Arguably, headlines are the most important element of your copy.
They are how you introduce the content to your audience, and first impressions are everything – will you leave a lasting one or be dismissed amongst all the online noise?
The information within your blog post is incredibly valuable to the readers, but if it doesn’t get read, its value is lost.
And the best way to get a post read, is by grabbing attention with a strong, irresistible headline.
Copyblogger’s Brian Clark reminds us of the 80/20 rule and its relevance to copywriting. On average, 8 out of 10 people will read your headline but only 2 will continue (or click) to read further.
The more powerful your headline is, the better your chances of capturing wandering eyeballs.
Of course, grabbing attention isn’t the only purpose of a headline. Again, it’s an introduction to the content that follows – it’s your chance to immediately inform the audience of how they’ll benefit from your post.
Why Should I Care About Headlines?
Headlines are more than just the title of an article. They’re used throughout your marketing and in the all forms your content will be reproduced:
- Email subject lines
- Title tags for off-page SEO
- Twitter and Instagram Posts
- Squeeze page titles
- Ebooks, guides, and report titles
- And Facebook ad copy
Effective headlines positively impact your ranking in search engines too.
Search engine web crawlers scour your content to determine its relevance to a given query, and if your title tag and H1 tag fit the criteria, you’re rewarded in the search engine results pages (SERPs).
Turn a good headline into a great one by incorporating popular keywords or phrases that link your readers to the solutions provided within your content.
So, how do you write headlines that people want to click?
Understand Your Target Audience
It takes more than creative writing skills to produce catchy headlines – success boils down to your knowledge of the audience, their pain points, and what triggers them into action.
Before you start writing out your headline ideas, you’ll need to dive deep into research and build a thorough target audience profile. Get inside the mind of your reader and discover their preferred methods of communication including the language they use.
It’s really important that you don’t assume their needs, wants, or desires. Instead try to learn about what really matters to them. You can do this by:
- Mining customer reviews on Amazon or Google relating to the product or service you’re writing about
- Analyzing message boards on Reddit or comments within Facebook groups that are related to the topic of your content
- Collecting audience insight through surveys and by studying their engagement on existing/related content such as likes, comments, and shares
Now that you’ve established a concrete understanding of your core reader, you’re free to start writing headlines.
Numbers and digits, the Four U’s, and How-to’s create headlines that grab attention, increase social shares, and improve your click-through rates.
Let’s explore each method further.
Write Undeniably Clickable Headlines Using The 4 U’s
The American Writers and Artists Institute (AWAI) preaches that headlines are how you communicate a compelling reward.
To do so, the AWAI developed a methodology using their Four U framework:
- Is it Useful to the readers?
- Does it create a sense of Urgency?
- Can the main benefit be present in a Unique way?
- Are you being Ultra-Specific and clear to the target audience?
A good headline communicates how the proceeding content will solve the reader’s problem(s). It shouts the main benefit(s) loud and clear while answering their specific questions.
Following up the promise of the headline in your content with actionable, easy-to-implement advice is a sure-fire way to increase the effectiveness of your content marketing.
Does the message generate a sense of urgency?
Leverage FOMO, the fear of missing out, when writing headlines and communicate the consequences of not taking direct action – highlight limited time offers, cutoff dates, and restricted memberships to create urgency amongst your audience
Find ways to differentiate yourself and increase your visibility by crafting distinctive headlines – uncommon comparisons, unique statements, and bold opinions are ways to set your post apart.
Did you know an audience listens more closely right after they laugh?
Try appealing to the reader’s funny bone in your headline using humor.
Don’t assume the audience will read between the lines.
Creating mystery, using jargon, and being shrewd have their place in copywriting, but a direct approach to piquing curiosity has its merits.
You have seconds to capture attention online: be ultra-specific about who the content is for, why they should care, and the reward being exchanged for their time.
Now that you understand the basics of the Four U methodology, try to identify how each element applies to an ever-popular technique of headline writing: the how-to formula.
The How-to’s of Writing How-to Headlines
A how-to headline quickly notifies to readers that the solution to their problem is found within your post. It succinctly conveys that you have the answers to their specific questions.
How-to headlines or subject lines clearly communicate your content’s value to the reader while informing them of the most efficient way to get it.
Turn scanners into readers and inspire action using how-to headlines that appeal to the resulting benefit not the arduous process.
For inspiration, check out these 3 templates with examples.
1. Double-Down on the Benefit Statement
Doubling the benefits in your headline packs a hefty punch.
Author of Breakthrough Copywriting: How To Generate Quick Cash With The Written Word and headline heavyweight, David Garfinkel, praised the use of this technique.
According to Garfinkel, doubling down on the benefit statement implies that when readers achieve the main benefit, the reader is guaranteed a second – two for the price of one is a powerful motivator, and when the value is specific to the needs of the audience, it’s a combo with knock-out results.
Try using this template: How-to [main benefit] and [supporting benefit].
- How-to Win Friends and Influence People
- Title of one of the best-selling books of all time written by Dale Carnegie and an infamous example of a how-to headline
- How-to Cure the Winter Blues and Stop Feeling Lonely
- How-to Scale your Business and Earn an Eight-Figure Income
2. Skip the ‘to’ and Become a How-to Guru
Build intrigue with a straight-forward, ultra-specific statement that creates comparisons to the audience’s pain point.
The boldness of this technique commands attention and earns you precious seconds of interest from your readers – a short, punchy approach is also useful on social media platforms like Twitter where headline length and character count is limited.
Two examples of this template include: How [action/product] [rewarded benefit] and How [blank] made me [blank].
- How 1 App Saves You 3 Hours Each Week
- How Eating-in Made Me $173 Per Month
- How Doing Yoga Fights Back Pain
3. Reward the Mundane with a Big Benefit
As time-pressed readers, we’re continually searching for the easiest way to do our menial tasks. Which makes this tactic useful for topics considered boring or activities we deem annoying such as comparing car insurance or doing your taxes.
The strategy is quite simple: identify the main benefit of your content and reward readers for consuming it.
Remember, refer to your target audience profile for direction on what matters most to them.
Use this framework for guidance: How-to [mundane task] that [rewarded benefit].
- How-to Build a Website that Doubles your Revenue
- How-to Get a Loan that Protects Your Credit Score
- How-to Write Headlines that People Want to Click
3 Ways to Profit from Numbered Headlines
SEO expert and content marketer, Neil Patel, states the top-ranking articles in search engines frequently include numbers in the headline.
In fact, it’s the most clickable method of writing headlines.
Doing so clearly identifies what’s within your content, provides step-by-step instructions, and helps prioritize the ways readers can solve their problems.
Consider a listicle blog post as a reference guide or walk-through for your audience – arouse interest in your headline by including the number of steps it takes to reach their desired solution.
Interested in learning more?
Check out 3 more profitable headline tactics using numbers.
Get Super Specific with Numbers: Count the Seconds in Tenths
Our brains latch onto numbers in headlines; they’re easier to recall, set expectations plainly, and help us organize information rationally.
We’re drawn to odd numbers, believing them to be more accurate than even ones – and using lucky number 7 as a digit is more effective than writing it out as seven.
Legendary copywriter, Eugene Schwartz, took advantage of the psychology behind numbers in his system of defeating writer’s block: three hours a day, five days a week, in six sessions. Each session lasted exactly 33.33 minutes.
His work speaks for itself, and he was no slouch when it came to writing headlines.
How can you apply the science of adding numbers to your headlines?
Start with a variation of this formula: Give me [defined time] and you’ll get [main benefit]
- Give Me One Day and You’ll Get the Secret to Smarter Investments
- Give Me Three Hours and You’ll Write Copy that Converts
- Give Up 7 Minutes to Get Six-Pack Abs
Do You Recognize these [Number] Early Signs of [Blank]?
Giving your audience a heads-up on need-to-know information is a proven way to grab attention and gain authority.
News outlets, media sites, or companies seeking PR coverage benefit greatly from this tactic by promising critical advice in their headlines – the content is presented as the solution to the readers’ problems with relevant insider information.
In their free ebook, How to Write Magnetic Headlines, Copyblogger uses one of the most famous examples of this headline writing in action:
“Do You Recognize These 7 Early Warning Signs of Heart Disease?”
Need a few more examples?
- Do You Recognize the Five Common Faults of Freelance Writers?
- Do You Recognize the #1 Reason Most Startups File for Bankruptcy?
- Do You Know These 3 Steps to Protecting Your Financial Freedom?
Get Readers to Buy-In Easily Using Numbered Categories
Engage readers with your content before they even clicked on your post by giving them the choice to self-identify – it puts the focus on the reader and reminds them they control their decisions.
This method speaks directly to your niche or a specific topic, which informs the audience of exactly who the article is for and helps you qualify those who read further.
Look at these examples:
- Four Personality Types of Successful Entrepreneurs: Which One Are You?
- These 5 Fats are Healthy for your Heart – Have You Tried #3?
- 9 Habits Insanely Productive People Share: How Many Do You Have?
One Staggering Stat Every Copywriter Must Know
The Jakob Nielsen’s Seminal Web Usability Study in ‘97 found that 79% of online readers scan content rather than reading it fully. And while the study was conducted in the infancy of content marketing, it carries even more weight in today’s digital landscape.
What’s the point?
Be strategic about how you move the reader through your content – don’t drain all your energy writing great headlines and subject lines just to leave your audience hanging.
Once you’ve captured their attention, make sure you lead them further into your content by crafting engaging lead sentences and value-packed subheadings.
Treat powerful statements, controversial quotes, and shocking statistics as headlines; employ copywriting hacks such bolding, italicizing, and CAPITALIZING text to display the significance of certain sections.
3 Headline Writing Relics You Don’t Want to Forget
Penning the perfect headline is vital to the success of your blog and your career as a content marketer. So, the next step, naturally, is to begin writing and experimenting with the different formulas outlined above.
To reiterate, your headline is a promise to your readers. It’s a way of introducing your content and communicating the benefits it offers for being consumed.
And you uncover those benefits by peeling back the layers and pinpointing the wants, needs, and desires of your target audience.
Numbers and digits, the Four U’s, and How-To’s are proven methods of writing good headlines, but here are 3 other key considerations:
- Length Matters – headlines with 16-18 words perform best, but 8 words are suggested where space is limited (e.g. Twitter or Facebook ad)
- Practice Makes Perfect – don’t settle without writing down several headline ideas (I suggest 10 but some write 25, 50, or 100 headlines before choosing)
- Try Split Testing – unlike print ad headlines, social media ads allow you to test variations of your headline and learn from the results
Now, it’s your turn to write some remarkable headlines, which formula will you use to improve your blog and/or business?
Share an example in the comments!