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Do You Want Your Readers To Click On Your Headlines? (17 Tips for Writing Powerful Headlines)

14 MIN
March 29, 2020

Do You Want Your Readers To Click On Your Headlines? (17 Tips for Writing Powerful Headlines)







According to David Ogilvy, 5x more people will read your headline than the rest of your article.


Let that sink in for a minute.


For most people, your headline - the first impression you make on your reader - will be the only impression you make, unless you wow them enough that they want to read more.


So you may have spent hours researching and writing the perfect article, but no-one is even going to read it unless your headline is AWESOME. For many writers, the headline is kind of the afterthought - what you quickly add in before you publish your masterpiece. But if you realise how game-changing your headline is, you will see that it requires serious thought and attention.


Let’s take a look at the best practices for writing an instantly captivating headline:


1. Identify the benefit you are offering to your reader


Before you start thinking about the perfect formula for writing a headline, you need to go back to basics - connecting with your audience and establishing that you are there to provide value.


Your starting point has to be - why would anyone want to read your blog article? What value are you offering? Is it worth their time?


Neil Patel refers to this as providing the rationale - the underlying reason why anyone would want to do anything - for your blog post.  How can you convey the benefits to your reader? Include rationales such as: tips, secrets, guide, strategies


For example

9 Expert Tips For Designing Your Company Logo

8 Awesome Secrets All Great Social Marketers Know

21 Simple Strategies For Selling Homes Quickly


Anyone reading the headlines above would have a clear sense of the benefit that you are offering them.



2. Use impactful words to get your readers attention


Now that you have identified the benefit you are offering your reader, you need to get their attention!


Certain words are known to be more impactful, and are more likely to pique your reader’s interest. These can be positive adjectives that are powerful or emotional.


Consider the difference between these headlines:


How To Build A Website In 6 Steps

How To Build An Awesome Website In 6 Simple Steps


7 Ways To Improve Your Social Media Presence

7 Sure-fire Ways To Boost Your Social Media Presence


A Guide To Selling Homes

A Master Guide To Selling Homes Like A Pro


In each of the examples above, there is not much new information being added in terms of benefit to the reader, but the headline is much more catchy with the impactful words added


Take a look at all the impactful, powerful words Copyblogger uses here


Screenshot (76)_LI


These words make the content offered so much more enticing.


3. Don’t fall into the clickbait trap


You want to sell your article but be careful not to oversell. Accuracy wins hands down. If your article is about selling houses quickly, you can jazz that up but if your headline is “How To Sell Houses Faster Than Anyone Else In The World” , you’ve gone a step too far. Instead of grabbing your reader’s attention, they will take one look at it - think clickbait - and move right on.



4. Address your audience


The easiest way to do this is by using the words you/ your in the headline. This builds a relationship with your reader, and suggests that you have their best interests in mind. If you are asking a question, you can personalise it.


For example, instead of “What Financial Mistakes Do People Make in 2020?”, go with “What Financial Mistakes Are You Making In 2020?” - this is much more likely to resonate with your reader.


If you are targeting a niche group, you can address them directly, for example:


Digital Marketers: 5 Tips How To Use Video Better

Calling All Realtors - Are You Still Sending Out Non-Personalised Emails?



If you are specific about who you are trying to reach, those people are likely to believe that your content will align with their specific needs.


Another way you can address your audience is by making sure you are not being too clever or technical with your wording. Even if you are an expert in a highly specialised field, you want to use simple, clear terminology. If your target audience doesn’t immediately understand what is on offer, chances are they’ll keep scrolling.


Check out this screenshot of the Nerdwallet blog


Screenshot (73)


Nerdwallet is a personal finance company which gives advice about credit cards, mortgages, credit scores and other personal finance matters. But instead of showcasing their expertise by using technical, complicated financial terminology, they use clear, straightforward language - you can understand what the article will be about instantly.



5. Use keywords wisely


If you are brainstorming a headline for a blog article, reign in the creativity and check that you are using keywords. Why? Won’t people be more interested in an article that sounds a little bit different from all the others? Yes - a unique spin will make your headline stand out, but first make sure you’ve got the basics covered. Ultimately, you want your article to be found by the people who really want to read it - and they aren’t searching for your whimsical play on words!


Using the keywords that they will be searching for, and the ones that you want to rank for, are crucial if you want to give your content a chance to be found.


6. Keywords are great but generic: Be unique and specific


I know, I just said to include important keywords. But employing this approach exclusively will leave you with a very generic sounding headline, definitely not one that will grab anyone’s attention. How can you combat your keyword-focused headline sounding generic?


Neil Patel recommends ensuring your headline is unique and specific.


How can you tell if your headline is unique? You can type your headline into Google, in double quotation marks. This way, you’ll see if there are any matches. I ran through this blog posts headline on Google to double-check it was unique before using it.


Screenshot (80)


What about specific? Let’s say your keywords are about selling used cars. Instead of ‘How to Sell Used Cars’, check out these more specific headlines:


‘How To Sell Used Cars In 30 Days’

‘Sell Used Cars Like A Pro With 5 Simple Steps’


Your keywords are the same, but your message is more specific, more useful, and therefore more likely to resonate.


7. FOMO is real - Use urgency and scarcity


Sometimes, your headline can be totally on target, but your reader just isn’t sufficiently interested to open it. Maybe they figure it’s a topic they can return to later, no harm lost. This is where urgency and scarcity come in. If your reader believes there is an opportunity that they are missing out on by scrolling down, you have definitely upped the odds in your favour that they will click on your headline.


How does this look in practice?


Let’s say you are writing an article on mortgage rates. You could go with

      1. How Mortgage Rates Have Changed In March 2020


     2. Lock In Your Mortgage Rates Now - They’re Going Up In March 2020


With the first headline, an interested reader may click on it. Or maybe they figure they’ll Google the rates when they have a spare second. But with the second option, you’ve created the urgency necessary to really promote your content.


Check out some of the headlines featured on the Pennyhoarder blog and look at what is underlined: all excellent examples of using urgency without elaborate drama, but to great effect.


Screenshot (75)_LI


Don’t overpay for your next ride: Read this NOW because otherwise will already be overpaying

Extra way to make money: The option exists now, why wait to capitalise on it?

The way you’re handling money is outdated and costing you: You are currently worse off for not reading this advice



How about scarcity? We all know how much quicker we are to react when we think something is running out. Most online stores will tell you to order soon as there is low stock of the item you’ve expressed interest in. They’re not just being helpful - they know it may provide the impetus you need to complete the purchase instead of abandoning your cart. Whilst not every headline can use scarcity, if you have a deal you are promoting, or a resource that is limited to a certain number of people, or by time - use it!


8. Use numbers in your headline


There are certain ways of formatting your headline that will be more appealing to your readers. According to Moz, a survey from Conductor found that headlines with numbers in it were the most likely to be clicked on, by a huge margin.


Why? Numbers lend a certain authenticity and authority to your post. They appeal to people’s logical and intellectual sides. They also set people’s expectations. Compare being offered ‘Tips For Decorating Your Living Room’ versus ‘21 Tips For Decorating Your Living Room. The latter sounds more concrete.Your reader also may think they can skim through it more easily, skipping out sections which are less relevant.


Strangely, odd numbers are perceived more favourably. Outbrain and Hubspot research found that headlines with odd numbers are clicked on 20% more than ones with even numbers. It’s weird but it works. If you’re offering 8 pearls of wisdom, you could always offer the 8th as a bonus, or write 7+ tips. That said, headlines with even numbers still work so if it doesn’t work as an odd number, don’t overcomplicate things.


When including numbers in your headline, write them as a number (eg. 5), not a word (Five).



9. Incorporate hyphens and brackets


Just as numbers are more compelling, the same can be said for hyphens and brackets. As well as working for your readers, it’s also a great way to add more information to your headline without disturbing its natural flow.



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Adding brackets can give more information as to the value you are providing, or just pique interest a little further, for example


‘9 Worst mistakes I made Before I started Tracking My Finances (Avoid #3 and save money Instantly!)’ : Here, the bracketed statement might just give the reader the extra incentive to open the article, whereas incorporating that information into a headline would have made it unwieldy and confusing.




10. The length of your headline matters


Actually, this is trickier than it sounds - there is no one-size-fits-all answer to how many words of characters you should use. Partly because it will depend whether you are measuring your success according to Google, or social media. Some forums work better for longer headlines, whereas shorter ones perform better on others. And also because really, it comes down to your audience too. That said, you can use the following research from Buffer as a guide for ideal lengths: 


  • Twitter: 71–100 characters
  • Facebook: 40 characters
  • Google+: 60 characters
  • LinkedIn: 80–120 characters




11.Consider your word order: Don’t let the best part of your headline get truncated


Nowadays, there’s a very good chance that your headline is being viewed on a mobile device. Why does that matter? When you are writing your headline, not all the words are equal; there’s usually the part which really is supposed to pack the punch and provide the main impact. Orbit media recommends placing your impact words at the front of the sentence. That way, if your reader is seeing a truncated version of your headline in their inbox, they will see the most compelling part of your headline.



12. Write different headlines for different platforms


Check out this table from Orbit Media 


Screenshot (70)


The clear take-away is that different rules apply, depending on where your headline is being featured. If you’re promoting your blog post to your email list, even though the simplest approach would be to copy your blog headline directly into the subject line, it may be more worthwhile to tweak it, to boost its performance.




13. Don’t reinvent the wheel: Use the best formulas for successful headlines


It’s a real tightrope, balancing creativity and sticking to tried and tested headline types. That said, marketing is a data-driven industry, so it’s worthwhile to stick to the types of headlines which typically perform well.


Kevan Lee at Buffer cites what he calls the ‘Ultimate Headline Formula’, which was developed by her analysis of which headlines get the best clicks. This formula is:


Numbers + Adjective + Target Keyword + Rationale + Promise

There are many other formulas for successful headlines. Take a look at this list of recommended blog headline types from Hubspot 

Screenshot (78)


Another approach, from Steve Rayson at Buzzsumo, was to look at which trigrams (groups of 3 words) work particularly well on Social Media.

Screenshot (82)

The key point? Certain power trigrams work most effectively at generating engagement on Facebook

Additionally, Neil Patel suggests that headlines which include “how to get rid of x for once and for all’ or “little known ways to x are usually very successful. After all, if you have a problem, wouldn’t you like to be presented with a sure-fire way of eliminating it? And everybody wants to think there is some secret out there which can transform their situation.


There are many variations on these themes, so there is still scope for originality but clearly sticking to winning formulas pays off.


Look at a screenshot from Neil Patel’s blog to see how some of the headlines he has chosen:


Screenshot (79)



Here are some examples from another successful blog: Greatist.com


Screenshot (74)




14. Brainstorm away


Once you’ve spent serious time on your content, it’s easy to just type in the first headline that comes to mind and go with that. But now that you’ve internalized how game-changing your headline is, you know you need to save some major creative juices and time for it. Don’t expect to get it right on the first shot. Try brainstorming several different titles for each blog post that you write. Once you’re looking at a list, see what stands out - or ask a friend or colleague to take a look and see which grabs his attention.


15. Split-test your headlines


If you’re not convinced which headline will perform better, let your readers guide you! Test out different headline versions and see what the data tells you. Many email programs will allow you to split test your headlines, so you can determine which resonates most with your audience. Maybe your audience really goes for How-To style headlines. Or maybe ones with a lighter, more conversational touch like “What I learned from x” headlines are more popular .



16. Check out the competition


If you’re out of ideas and feeling blocked, check out what others are writing and see which headlines you gravitate towards. It doesn’t have to be about the topic you’re writing on, but it may help get your brain into gear, and provide you with valuable insights as to what works, coming from the angle of the reader, not the writer.



17. Recycle success!


If you see your audience responds well to certain types of headlines, recycle that success by adapting less successful headlines to fit with what performed better. An advantage of developing a more consistent headline style is that it works with creating a distinctive online personality.




A fabulous headline is what gets all your awesome content read. The tips above, based on research, science and psychology, are all easy to apply to more lack-luster headlines. Pay more attention to your headlines and see what a difference it makes!