With all the information available online today, you have seconds to grab your reader’s attention. When scrolling through posts in a feed, only a few headlines stand out. In seconds, a reader decides whether they’ll click through to a site…or keep scrolling past.
Unfortunately, the rest of your content doesn’t matter if the reader doesn’t even get past the headline.
And let’s face it. There’s a lot of noise on social media. It’s like being in a crowded market with the shopkeepers all shouting for attention. If you can’t do something to set yourself apart from the crowd, it’s going to be difficult to get any visitors.
So, what can you do to get readers’ attention?
Hint: It’s not click bait.
Are Your Headlines Missing These Key Elements?
When you write a headline, you’re fighting with other articles and blogs for attention. In general, I try to make sure my headlines are some combination of:
For me, my best performing posts use some combination of at least three of those points. But different situations call for different things. So, what else makes up an attention-grabbing headline?
“Clever” headlines are the enemy. Puns, metaphors, jargon—don’t do it. (However, there are exceptions to every rule. Even so, there are few situations where clever headlines are a good idea.)
If you make a reference that your audience doesn’t understand, you alienate them.
Simple headlines draw attention because readers jump to whatever is easiest to read.
Make your headlines simple, easy to read, and relatable. Not so simple that they become part of the background, though. (Notice I didn’t slap a “How to Write Headlines” in this article.)
Rather than screaming at the top of your lungs, call your readers directly. Focused headlines speak to your target audience, not the masses.
If someone writes a headline like “How to Start Blogging,” that doesn’t tell me much. Are they teaching how to make a blog? How to write a blog post? Should I have my own site?
“From Zero to Launch: Beginner’s Guide to Creating a Blog with WordPress,” tells me a lot more. It’s written for new WordPress users who want to start a blog, but don’t have their own yet. (Or they’re moving from another platform.)
Other examples of specific headlines include:
- 10 Actionable Tips to Help Improve Your Writing Today
- How to Get 1,000 Subscribers in 30 Days
- Schedule 30 Days of Pins on Pinterest in an Hour or Less
No one likes clickbait. Misleading, clickbait-y articles are the worst.
That said, do make a bold promise in your headline that will draw readers in. Make your headline compelling and irresistible. But please, for the sake of everyone’s sanity, deliver on your promise.
Tell readers what the article is about, but don’t give everything away in your headline. I see a lot of headlines like these:
- The Ultimate Guide to _________
- All You Need to Know About ____
- The Only ______ You’ll Ever Need
Most of them deliver! But I’ve also seen a few cases where someone’s written the next “ultimate guide,” and it turns out to be 1,000 words of fluff. Not cool.
As a writer, you want to establish trust with your readers. If you can’t deliver on the promise of your headline, readers won’t stick around long at all.
Headlines that convey a powerful emotion (be it positive or negative) do great. Sometimes they make you feel excited, other times they might instill fear. For example: “6 Things You Don’t Realize Are Hurting Your Business”
This article brings up a big question. Are you doing something to hurt your business without realizing it? You won’t know for sure until you read to find out. The fact that you could be hurting your business can bring about fear, or at least concern.
A few examples of words you can include in a headline to make it more emotionally appealing:
Or, you might use some words to convey a sense of weight or negativity:
Headlines that draw attention immediately create a sense of urgency. It makes you feel like if you don’t read what the writer has to say at that exact moment, you might be too late. Here are some words that can convey urgency:
And if you’re really good, you can convey a sense of urgency without making your readers feel like you’re being pushy.
Make it Personal
Headlines that are personal tie into emotional headlines. When I say a headline is personal, I mean it makes a connection with your reader. Suddenly, it seems like you’re talking to them, rather than to the masses.
Using casual, familiar language like “you” and “your” can achieve the “personal” feel. Some writers say that kind of writing doesn’t have a place on company blogs, but it depends on the audience.
Headlines that Draw Attention and Why They Work
Knowing types of headlines that are a hit with readers is only part of what I want to talk about. Understanding why they work is essential as well, so you’ll know when they’re most appropriate. While this is in no way a complete list of headline types, these are the ones I’ve seen the best results with.
What Makes Question Headlines So Powerful?
Question headlines, when appropriately used, can pull your audience in with curiosity. The most obvious reason is that they want to know the answer.
When we’re asked a question, our first reaction is to try and formulate an answer.
If readers can’t come up with an answer, they’ll usually want to know more. Especially if it’s a question that they haven’t considered before, it appeals to their curiosity. The brain doesn’t do well when it’s presented with incomplete information—it wants to know more. (Another reason we all hate clickbait so much.)
Even if they can come up with an answer, curiosity still factors in: “How do my answers compare to the ones in the article?”
The downside to headlines like this is that if they already know the answer, they’ll stop at the headline. Game over!
3 Reasons to Put a Number in Your Headline
No matter how much you hate list posts, the fact remains that they do work.
A good list is organized, easy to scan, and delivers exactly what the headline states.
I’ve heard of many reasons why writers and readers hate list posts. Are they good reasons? No, not really. Justified? Maybe. But that’s a topic for another time.
But let’s ignore the actual content of the list for a bit. What about the headline makes it work?
- Predictability. There’s a lot of information online, so we like to know what we’re getting. A number in the headline gives us an idea of what to expect, even if we can’t necessarily measure the amount of content.
- Organization and readability. Even though a list may not be in a logical order, the information is clearly separated into sections. Lots of readers today tend to scan an article before they read it. “Scannable” content appeals to the speed readers and scanners while having the option of detailed content.
- Choice and variety. People love options and variety. So rather than talking about the one tool that I use for managing my Pinterest account, why not talk about the five that I tested and give people options? Having a number in your headline implies that you’ll be giving your reader choices.
How to Write Headlines that Imply Value
“How to” headlines indicate that you’ll be teaching something. The idea that you’ll be showing someone how to do something is enough to get them to check out your article.
Without even peeking at the content, this kind of headline implies value.
Of course, without a worthwhile benefit, a how-to headline is just another headline. Entice your readers and make people want to click on your article. For instance, the benefit of this post’s headline is that you’ll be writing headlines that get attention.
Cut Out the Guesswork and Write Headlines that Get Results
Encouraging readers to act before they’ve even read the article can be a little hit or miss. If they already have an idea of what you’re going to say, chances are you might not see as many click-throughs. This is why it’s so important to know your audience.
Including a call-to-action in a headline is useful if your reader is someone who struggles with the stated problem.
Another example would be “Cut Article Writing in Half with Dictation Software.” It’s less of a “how to do this” and more of a “do this.” In this case, the “how to” didn’t feel appropriate. (It also makes it slightly less wordy.)
Make Your Own Headline Templates
Headlines can take forever to write. If you’re writing for clients, there’s a lot of pressure to come up with a headline that will draw attention.
Don’t feel bad! This is completely normal.
After all, most people who see your posts only read the headline. It’s the most critical part of your blog post.
However, if you have templates, this process goes much faster. If you want to make a template, pull the headlines of your most popular blog posts and mirror the format. For instance, if I were to take the title from this one, I’d write “How to Write _____ that _____”
That headline could be any number of things, like:
- How to Write Compelling Copy that Converts Readers into Buyers
- How to Write Social Media Posts that Drive Traffic
- How to Write Blog Posts that Readers Will Love
The list goes on.
It’s not unusual to write 10-20 headlines before you’re finally satisfied with one, and that’s okay. If you need more help “rating” your headlines, check out CoSchedule’s headline analyzer.
Do you have a favorite “formula” for writing headlines? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below! Tell me about some of your successes with headlines, or struggles if you haven’t had much luck coming up with ideas.