But the top reason is that all of these sites use unique, powerful, and engaging headlines that make people want to click on their content and view the whole story.
There isn’t one right way to write a headline, but certain types of headlines have proven themselves to be successful over the years.
By following similar “formulas,” you’ll find yourself writing headlines that will persuade people to click over to your content and read your copy.
Here’s how to write powerful headlines that people can’t help but click.
Why headlines matter
Headlines are the first thing that people see when it comes to your writing. They will either grab the attention of readers and site visitors or bore them.
That’s why you need to get them right. Your prospective customers will make their first impressions about your brand from them.
So your headlines shouldn’t focus on selling to the reader. Instead, they should entice and draw readers in to finish the entire article.
You also need to make sure that your headlines are an accurate representation of your article and your company’s values.
Most Americans believe the headlines that they see. Fake headlines or headlines that are too “click-baity” can lead to giving your brand a bad wrap.
The good news is that if you stick to the formulas in this article, you can avoid using misleading, false, or boring headlines that can hurt your business.
The first formula you need to know about is the 4U formula.
Always use the 4U formula
As many as 80% of people will read the average headline when they come across it, but only 20% of people will actually read the entire blog post.
If you want to boost your odds of people actually clicking on your headlines and reading an entire post, you have to make your headline as intriguing as possible.
Melanie Duncan’s 4U formula is perfect for compelling readers. With the 4U formula, you have to make your headline “useful, urgent, unique, and ultra-specific.”
Think about the headlines that you actually click on when you’re scrolling through your news feed. They’re probably usually the headlines that offer something that can help you.
You need to offer people the same useful value in your own headlines. Start out by understanding what will be useful to your audience, and then offer them what they need.
These headlines should identify a problem and offer a solution. So should the articles that go along with them.
This works whether your company is service-based or product-based. Both products and services can solve readers’ problems.
Examples of headlines that are useful include how-to articles and listicles like this one from Wonder How To.
Clever bloggers want to create a sense of urgency in their headlines to push people to click.
Think FOMO here. (For the uninitiated: Fear Of Missing Out.)
There is so much trying to grab our attention online. It’s easy to ignore something that we think isn’t time-sensitive.
But when something is urgent, readers will click on it to get the information right away. They don’t want to miss out on exciting, helpful, or informative information that they need right now.
Urgency is the hardest of the four U’s to capture, and it might not always apply to your specific article topic.
If you’re going to skip over any of the 4 U’s, this is the one to think about leaving out.
Examples of urgent headlines include titles like “Avoid THIS Mistake Before It’s Too Late” or “Do XYZ in Just 2 Weeks With This One Simple Trick.”
Traditional news outlets use urgency in their headlines all of the time. Just check out this one from Fox News.
People love rare and unusual phrases. They stick out like a sore thumb and pique people’s interest so that they just have to click.
Anything that you can do to make your headline stand out in an oversaturated online world will help.
Think about focusing on wordplay, puns, and interesting topics. Buzzfeed is notorious for this.
Have you ever wondered why so many headlines these days have numbers in them? It’s because they are ultra-specific.
Readers like to know exactly what they can expect if they click on a headline. The best headlines take specific ideas and break them down one step further.
For example, don’t just write about foods that you should avoid. Talk about common foods to avoid. And don’t just mention home decor ideas, talk about do-it-yourself home decor ideas.
Again, this is all about understanding what will be useful to your audience. Here’s an example of an ultra-specific headline I used in the past:
When you make sure that all of your headlines are useful, urgent, unique, and ultra-specific, you’ll come up with better headlines for every article that you write.
Headlines that push people to read because they offer an answer to problems they have.
You can also pass your headlines off as a guide to get people interested. Here’s how.
Make it a guide
The guide formula is a classic way to show people that your post can solve their problems.
It’s as easy as rephrasing your headline to read: The (Adjective) Guide to (Ultra-Specific Topic). Be careful about how you phrase the contents of the blanks, though.
Use unusual words where you can and try to avoid basic adjectives like “complete.” Try to spice it up a bit by changing your adjective to something like “compact” instead.
Here’s a great example from TheStranger.com:
You should always take the main benefit that your post offers and include it in your headline, too.
Give away the big benefit
The promise in your headline is what will give people the push that they need to read. They need to know exactly what’s in it for them.
The headline needs to convince them that there’s a benefit to them taking time out of their day to look at your content.
You need to really know your target audience to create a headline with this formula.
Even if people don’t visit your site because of the headline, they will at least know what your best selling point is.
This is as simple as writing a few headlines like “Make Your Own Email Template in Minutes” or “Fast and Easy Ways to Cook Bacon.”
Huffington Post gave away the big benefit of their post quite well in this headline:
The biggest benefit of these headlines is that they can save readers time.
You can also give away the benefit within a headline if you want to offer readers something in exchange for their time instead, like “Get a FREE E-book at The End of This Blog Post.”
Another easy way to make your headline convert better is simply to change your post into a “how-to” article.
Appeal to your readers’ “how-to” instinct to draw them in
Most people are interested in improving their quality of life in one way or another, whether it’s their personal life or their business life.
You can write headlines that focus on people’s wants and needs and highlight the result of meeting those wants or needs by turning them into “how-tos.”
Don’t include the process in the headline, though, since you don’t want to give away the big secret. That certainly won’t compel readers to stick around for your whole post.
Instead, keep your focus on the end result and the real motivations that the reader has.
These can be articles like: “How to Start a Business From Home” or “How to Eat Healthier on A Budget.”
Here’s an example of one of my how-to headlines:
Like all other headline formulas, the how-to headline offers a solution to a specific problem.
In fact, there are even how-to headlines out there to help readers sharpen problem-solving skills to save time and money.
You can apply this formula by first figuring out what problems your readers might be struggling with.
Then, find out how you can narrow this problem down to make it extra-specific. If you need help, reach out to your followers on social media and ask them what challenges they’re facing.
You can even run a poll online or send one out to your email subscribers.
Comparing two things that are unexpected is also sure to get clicks. Here’s why.
Compare two unexpected things
When you compare two unexpected things, people will be curious to figure out how they relate.
For example, this headline is pretty hard to ignore:
Claiming that bacon is better than true love is a pretty bold statement. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty interested to know the author’s reasoning here.
The formula for this headline is as simple as something like “Why (one thing) trumps/is better than (the second thing).”
We all have to make choices every day. Should we have tea or coffee? Hop on Facebook or Twitter?
Comparison headlines offer us an escape from having to weigh out difficult decisions.
These usually work best if you bust a myth, like suggesting people should eat chocolate instead of going to the gym.
People won’t expect that you’re choosing to recommend the unexpected choice, and they’ll want to know how you’ve come to that reasoning.
To apply this formula, begin by thinking about which myth you can bust. Or decipher what some of the hardest decisions your readers have to make are.
Then, use this formula to give them the answer to a debate in your industry.
For example, Bitcoin is super popular right now. So this Forbes post claiming that gold is better than Bitcoin is intriguing, to say the least.
And if all else fails, you can always count on a classic, numerical list post.
Make it a classic, numerical list post
If you’re tired of seeing list posts all over the place, you might want to rethink. People write them because they’re clickable and readable.
Take one quick look at Buzzfeed’s homepage, and you’ll see multiple list posts within seconds.
Some examples include:
- 32 Legitimate Ways to Make Money at Home (The Penny Hoarder)
- 17 Ways Successful People Think Differently About Money (MindValley Blog)
- 9 Ways to Entertain Your Toddler Without Using a Smartphone (The Art of Manliness)
A list post headline is as simple as “XX (Adjective) Ways to (Do Blank).
Start by thinking about the tips that can help your readers. Include specific, actionable tips that they can apply to their lives right away.
Include emotional words in the blog title to make list posts even more effective, like “sneaky” or “legitimate.”
Next, be sure to use readers’ curiosity yo your advantage.
Use readers’ curiosity to your advantage
If you offer up insider information, readers won’t be able to resist. Their curiosity will get the best of them, and they’ll have to read your post to find the answers.
The headline “XX Little-Known Methods to Do (Blank)” focuses on the idea that if the methods in your post are little-known, readers will have an advantage over people who don’t know about them yet.
You can also pique readers’ curiosity with a headline like “XX Secrets of (Blank).” Everyone will want to know the secret. Who doesn’t want insider information?
MoneyVersed combined these two methods with this headline:
“What Everyone Ought to Know About (Blank)” is also a great way to challenge readers to find out exactly what they’re missing out on.
When put to use, this headline should look something like this:
You should be using keywords in all of your headlines for maximum exposure. Not only do keywords matter when it comes to search engines, but they also matter for providing context.
Use keywords in your headlines for more exposure
If you use keywords throughout an article, you should also include them in the headline.
Readers will be able to tell what your article is about and what they can expect from reading it. And so will search engines.
You can do this easily with a headline like “What Makes (Keyword) So Important in (Keyword).”
You’ll attract more clicks and readers, get more tweets, rank higher in SERPs, and gain more traffic from these headlines.
When someone searches for your keyword and Google highlights it in the results, users will know that your post has exactly what they’re looking for.
But these formulas aren’t just for blog posts. Every piece of content you write needs a strong headline.
Using these formulas in your content
Think that only written blog posts or articles need well-crafted headlines?
Wrong. Every single piece of content that you create could use a compelling, strong, effective headline to attract more viewers.
That goes for videos, podcasts, emails, tweets, and more.
Here’s how to apply these formulas to your articles, blog posts, and social media posts.
Headline formulas for your articles, blog posts, and social media posts
No matter the formula or formulas that you choose to use when writing new headlines, you need to keep an eye on the length.
You want headlines to be long enough to cover all of the information, but short enough that they aren’t too lengthy.
The highest-converting headlines have between 16 and 18 words. Try to keep your headlines within this range for the best results.
When it comes to articles and blog posts, do as the pros do.
Always make sure that headlines are click-worthy.
If you have to write about something bizarre like HuffPost did in this headline to gain attention, do it.
The key to writing irresistible headlines is to avoid obvious clickbait, but make sure that the article still plays on readers’ emotions.
You need to deliver on the promise from the headline within the body of your writing.
It also helps to test your headlines. For every article you publish, try to test at least five headline variants.
You can test your social media headlines for free with a tool like Buffer.
For every headline variant, you can see how many retweets, favorites, mentions, and clicks were earned. You can also see statistics on the potential for each headline.
Then, head over to the Analytics tab to check out which of your headlines were clicked on the most by your followers.
Your email subject lines are mini-headlines so you’ve got to apply the same formulas for those, too.
Headline formulas for email subject lines and opt-in pages
If you don’t think your email subject lines through, you won’t see very good open rates.
Email subject lines are the first point of contact that subscribers will have with the content contained in the email.
They either compel people to click on your email and consume your content or ignore your email and leave it in the dust.
iSpionage creates clickable, attention-grabbing headlines that are a step above the boring subject lines you’re probably used to seeing.
ContactMonkey is also great at crafting email subject lines that are interesting by using a play on words or including a pun. The brand also includes emojis in their subject lines often.
Email headlines are just as important as article headlines because you don’t want your emails to be sent to people’s’ trash folders to die.
And the health of your email list is a mirror of the health of your business. Boost your opt-in pages with the same formulas to gain more subscribers.
People won’t be interested in subscribing to offers that fall flat. Aim for something like this eye-catching, opt-in worthy headline instead.
Not only are the visuals great, but the headline mentions free. And as if that isn’t exciting enough, you’ll get 40% off of your first order if you sign up.
Shoot for the same kind of opt-in forms for more clicks and subscribers.
You might be wondering why so many sites are getting traffic to their content, but yours could be better.
The answer may be in your headlines. These are the first thing that people see from your brand before deciding whether or not to click over to your copy.
While there’s no one-size-fits-all way to write a headline, there are some headline formulas that you can follow to create better-performing ones.
To start off with, you should use the 4U formula. Your headlines should always be useful, urgent, unique, and ultra-specific.
Turning your content into an actionable guide is a classic way to convince readers that they won’t regret reading your post because it can solve their problems.
You should always give away the big benefit of what’s in it for readers to read your post, too. Don’t give away too much, but lay out why your post is valuable.
Appealing to your readers’ “how-to” instinct will also draw them in. People want to improve their quality of life. If your post can help them do that, they’ll be sold.
And try comparing two unexpected things by busting a myth. This should be something that might sound outlandish in the headline but is explained in the body of your blog post with facts and statistics.
Making your article a classic, numerical list post is another surefire way to attract readers. They’re popular because they work.
You should also use readers’ curiosity to your advantage by packaging up the information you have to offer as a “little-known secret.”
And use keywords in your headlines to gain more exposure through search results. It can also boost your rankings in SERPs.
All of these headline formulas are great for every single piece of content you produce. Apply them to the obvious, like articles and blog posts, for more readers and engagement.
But you should also use them for email subject lines, opt-in forms, social media, and more for the best results.
What kinds of headlines have performed the best for you and your brand?