Content Marketing

A Guide to Writing Great Headlines

You often hear me talk about reaching your marketing audience. But in a world full of noise and clutter, how do you get your audience to read what you write?

It’s not just about good content, a strong SEO or great design. Sometimes the key to getting people to take notice of your content is to have a great headline for your article.

Why are headlines so important?

To answer that question, first consider what makes you want to read a blog article, or click on a search result on Google.

Chances are, it’s the great title that catches your attention. Using this same approach, you should be writing your headlines that is interesting and attention-grabbing.

Writing and publishing a piece of high-quality article takes a lot of time and energy, but sadly lots of high quality articles never got read by its intended audience.

Writing and publishing a piece of high-quality article takes a lot of time and energy, but sadly lots of high quality articles never got read by its intended audience.

According to Copyblogger, 8 out of 10 people read headlines. But only 2 out of 10 will bother to click on it to read the content.

In copywriting, the job of any headline is to make any reader want to read the first line in the content. This is the essence of a headline, and any headline that executes this job well is a great one.

This is a guide that will show you how to write great headlines.

How to write catchy headlines

Too often I’ve noticed that the headline is the most ignored part of writing any piece of content. Most folks tend to treat the headlines as an afterthought.

They think headlines are just the icing on the cake. It isn’t.

In fact, I would even go as far as saying the headline is the cake.

If a piece of content doesn’t include a strong headline, it doesn’t matter how good the quality is. You won’t be able to get people to read it.

There really isn’t any point in dedicating any time to creating content if your headlines aren’t persuasive.

It’s like painting a Picasso but storing it in the closet. Your potential audience won’t bother to click on your article to learn more if there’s nothing to tickle their interest.

Here are some ‘hacks’ you can use to start creating compelling headlines for your next piece of content:

1. Include numbers

If you go to the nearest newsstand and take a look at the magazines on display, you’ll notice that there will be several headlines that start off with a number.

There’s a reason for that. In fact, this is a technique that many writers adopt: using numbers in their headlines.

Numbers in headlines work beautifully because we humans hate uncertainty. Numbers give us clarity and predictability.

If we see an article that says ‘42 secrets to weight loss’, we know that it’s going to be packed with information because we are getting over 40 secrets.

Interestingly, studies show that having numbers in headlines can outperform an ordinary headline by as much as 36%.

There aren’t any rules about what numbers work the best, but if you’re doing a list type of article, you shouldn’t keep the list too long, as people typically only remember three to five points.

Having said that, using an obscure number like 17 or 38 can grab people’s attention, so you should use this to mix things up in your headlines.

And lastly, don’t abuse the use of numbers. Because if you do, it will come across as forceful and unnatural. If your list is only 3 points long, don’t drag it out and make it 87 points. Try using another angle instead.

2. Make use of emotional adjectives

The world would be a very dull place without adjectives.

They enhance our words when we need to deliver the extra punch by taking things up a notch.

For example, the heartbreak you feel is no longer just a heartbreak, it's a devastating heartache or crippling heartbreak that is tearing you from the inside.

Whenever you're writing headlines, you might want to get your point across with a little extra ‘oomph.’ When it's time to do so, you need to use adjectives to help put your point across plainly.

Adjectives help express the tone, feelings, and emotions of our words by accentuating the point.

Emotional adjectives are just adjectives that invoke emotions when people read them. Some common examples are:

  • Painless
  • Carefree
  • Exciting
  • Pleasurable
  • Unbelievable
  • Vital
  • Utter
  • Bizarre

Like metaphors, adjectives like these help to make headlines instantly understandable by your audience.

Learning how to harness simple yet powerful words in your headlines can make a difference between a boring headline and an outstanding one.

3. Front-load your headline

Here’s a lesser-known fact: Google puts more emphasis on the keywords at the beginning of your headline.

This means when you’re trying to rank for a particular keyword, placing your keyword at the beginning of your headline is a great strategy.

For example, you want to rank for “social media tips,” writing your headlines this way:

“Social Media Tips: 10 Ways to Grow Your Social Media Audience”

… would be perceived as more relevant to the topic of “social media tips” by Google than:

“Grow Your Social Media Audience with These 10 Awesome Social Media Tips”

Front loading your headline also has an added benefit for your readers as it tells them immediately what the content is all about.

4. Don’t Write Just One

Just like writing content, it takes time and practice to get good at writing headlines. An excellent way to get good at headlines is to write multiple headlines for a single article.

With multiple headlines, you’ll also enjoy the benefit of using them in multiple places.

Some big marketing companies use something call headlines swapping, which is a method of switching multiple headlines, depending on who the reader is.

Start by writing your first headline. Write the first headline that pops out in your head, that covers the gist of your content.

Then think about how you can improve it and write a second variation.

Repeat the process until you’ve written about 4 to 5 variations. If you are on a roll, you can even write up 10 or more headlines.

Look at the different angles you can use and try to include the “selling points” of the content into the headline while maintaining clarity.

By practising and writing different variations of headlines, you can unclutter your brain by filtering out bad ideas so you can quickly get to the good ones.

5. Ask an Interesting Question

Questions (especially odd ones) are an excellent way to grab someone's attention, making them want more.

Questions create a psychological effect on readers called the curiosity gap.

Why is that so? It’s because we have an innate drive is to want to learn the truth, which we won’t get unless we click on the headline and check out the content.

Questions are incredibly powerful if used right, and can pretty much guarantee high CTR in any type of content.

Not only does it promotes conversation, but it also encourages your audience to engage too.

The questions you ask can play a critical role in your headlines strategy. Find out what kind of issues will push your audience’s buttons.

Take note never to ask questions in a misleading, click-baiting manner, because if you are unable to satisfy your readers’ intent, they will feel deceived and will not fall for the same ‘trick’ again.

6. Make an audacious statement

This is a bit more advanced as it can fall into the clickbait category if deployed wrongly.

By introducing a shock factor into your headline, you can almost guarantee a high CTR for your content.

Consider the various angles you can use to spice your headline and use words that will instantly grab your readers’ attention by the collar.

Making a bold, opinionated or controversial declaration is a surefire way to achieve this effect.

If you look at websites such as Refinery29 (which mainly caters for women readers), you’ll find that the writers have nailed this method down perfectly.

The reason why they can be successful is that their headlines are highly opinionated, and this generates curiosity for their readers.

The key is to promise your audience something of value that they can take away from checking out your content.

Will you teach your readers how to make their lives easier?  Will you persuade them that there is a secret way of doing something they never knew? Will you dispel an age-old myth?

Ideally, you want to dare your readers to click on your content, without over-promising anything.

That is the secret ingredient - to be audacious in your promise, then deliver what you are supposed to.

7. Keep the language simple

The words you use for your headlines can create an impact on the click-worthiness of your content. If you use words that dull and hard-to-follow, your audience will switch off almost immediately.

Choose to use language that is easy to understand yet powerful.

For example, try turning your headline into a call-to-action with words such as “Buy” or “Click.”

You can also change a generic headline with power words such as “never.”,”killing”, “shock.”

Your readers have a short attention span in a world full of content. They don’t want to be tricked into clicking on something uninspiring.

They want something that stimulates their senses. Persuade them that your content is worth their time.

8. Check out your competitors when in doubt

Looking towards your competitors is always a great option if you find yourself getting stuck.

If the other guys have already written based on the same topic as you, think about what headlines are they using?

Which are the headlines that are performing remarkably on Google? Can you improve on them and make it even better?

These are the types of questions you should be asking to write more compelling headlines. If your headline doesn’t stand out from the sea of web pages on Google, then chances are it’s not going to perform well regarding CTR.

The simplest way is just to see what pops up on the first page of Google.

If you want to go a little deeper, you can make use of content curation tools like Buzzsumo to run a search, and see which related articles are trending.

Looking at articles that are trending usually indicates they come with a great headline, as it’s often an attribute that drives people to share it on their social media. How can you craft a headline that’s even more tantalizing? Research is key!

9. Test and test your headlines

When you’re not sure if your next headline is going to resonate well with your audience, or if you are seeing a dip in response in your recent content, it’s time to test your headlines.

Headline testing refers to the method of coming up with more than one title variations for your content, which you can then test them across multiple audience segments to see which one yields the best results.

When you test headlines, you will know which type of headlines works the best with your audience, then optimize the best one to improve your click-through rates.

Wrapping things up

Why is it that some blog posts perform way better than others?

It’s because the writer takes the time to look over the blog post and fine tunes the elements of good content. This includes optimizing the headline.

You should always take the time to think about what headline will grab your audience’s attention the most, and ensure that it describes your content in an authentic, but in an enticing way.

Once you have a winning headline, you will command attention across your blog posts, emails, book chapters, and even videos.

The essence writing great headlines is to build a promise that will tickle the interest of your readers.

In every content you produce, put yourself in the position of your readers and ask yourself: “Would this headline make me want to check out this piece of content?”

If it doesn’t, you should go back and think of another headline. Write multiple headlines until you have a winner.

Don’t publish until you’ve got a catchy headline. Concentrate on this, and you’ll get more readers and more clicks.

Want to increase your website traffic?

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About Murray Dare

A digital marketing consultant and entrepreneur, Murray runs his marketing agency Murraydare.co.uk and several online startups.

Murray has helped startups and businesses achieve online success through a considered approach to marketing.

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