There’s no denying the power of a good headline.
It’s the first thing your audience reads, and it might also be the last thing they read if it’s not compelling enough to get a click.
But what makes a good headline?
The Four U’s
It’s true that audiences have different preferences for headlines depending on if they’re browsing social, searching Google, or reading the newspaper. That said, there are a few tenets of good headline-writing can be applied across the board.
For example, copywriters have long relied on the “four U’s” to generate powerful headlines:
- Urgent: The best headlines weave in a sense of urgency. Capitalizing on readers’ fear of missing out (FOMO) is a great way to capture their attention in a crowded social-media landscape.
- Unique: Let your brand’s personality shine through, and offer readers something that they haven’t seen a hundred times before.
- Useful: When readers look at your headlines and consider whether to keep reading, they’re wondering what’s in it for them. Your headline has to promise value, and your content has to deliver it. While the other U’s in this formula help to grab readers’ attention, usefulness is what convinces them to stick around.
- Ultra-specific: The more specific your headline is, the more unique and useful it will seem to readers. Being specific with data and statistics can also help you establish trust and authority with your audience.
While an irresistible headline helps drive clicks, it’s should also communicate what the article is all about.
The Headline Should Be Accurate
Your headline needs to accurately express what your article is about. Too often, media companies will twist a headline to make an article say something it doesn’t say or to get attention in a way that the article doesn’t deserve. Unfortunately, this is a sure way to turn off your readers and get them to bounce.
Your Headline Should Work Out of Context
Your regular readers might understand any writing quirks or abbreviations that you use, but someone who stumbles onto your site or sees your headline from a Google search will not. For that reason, you need to make sure that anyone can understand the headline immediately.
Headlines Should Be Concise
Strunk and White once wrote that we should avoid any unnecessary words and this is especially important when writing a headline. Generally, you want to keep your headline under 80 characters, give or take, so make each word count. This means removing any unneeded describing words, or really anything that takes away from the main meaning of the headline.
Tips for Writing Catchy Headlines
Time spent creating content could be wasted if your headline isn’t compelling. A great headline can mean the difference between your article being read or ignored. It can give a good first impression of your writing skills and instantly improve the appeal of your content to clients.
“On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.” – David Ogilvy.
So how do you write better headlines to convince these content-hungry, time-limited clients to read your content? Hopefully, the following tips will set you up on the path to headline success.
1. Highlight the Benefits
What’s in it for the reader? Conveying the core value of the content within the headline is key. You can use the word “you” or reference the target audience directly to make it sound personal:
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2. Be Specific
Include specific facts in the headline to build credibility. Statistics and names show you’ve researched the topic. For example:
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This is actually based on a study by HubSpot, where they found that on average, 14 word-titles get the most tweets and Facebook likes.
3. Include Numbers
Numbers are also effective for the same reason. People are attracted to numbers and lists because they like predictability and certainty. For example:
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4. Establish a Human Connection
If you don’t have any numbers in your title, try appealing to the reader’s emotional side. Mention something the target audience can relate to:
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5. Appeal to Readers’ Aspirations
Similarly, think about what the target audience wants to achieve. Promise how the reader can improve themselves in some way, such as learning how to be a better headline writer:
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6. Be More Intriguing
Withholding key information will encourage readers to click through to your content to find out more. So, leave an air of mystery:
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7. Make it Sound Conversational
When you only have a moment to capture the reader’s attention, try writing like you talk:
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8. Ask a Specific Question
The last example used a more general question to sound more conversational. You can increase curiosity with more specific questions. The following example uses the first-person personal pronoun to personalize the headline and make the reader feel like they already “own” the question:
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Or you could ask an unusual question to add even more intrigue:
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9. Be Provocative
Like the previous example, controversial statements or questions are a great way to get noticed, but you need to be careful not to alienate the audience. Still, introducing the shock factor into your headlines will almost certainly improve click-through rates:
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10. Be Surprising
You can tone down the controversy and just surprise readers with something unexpected. It captures attention in the same way because the human brain loves uniqueness. See how the following headline uses a surprising phrase to stand out:
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11. Use a FOMO Headline
Fear of missing out (FOMO) is a powerful motivational technique used by most marketers. Think about how you can change your headline to add urgency to the title. For example:
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12. Use Negatives
In one study, Outbrain compared headlines with positive superlatives like “best” and “easiest” to negative ones, such as “worst” and “hardest.” It found that click-through rates on headlines with negative superlatives performed 30 percent better than those with positive ones.
This might be because the negative approach is more unexpected. So try inserting some negative superlatives into your headlines, such as:
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13. More Verbs, Fewer Adjectives
When you’re writing a headline, every word counts. In one A/B testing case, changing just a single word of an email subject line boosted click-through rates by 46%.
That said, action verbs tend to pack more of a punch than nouns and adjectives. In fact, two of the most famous taglines in advertising are short and verb-centric: Nike’s “Just Do It” and the American dairy industry’s “Got Milk?”
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14. Get Feedback
If you have a number of headlines and you’re not sure which one is best, ask other people. You could ask other writers on Twitter via a poll, or show your client multiple headline versions so they can pick out the best.
Taking It Further
Clients want headlines that will engage their readers, so it’s important to think about the audience of your potential client. Who will be reading the content? What do they really want to know? And crucially, make sure that your content always delivers on the promise of your headline.
Stick to the strategies outlined here, and you’ll be on your way to writing more powerful headlines that give a great first impression of your writing skills and will ultimately boost your sales.
Want to create better headlines? Check out our copywriting service.