Regardless of how great your content is, it can only be valuable if people actually read it. And the bottom line is that while 80% of your visitors will read your headline, only 20% will click on it.
This means you need to make an outstanding first impression, whether you’re writing for your personal blog or a major publication.
But learning how to write a headline that grabs attention can be quite different from writing a compelling story or blog post. Your headline needs to look and sound attractive, but it also needs to incorporate a few strategic elements that will get you the most clicks.
We’ve got you covered with everything you should include (and not include) in your headlines below.
How to Write a Headline
To write strong, effective headlines, you’ll need to start with these 6 key steps.
1. Know Your Audience
Just like when you’re writing your actual content, the first step to writing a great headline is understanding your audience. Know what your average readers are looking for, what their interests are, and also how they speak.
Thorough keyword research and some quality time with Google Analytics, you can understand the needs of your readers. Are they looking for a solution to a problem? To educate themselves? To be entertained?
By engaging in conversations on social media and responding to comments, you can get a feel for how your average readers speak, which will help you adjust your own tone and vocabulary appropriately.
Then, you also need to ask yourself 2 important questions:
- Why are you creating this content?
- What’s the most important point you want to make?
These guiding questions will help ensure that your headline aligns with your content. There’s no quicker way to lose a reader’s trust than a promising headline that doesn’t deliver! And if your headline doesn’t clearly communicate the two points above, then your target readers will be less likely to actually read your content.
2. Give People a Reason to Read
If you’re taking the time to write a blog post, then chances are you think there’s at least one good reason why people should read it. The key is making those reasons clear to your readers.
If there’s a clear benefit to be gained from reading your post, readers will be more likely to click through and actually read (and hopefully share!) your content.
So how can you show readers what they stand to gain by reading your post?
Using words such as the following in your headlines (and pairing them with numbers, when relevant) can help:
Here are some real examples:
- Blogging for Authors: 5 Tricks for Successful Blogging Results
- How to Spell Better Using the Secrets of Spelling Bee Winners
- 7 Social Media Strategies Authors Use to Sell More Books
These words can effectively grab attention by creating a sense of urgency, because most people want in on secrets, strategies, or special tricks that might help them, and they don’t want to miss out on a chance to discover them.
3. Be Specific
In order to build a strong following of loyal readers, you’ll want to give your audience a sense of what they can expect when they read your article. Avoid vague language and don’t waste your readers’ time!
While you don’t necessarily have to address all of these points, here are some questions that you might want to answer in your headline:
- What information will you be presenting for your readers?
- How will you be presenting it?
- Who is your content for?
Your headlines should convey a sense of urgency with the promise of what’s on the other side. Your readers must want or feel the need to know what’s behind your headline if they are going to actually stop and read your content.
While you need to demonstrate your knowledge in order to build your authority on a subject, the last thing you should do is talk down to your readers or use overly complicated language that the average reader won’t easily understand.
There are several reasons you’ll want to prefer simplicity to decadent language. First, if your headline looks too long, complicated, or it doesn’t make it immediately apparent what’s on the other side, readers will be more likely to skim past your article. Remember: the average person’s attention span is approximately 8 seconds, so cut to the chase and don’t make prospective readers guess what your article is about.
Second, one of the primary purposes of your content should be to help your readers in some way. You shouldn’t write to show off your Harvard vocabulary. If you’re presenting information or a solution, your readers shouldn’t need help—or a dictionary—to figure out what you’re telling them. And if you really do know what you’re talking about, you should be able to explain it effectively using simplified terms.
If you can do that, then more readers will come to rely on you as a trusted source who can provide them with the information they wand and need.
5. Your Headline Should Lead to a Reaction
This one should be obvious: the purpose of your well-crafted headline should be getting readers to click or stop and read your entire article. Then, your article might prompt them to share, sign up, or take some other form of action. Ultimately, that’s the reaction you want to trigger. But how do you get that reaction?
Usually, words with an emotional impact, or “power words,” are among the most effective ways to get people to take action.
To find the right words, think first about what you want your readers to feel. Do you want to make them curious? Excited? Surprised? Happy? Angry? Intrigued? Identifying the right emotions, and knowing how to unlock them, will increase the chances of people reading your content and sharing it with others.
Superlatives, along with other power verbs and other adjectives, can effectively hit the right buttons if they’re used wisely.
Positive examples of such words include:
Positively-charged words can excite your readers, or make them curious about how they can get it on whatever the “good news” is.
However, negative headlines have been proven to outperform positive ones.
Here are some examples of words with negative connotations that frequently appear in headlines:
- No one
Both positive and negative words can incite your audience to continue reading your content. Words have power, but only if you know how to use them.
6. Avoid Creating Clickbait
That being said, it’s important that you use that power wisely and responsibly. Your goal should never be to manipulate your readers or take advantage of their emotional state.
Your readers aren’t stupid; if you use sensational language or make big promises in your headline that aren’t delivered in your actual content, they’ll be disappointed and won’t trust you again as a source for information.
Here are some examples of clickbait headlines that over-promise and under-deliver:
When You Find Out What These Kids Are Jumping Into, Your Jaw Will Drop!
Baby Ducks See Water for the First Time—Can You BELIEVE What They Do?
All She Did Was Drag Her Plate Across the Pool. What Happened Next Blew My Mind
As you can probably guess, these headlines use sensationalist language, all caps, and other techniques to draw in your attention with the promise of something extraordinary behind them. But can you BELIEVE that when baby ducks saw water for the first time that they DRANK it? Yes. Yes you can.
Headline Strategies that Work
You can use the following strategies to make your headlines even more effective.
(Note: In most cases, you won’t be able to use all of these techniques in a single headline, and trying will likely make your title awkward or too long. Use only the ones that make sense for your article.)
Create a personal, relatable experience for your readers by addressing them in the second person. Using “you” in headlines (and in the main body of your content) will grab your readers’ attention and make them feel personally invested in whatever you’re pitching.
But that’s not the only way to add a personal touch. You can also share your own experiences in the first person (like “7 Life Lessons I Learned from Ender’s Game“).
Doing this will help you gain your readers’ trust because if you personally used the tips or information that you’re sharing, then you must really believe in it.
Lists, Numbers, and Data
Studies have shown that headlines with numbers tend to significantly outperform others when it comes to social shares and engagement.
(Tip: Odd numbers in particular have been proven to be the most effective, because our brains tend to believe them more than even numbers.)
Using digits (rather than spelled-out numbers) also improves the readability of your headlines and blog posts, as readers can easily scan your page for the most important information.
You can incorporate numbers in the headlines of your list posts, how-to’s, tips, and more.
How-To posts come with the promise of solving a problem for readers, and readers usually want to solve their problems in the fastest, simplest way.
When your headline focuses on helping people, your readers will be much more likely to read your content (as long as you’re targeting the right audience).
Colons or Hyphens
As you’ve probably gathered from this post, coming up with great, effective headlines requires a lot of thought—sometimes as much as writing the content itself! And if you publish at least several articles a week, all that work can add up and get pretty exhausting.
For your blog posts, there are are free headline generators out there that can help you craft strong, optimized headlines to increase your click-through rates.
Some of these allow you to choose topics and add your keywords, while others provide templates or analyze your headlines and give helpful suggestions for improvement.
These tools can be very helpful when it comes to brainstorming ideas or getting feedback on the headline ideas you already have, but when it comes to the final decision, sometimes nothing is better than a human mind. After all, your readers are human, so you want to make sure your headline sounds like it was made by a human as well, and not a clever machine.
Why Are Good Headlines So Important?
The quality of your headline is a key determinant in whether or not the rest of your content will get read.
By using the tips presented above, you can make a strong first impression and hook your readers so that your writing gets the attention it deserves.
Did you find this post helpful? Let us know in the comments below!