 2012, But I’m Super-Brave in 2015 (Learn My Tricks)
- My Long-Kept Secret for Getting Your Book Published Faster
d). Your headline has to be useful: The last rule you should definitely follow if you want your headlines to grab attention and get the job done is to make them useful. The above three rules – uniqueness, ultra-specific, and urgency – all correlate with usefulness.
If your headline and content isn’t useful, no matter how much urgency you employ, it’ll fail. In fact, there is no way to write a specific and unique piece of content without it being useful at the same time.
There is no doubt that following the 4U’s above will help you build a blog that generates over 100,000 monthly blog readers within 2 years.
My recent headline is useful. It says:
The reader perceives that the post is about to reveal some secrets, namely about sites that rank in Google without having lots of inbound links and authority. Though the headline is question-based, it gives people a certain expectation and they want to click to see the reason “why.”
Consequently, the post generated over 1,500 Facebook, Twitter and Google+ shares combined in less than 14 days.
SocialMouths.com latest posts are also full of useful headlines, which have generated thousands of social shares as well. See the screenshot below:
Michael Stelzner of SocialMediaExaminer.com doesn’t like to go overboard with his headlines. Instead, he uses a simple and clear approach to make the headline useful. His social shares usually exceed 2,000, outperforming several other sites. Here’s one of his latest posts:
Now that you understand the 4U’s of writing attention-grabbing headlines, let’s look at the various ways to write powerful headlines that will generate qualified clicks and leads for your business.
1). State the obvious in your headline: Write headlines that are easy to understand. The moment a potential reader stumbles on your web page from anywhere, they won’t need any help to figure out what you’re talking about.
I have to point out here that most headlines with a sense of urgency usually lack clarity of purpose. The purpose of the headline is to get people to click, so that you can earn a better ROI. The purpose is not to appear clever or educated.
Another way to confuse readers is to use words and phrases that aren’t common. Readers don’t want to know which university you attended or your academic status – unless you run an educational blog, of course.
Instead, demonstrate your cleverness through your ability to explain complicated issues and make them simpler for the ordinary person.
Use simple words to express yourself and convey your message. If your readers are hungry for useful information, don’t ask if they’re famished. Both words mean the same thing, but one is more commonly used than the other.
Examples of confusing headlines that you should avoid are:
- Don’t use: 12 Meticulous Savings Tips For The Financial Amateur
- Instead use: 12 Effective Saving Tips For Those Who Want Extra Cash
- Never use: How to Annihilate Inflammation of Skin Due to Unfavorable Weather
- But use: How to Get Rid of Acne and Other Annoying Skin Conditions
- Never ever use: Top 10 Ubiquitous Places to Find Ravishing Blog Post Theses
- Feel free to use: Top 10 Places to Find Useful Blog Post Ideas
Sure, you’ve go to raise the bar in your content, but always use common words and adjectives that people can relate with. That’s how you can encourage fellow internet marketers, content marketers and bloggers to share your content, especially on LinkedIn.
Now take a look at the screenshot below. You’ll notice that this article appears on Harvard Business Review, but the headline is a bit confusing. Let’s see if we can make it better:
Quick problem: The above headline could be written much more clearly. Let’s do it:
- How To Move Up And Not Get Stuck In Your Boss’s Shadow
- How You Can Move Up Easily in Your Workplace
A typical landing page headline with both clarity and simplicity is this one, at Rainmaker.fm:
Digital Photography School, a popular content-rich site founded by Darren Rowse, has some clear and clickable headlines. Even though the photography niche/industry has some technical terms, the authors ensure they don’t confuse readers.
2). Use interesting adjectives: Adjectives are important in both spoken and written English language.
As a content writer, you can use adjectives to give your headline a boost and make it super-attractive to your audience’s needs.
Jeff Goins provided some examples of interesting adjectives that you can use to create your headline:
- And so much more…
Here are some headline examples that use the adjectives:
“Incredible” headline at DPS:
And here is the “free” headline:
3). Flag the reader in your headline: Dan Kennedy once introduced the “flagging technique” and it’s a powerful way to write headlines for both copy and blog posts. You already know one of the basic techniques, which involves addressing the readers as “you.”
Personally, I use “you” a lot in my headlines. And what I discovered is that for every headline that contains you, the engagement is usually very high. Not only that, but social shares exceed 700 for the majority of them. The word “you” connects and captivate your readers on a personal level.
But beyond that, address your readers and write headlines specifically for them. I’ve used this approach several times, and it works. Here are examples:
- For Clickbank Affiliates Only: Double Your Affiliate Commission in 15 Minutes a Day
- WordPress Fashion Bloggers: 4 Ways to Secure Your Blog Against Hackers
- Struggling Bloggers: Create an Endless Stream of Content Ideas With This 1 Website
- Calling All Struggling Bloggers: Use These 3 Strategies to Get More Blog Visitors
Missy Ward understands how to flag the reader in her headlines. She goes even deeper by targeting states and cities:
4). Use emotional words: All words are not created equal. Some words have power to prompt change, while others simply reaffirm the status quo. Some words can make people cry, while others can evoke joy.
Emotionally impactful words are popularly referred to as “power words.” Here are some emotional power words to give your readers a pep talk and spur them into action:
Examples of unique headlines that use some of the power words are:
- How to Conquer Writer’s Block in 6 Simple Steps
- Case Study: How Courage Helped Me to Build a 6 Figure Online Business
- The Best Way to Write From Your Heart and Connect With Customers
- Audacity of Content Marketing: 3 Secrets to Outsmart Your Competitors
Note: You can use one or more power words on your headline, but make sure they’re useful for the user and read naturally, so you don’t get a Google penalty. For example, Glen Long used 4 power words in his latest post at Boost Blog Traffic.
Of course, there are people who use emotional words in the wrong way – to deceive and manipulate consumers – but that’s not what we’re trying to do here.
Your purpose is to use power words in the right manner – to increase conversion rate, for your emails, blog posts, copy and adverts. Words have power, so use them wisely.
In his flagship book, Empathic Marketing: How to Satisfy the 6 Core Emotional Needs of Your Customers, Mark Ingwer said that only through understanding the reason why customers buy can you grow your business and develop loyal customers.
Appealing to your customer’s emotion will increase your sales and social shares in a significant manner.
Customers are human beings, with all the qualities that make them human – they’re not the numbers you see on your sales dashboard.
Once you understand that, you’ll quit pushing sales messages to them all the time, and focus on answering their questions. Legit marketing is about building relationships, not chasing customers away.
Your prospect’s brain is hard-wired to repel any message that’s not clear and realistic. But as you begin to appeal to people emotionally, they’ll be more likely to trust you.
Step #4: Use headline formulas
What makes a headline good is its structure – aka “the formula.” Every authority blogger and content marketer has one or more formulas for writing headlines.
I have mine and sometimes, I tweak and test different headlines before deciding which works best. When using formulas, make sure to include power words that will get people to buy your product or join your waiting list.
Some bloggers prefer to write their content first, before crafting the headline. I don’t do that. However, there is no hard and fast rule. What works for me may not be the right approach for you.
We’ve addressed some ways to write a powerful headline. But I also love the way Bronn outlines a simple approach to make your headlines stand out, using the acronym “SHINE“:
- S – Specificity
- H – Helpfulness
- I – Immediacy
- N – Newsworthiness
- E – Entertainment value
To make it easier for you, consider adopting the headline formula used by many fitness experts. They first identify the problem, proffer a solution, and then make a promise.
John Caples’ headline formulas also include these three components. Here’s another example:
Lars Lofgren advises that you:
1). “Little known ways” formula: How many times have you used this formula to write a catchy headline? Each of the words in the formula is emotionally-driven. These kinds of headlines usually pop into people’s minds even well after they’ve seen them.
People like simplicity and appreciate when little things build up to something significant. Big Data is the by-product of little data collected over time, eventually becoming a giant database of data.
Interestingly, I just discovered that the “little known ways [put your solution here]” formula is typically a social magnet. In other words, thousands of people like and share the post on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and even Google+.
Let’s quickly take a look. Go to BuzzSumo.com. Plug your formula phrase (i.e. little known ways to) into the search box. Then search for it. Here are the results:
If your industry is photography, here are fresh headlines. Of course, use the samples to align with your target audience if you’re in a different niche:
- 7 Little-Known Ways to Take Portrait Photographs
- 25 Little-Known Tips to Make Your Lightroom Powerful
- Natural Light Photography: 10 Little-Known Lessons I Learnt the Hard Way
Here are a few headlines for digital marketers:
- 3 Little-Known Steps to Monetize a Brand New Blog Successfully
- How These 5 Little Known Secrets Increased My Search Traffic by 54%
- 17 Little-Known Ways to Increase Conversion Rate
2). “Get rid of [problem] once and for all” formula: Who wouldn’t want to permanently get rid of an annoying problem they’re faced with on a daily basis? When you write your headlines with this strategy in mind, you’ll captivate your audience from start to finish, because they want to know the secret, too.
This headline formula is mostly applicable in the health industry, where people are looking to treat, cure, remedy, or alleviate a physical problem – e.g., acne, skin scars, high blood pressure, eczema, bad breath, etc.
This is quite similar to the formula introduced by Sherice Jacob known as “How to Survive Your First [put the topic here].” Headlines that promise to help the reader get rid of a particular problem will persuade the reader to take three steps:
- Click the headline
- Read the first paragraph to determine if you truly have the answer
- Read through to the end, or scroll down and take action
Even though the “Get rid of” headline formula is mostly used in healthcare niches, you can reverse-engineer and still use it in online marketing topics such as blogging, CRO, affiliate marketing, self-publishing, SEO, social media, web traffic, and so on.
Here are examples:
- How to Get Rid of Content Marketing Failure and Drive Search Traffic
- Stop Wasting Time: Get Rid of Flashy Social Media Tools and Get More Done
- 7 Smart Ways to Get Rid of Affiliate Marketing Struggle and Make More Money
The “get rid of” headline formula usually goes viral when promoted strategically by the author. Some examples have generated over 370,000 social shares in the past 12 months:
3). “Who else wants” formula: This headline style works because it asks a question, and the right question usually generates the right answer. I’m currently using this format on my landing page, and it’s converting very well.
I didn’t begin with “Who else wants…”, but nonetheless, question-based headlines are strong inspirations for readers.
It brings them into the discussion and makes them feel comfortable. Copywriters ask several questions in their copy just to get the targeted customer to pause and consider the product – the same principles apply to headlines, too.
Here are some examples of a “Who else wants” headline formula:
Some of the headlines that you can tweak to appeal to your target audience are:
- Who Else Wants to Learn About Conversion Rate Optimization [Step-by-Step]?
- Who Else Wants the 6 Steps to Master A/B Split Testing?
- Who Else Want to Raise Capital for a New Startup?
Strategy #5: Measure your headline success
People love to share articles that are lengthy (usually 2000+ words). But as a smart marketer, you wouldn’t simply assume that would work for you. The best way to make your own decision is to write a similarly in-depth article and see how it goes.
What’s the benefit of using a headline formula or rule that doesn’t produce results for you?
For this very reason, you’ve got to measure your headline success. You want to make sure that your time isn’t wasted – or your money, if you hired a professional to write the content.
Some of the metrics you should focus on are:
i). Client/customer inquiries: Within a period of 2 – 3 months, did your content generate any client inquiries? It doesn’t have to be much, but the very fact that you got a handful of clients is a sure signal that your headline style is working. All you’ve got to do is just optimize to improve it.
You need to figure out which content is driving the most leads for your business. Once you can pinpoint that, you’re on your way to improving conversions because you’re operating from a state of certainty.
Oren International increased lead generation by 83% within the first 6 months of updating their online presence with fresh content and creating a content marketing plan.
ii). Social media shares: For each headline formula above, I showed you examples and how many social shares each of them had generated.
You’ve got to monitor the number of Facebook shares and likes, tweets, LinkedIn shares, and Pinterest image pins. Making social sharing buttons visible can increase sharing by 7x, especially when the post is useful.
Another thing you may want to measure is the amount of inbound links you generate through your powerful headlines and content.
Editorial links are the best kinds of links to get, because you don’t ask for them, and they mainly appear within content, thus passing significant SEO value to your web pages and improving your search rankings.
Finally, you may also want to measure comments. It’s optional – and indeed, a lot of content marketers and bloggers have removed the comment box. Brian Clark, founder of Copyblogger, did so, as did Chris Brogan.
But my opinion is that if a piece of content generates more comments than other posts you’ve written, it means you did something better – maybe with your headline, promotion, or strategy. You’ve got to figure this out.
With new and emerging content marketing strategies, it’s becoming very difficult to focus on what works. This is why smart digital marketers are disciplined, because they understand the importance of great content and whether it generates search traffic and leads.
It’s a given that the headline is an integral element of your content, no matter what format the content may take. But the introduction, subtitles, bullet points, and call to action are all equally important.
Your overall focus should be to educate prospects and customers, by teaching them new things. It’s not enough that they click your headline. They need to read the information you’ve provided them in the body of your content as well.
The best approach is to use storytelling and data-driven content to build your authority while solving their problem. Above all, be consistent and keep learning new ways to make your headlines click-worthy and useful.
What other strategy do you use when writing your blog post and landing page headlines?