Want your blog posts to perform well? Well, here’s a simple trick: Write magnetic headlines.
Playing around with your title after publishing can significantly boost a post’s conversion rate.
What can you do to make a headline more compelling? In this article, I’ll share my step-by-step process for producing consistently great headlines.
Why Should You Care About Headlines?
Traffic to your post will vary depending on the power of your headline. If you fail to make it impactful and clickable, every other marketing step that you take will be a total waste of time. So, taking the time to master how to write a headline is key.
Web Users Scan Headlines
It’s long been said that a human’s average attention span is less than that of a goldfish. While that eye-popping stat is widely disputed, the fact remains that you don’t have a ton of time to capture a person’s attention.
That’s where knowing how to write a good headline comes in. It’s your chance to immediately catch your audience’s scanning eye.
Writing good articles isn’t enough. Compelling content by itself isn’t a ticket to higher click-through rates (CTR).
Be it a search engine result or a post in the Facebook timeline, people determine if your content is worth their time in a split second. Forget reading or scanning your article. The information overload has led readers to scan even the headlines.
Headlines Are Worth 90% of the Advertising Dollar
The post title is possibly your only interaction with your audience.
Famed advertising executive David Ogilvy believed that your headline is read five times as much as your body copy:
“On the average, five times as many people read the headlines as read the body copy.”
“It follows that unless your headline sells your product, you have wasted 90 percent of your money.”
If your content keeps the promises you make in the headline and conveys your value proposition clearly, you nail your first impression.
A Catchy Headlines Can Get Your Article Shared Thousands of Times
Amid the noise of the 7 million blog posts published every day, how many do you think get more than 100 shares?
As per CoSchedule and Buffer’s research on 1 million headlines, 89% of created content does not even cross this 100-share mark.
How can you break into that top 1% bracket and get thousands of shares on every article you write?
By crafting a seductive blog headline.
Think of the last five article tweets you favorited.
Did you read every article before pressing the favorite button (now called the like button)?
An exceptional post title can get your article shared on social media, even before it’s read. That’s why learning how to write a headline is essential.
Web Users Read (Roughly) in an F-Shaped Pattern
Eye-tracking visualizations have found that on the web, users generally read in two horizontal movements followed by a systematic and slow vertical scan. In other words, an F-shaped pattern.
Social media users appreciate scannable writing with headlines, subheadings, and bullets that are front-loaded with information. That’s why it’s so critical to load the top of the “F” with the most important information.
Source: Nielsen Norman Group
Step #1: Use Specific Numbers and Data in Your Headline
Integrating specific numbers and data into your headline is one of the most important things you can do to make a headline more compelling. Research shows that headlines featuring numbers generate more social shares and engagement.
According to marketer Debra Jason, one of the reasons why using numbers works in your headlines is because numbers are like “brain candy.” They are addictive, and our minds can’t get enough of them.
It’s all part of the psychology of writing headlines.
Additionally, it’s important to understand the scientific element of odd numbers. We often see viral blog posts with numbers namedropped, seemingly randomly, in the headlines, and you may have stopped to wonder why the authors didn’t use even numbers in their list post.
According to the Content Marketing Institute, that’s because the brain seems to believe odd numbers more than even numbers. Odd numbers help people digest and recall information more easily. What’s more, when they tested their hypothesis and tweaked their headline to include odd numbers such as seven, click-through rates increased by 20 percent.
We’ve also found that instead of using the word “seven,” you should always 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” to appeal to the number-craving side of our minds.
Let’s look at some examples from Buzzfeed.com:
We’ll also let you in on another secret. If you’re writing a step-by-step guide, don’t include more than nine steps, because the human brain typically struggles to process more than nine items at a time. However, if you’re writing about tools or different ways to do a thing, there’s no limit to the number you can use.
Working numbers into your titles is a great place to start in learning what you can do to make a headline more compelling.
Step #2: Utilize a Unique Rationale
I’ve used unique rationales to write great headlines (if I say so myself) 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 why they should?
Did you know that 59% of people share content without reading it first? Therefore, we must ensure our headlines appeal to those who might pass them along. Give people a strong reason why they should click, read, and, above all, share your content. Businesses with a blog experience twice as much email traffic as businesses that don’t.
Some of the rationales that you can include in your headlines are:
- Tips ✅
- Reasons ✅
- Lessons ✅
- Tricks ✅
- Ideas ✅
- Ways ✅
- Principles ✅
- Facts ✅
- Secrets ✅
- Strategies ✅
Here are some examples of our rationale in action:
- 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
- 6 Insights to the Future of Search Engine Optimization
- 3 Secrets to Make Your List Post Sing
- 4 Headline Writing Tips to Make Your Titles Soar
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 thousands of ads, blogs, articles, and more vying for their attention every single day.
After all, great content always 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.
So, instead of putting all your time and energy into getting email subscribers and making sales, learn how to write a headline that gets people to read the first sentence.
That should be your headline’s true purpose. If you accomplish that goal, the introduction, subtitles, 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 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.
- Convey a sense of urgency.
- Provide something useful.
1) Make the Headline Unique
“Unique” means “one of a kind.” In other words, your headline must be different from others.
So, how do you test your headlines for uniqueness?
Simple: Plug them into Google and enclose the headline in double quotation marks. Here’s an example:
Note: You have to use the double quotation marks to get the exact result you want. In the above Google search results, the headline returns a “no results found” message.
Of course, thousands of people may be targeting the same keyword (in the name of conversion rate optimization), but your goal is to write a headline that no one else has.
2) Be Ultra-Specific With Your Headline
Your prospects have questions, and they want answers. If you can provide them with an ultra-specific headline and the answer to their questions, you can convert them into loyal readers and customers.
The more precise you can be, the more authority you’ll command in your industry—and the easier it’ll be to build a strong connection with customers.
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, necessarily. However, ultra-specific headlines give the reader a sense of what to expect when they click to read your 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.
For example, if you’re sharing five steps to achieve something, make it known in the headline. This is why you need to choose your niche carefully.
Check out these headlines from my blog. They’re ultra-specific and get straight to the point. You know what you’re going to get by clicking on the posts.
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
See how specific the above headlines are? They contain ultra-specific phrases that communicate exactly what the reader will get by clicking.
Steve Kamb of NerdFitness.com writes specific headlines about meals that help you stay healthy and fit. Notice the specificity and flair of his words.
3) Convey a Sense of Urgency: Don’t Miss Out!
Derek Christian, founder of Cleaning Business Today, once said that “effective marketing” boils down to “creating a fear of losing out on an amazing deal.”
Unless you infuse your headline with urgency, your readers will likely put off reading your content or possibly bookmark it and never return. You want readers to click your headline now.
That’s what happens when you use urgency in your headline writing.
Copywriters usually improve conversion rates when they strategically use a sense of urgency in their copy. Scarcity and urgency are two powerful copy elements that team up to produce outstanding results.
E-commerce sites regularly leverage urgency and scarcity. Amazon uses them to sell more physical products:
4) Provide Something Useful
What good is a headline (or the content it’s attached to) if it’s not useful? Not very.
The first three rules—uniqueness, ultra-specific, and urgency—all correlate with usefulness.
What does useful content look like? It’s practical, helpful, valuable, informative, worthwhile, beneficial, advantageous, and so on. Your primary objective is to help readers experience hope, knowing that their problem can still be solved.
Don’t forget to include plenty of data in your blog posts and capture screenshots. Writing in-depth posts can also help your cause, as studies show that content length correlates with search rankings and conversions.
Do You Understand 4 U’s of Writing Attention-Grabbing Headlines? Are You Ready to Put Them Into Action?
It’s time to look at what you can do to make your headlines more compelling. In no time, you’ll be writing catchy titles that 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 reader lands on your web page, they shouldn’t need any help to figure out what you’re talking about.
I have to point out here that many headlines with a sense of urgency lack clarity of purpose. The purpose of the headline is to get people to click, so that you can earn a better return on investment (ROI). The purpose is not to appear clever or educated.
Another way to confuse readers is by using words and phrases that aren’t common. Instead, demonstrate your cleverness by explaining complicated issues simply, with the ordinary person in mind.
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 (and it’s great for SEO!)
Here are a few examples of confusing headlines you should avoid:
- 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
This landing page headline from& Rainmaker.fm is clear, simple, and effective:
Digital Photography School, a popular, content-rich site founded by Darren Rowse, has some clear and clickable headlines. Even though photography is filled with technical terms, the authors use simple language to avoid confusing their readers. Check out the example below:
2) Use Interesting Adjectives in Your Headlines
Adjectives are great for emotive writing and bringing your audience along with you on a story. They keep readers engaged and interested.
As a content writer, you can use adjectives to give your headline a boost and make it super-attractive to your audience’s needs.
Bestselling author Jeff Goins provided some examples of interesting adjectives that you can use to create your headline:
- And so much more…
And here’s a headline from Healthline using “free”:
3) Flag the Reader in Your Headlines
Author/copywriter 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.”
I use “you” in a lot of my headlines. I’ve found the engagement is very high for every headline that contains “you.” The word “you” connects with and captivates your readers on a personal level.
Since the majority of your competitors are also using content to reach and attract customers, you’ve got to reach your prospects on their level, whether you’re a B2B or B2C marketer.
Address your readers directly by writing headlines specifically for them. I’ve used this approach countless 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
4) Use Emotional Words in Your Headlines
All words are not created equal. Some words have the power to prompt change, while others simply reaffirm the status quo. Some words make people cry, while others evoke joy.
Emotionally impactful words are popularly referred to as “power words.” Here are some emotional power words you can use to give your readers a pep talk and spur them into action:
Here are examples of unique headlines that use some of these power words:
- 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 in your headline. Just make sure they’re useful for the user and read naturally so you don’t get a Google penalty for “keyword-bombing.”
Be warned that some use emotional words in the wrong way—to deceive and manipulate consumers, or even create “clickbait.” That’s not what we’re trying to do here.
Your purpose is to use power words to increase the conversion rate for your emails, blog posts, copy, and adverts. Words have power, so use them wisely.
Appealing to your customer’s emotions should significantly increase your sales and social shares. Instead of pushing sales messaging to them, focus on answering their questions. Legit marketing is about building relationships, not chasing customers away.
Appealing to people on an emotional level makes them more likely to trust you.
Step #4: Use Headline Formulas
To write a good headline requires structure—AKA a “formula.” Every authority blogger and content marketer has one or more formulas for writing headlines.
I have mine. Sometimes I tweak and test different headlines to identify which works best. Whatever your formula, be 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. One formula I love uses 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 many fitness experts use. They identify the problem, offer a solution, and then make a promise.
Here are more formulas you can use to write compelling headlines:
1) The “Little Known Ways” Formula
How many times have you used this time-tested formula to write a catchy headline? Using the phrase “little known ways” is like promising to let the reader in on a secret. Consequently, it’ll be hard for them to resist clicking.
Each of the words in the formula is emotionally driven. These types of headlines usually pop into people’s minds, even well after they’ve seen them.
Here are a few “little known ways” headlines digital marketers are likely to use:
- 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) The “Get Rid of [Problem] Once and For All” Formula
Who wouldn’t want to permanently get rid of an annoying problem that they face daily? When you write your headlines with this strategy in mind, you’ll captivate your audience from start to finish. They’ll want to know the secret, too.
This headline formula is mostly applicable in the health industry, as it appeals to people 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 it and use it in online marketing topics, such as blogging, conversion rate optimization (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 often goes viral, especially when promoted strategically by the author.
3) The “Who Else Wants” Formula
This headline style works because it asks a question, and the right question usually generates the right answer.
The formula brings your target audience into the discussion and makes them feel comfortable. It’s like you’re there having a conversation with them. Copywriters often 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.
Just like finding and sharing timely content and including at least one image in your post, simply asking the right question can increase your social shares and engagement level.
Here are some examples of the “who else wants” headline formula:
- 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 Wants to Raise Capital for a New Startup?
Step #5: Measure Your Headline’s Success
OK, so you’ve learned how to write a good headline. Now it’s time to measure your headlines’ success.
It’s not a one-size-fits-all scenario, though.
For example, people love to share articles that are lengthy (usually 2,000+ words). As a smart marketer, you wouldn’t simply assume that longer posts would work for you. The best way to make your own decision is to write a similar, in-depth article and see how it goes.
Why is testing so important? Well, what’s the benefit of using a headline formula or rule that doesn’t produce results for you? You want to make sure you’re not wasting your time—or your money (if you hired a professional to write the content).
You can measure content and headline success through:
i). Client/customer inquiries: Within a period of two to three months, did your content generate any client inquiries? It doesn’t have to be much. Let’s say you got a handful of clients. That’d be a sure signal that your headline style is working. All you’d have to do is optimize and improve it.
ii). Social media stats: Are people commenting, liking, and sharing your content? Most social media platforms provide engagement statistics at the click of a button, and it’s important to keep your eye on what your audience enjoys the most.
iii). Other forms of digital statistics: Another thing that you may want to measure is the number 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. Additionally, they mainly appear within content, thus passing significant SEO value.
iv). Measure direct responses: A lot of content producers prefer to turn off comments, but they can be a brilliant way to generate and follow up on leads, engage with your audience, and see which articles are working and which aren’t. If you have a piece of content generating an insane number of comments, it means you’ve done something right.
The takeaway here is to figure out what’s delivering your success and repeat it. Maximize your powerful headlines.
How Much Time Should You Spend Writing Headlines?
Many bloggers advocate that you should spend an equal amount of time crafting a clever blog headline after writing your main body.
Do you think that’s necessary?
Check out the emphasis Upworthy puts on writing and testing their headlines.
So if you don’t feel confident in your post title, I suggest you take Upworthy’s 25 headlines writing challenge.
At first, it might take you about an hour to write so many headlines. Soon enough, though, you’ll become a ninja blog headline writer who can crank out multiple compelling headlines within a few minutes.
I want to inspire you to improve your blog headline writing chops. So. I took the Upworthy headline challenge myself. Here’s a set of 25 headlines for this post. They took me about 20 minutes to write.
- How to effortlessly write headlines that drive traffic
- Easy-to-implement tips to write persuasive headlines
- Do not write your next headline without using these incredibly effective tips
- Are you struggling to write persuasive headlines? Then read this.
- The secrets to writing click-worthy headlines that drive insane traffic
- The complete process to writing effective headlines
- Are your posts receiving no engagement? Don’t miss this attention-grabbing headline writing guide.
- How to craft compelling titles: Headline Writing 101
- Creating eye-catching headlines that get clicks, engagement, traffic, and conversions
- Incredibly effective techniques to write click-worthy headlines
- Headline Writing 101: The essential elements of a persuasive title
- Simple headline writing hacks you can use on your content
- The effective techniques you absolutely must know to write incredible headlines
- Avoid getting zero engagement: Simple techniques you can use in your next headline.
- The ultimate guide to writing irresistible headlines
- Don’t post your next blog without using these incredibly effective headline writing techniques
- Persuasive headline writing: Smart ways to get truckloads of traffic to your website
- Headline writing workshop: Killer techniques to level up your titles
- Super easy ways of writing compelling headlines that get clicks
- Writing attention-grabbing headlines that even your grandma would click
- Writing headlines that David Ogilvy would be proud of
- The art of writing attention-grabbing headlines: How to get the lurkers to click on your links
- The secrets of writing killer headlines on a daily basis
- How to write persuasive headlines: The essential guide
- Advanced headline writing tips: Strategies to get more clicks and traffic
Is there another post title you like better than my chosen one for this article?
Frequently Asked Questions
The 80-20 rule suggests that 80 percent of people will read the headline of a piece of content, but only 20 percent of people will read beyond that. This rule illustrates the value of creating a strong, attention-grabbing headline that effectively communicates the key message or value proposition of the content it represents. The more compelling your headline, the better your chances of getting more than 20 percent to read past your headline.
Start by focusing on the details. Weave in numbers, include details, use powerful adjectives, and tell them exactly what they’ll get by clicking on your article. Provide detail and flavor. If nothing else, remember that your job as a headline writer is to compel your audience to click on your article and read further. So, don’t be boring. You have only so much time to catch a reader’s attention. Make the most of it.
Four proven strategies we detailed above for what you can do to make a headline more compelling include:
Use the 4 U’s detailed in this article—make it unique and ultra-specific, convey a sense of urgency, and provide something useful to your readers.
Use unique rationales, which simply means to provide the reader with an underlying reason why they should do something. Some of the rationales you can include in your headlines are tips, reasons, lessons, tricks, and ideas.
Use proven headline formulas to catch your audience’s eye. Popular formulas detailed above include the S-H-I-N-E technique, the “little known ways” formula, and the “get rid of [problem] once and for all” approach.
Use specific numbers and data to entice readers. Studies show numbers generate more engagement.
First and foremost, avoid complex language that might confuse your reader and ensure your headline is representative of the content it’s paired with. You also want to steer clear of vague language and make sure your headline gets straight to the point you’re trying to make.
With new content marketing strategies emerging every day, it’s becoming difficult to focus on what works. This is why smart digital marketers are disciplined. They understand the importance of great content and whether it generates search traffic and leads.
Further, it’s why they understand the importance of learning how to write a good headline. After all, what good is great content without a great headline that entices readers to click on the content in the first place?
After crafting a catchy headline, you can focus on making the introduction, subtitles, bullet points, and call to action equally important.
Remember, it’s not enough that readers click your headline. You want to compel them to read through the body of your content as well.
So, keep your content’s overall focus on educating prospects and customers. In other words, teach them new things.
Above all, be consistent and keep learning new ways to write catchy headlines that beg to be shared.
Do you have any other headline–writing tips? What’s been most helpful for you in producing great headlines?
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