By Matthew Smith
Imagine a world of content publishing without headlines. What would books, newspapers, magazines, articles, blog posts, ads, and web pages look like without them?
Boring, confusing, and difficult to read – right?
In the world of content, both traditional and digital, a headline serves many purposes. It not only makes your content easier to read, but if creatively written, it can help your copy rise above the noise.
Crafting a creative, catchy, and attention-grabbing headline is not easy. In addition to being a great writer, you’d also require advanced knowledge about audience behavior, keyword usage, search engine algorithms, and other tips and techniques of headline writing.
Simply put, great headline writing requires the writer to sum up hundreds of words into one sentence.
Don’t worry – you won’t find it as difficult once you finish reading this post. No matter what type of content you are writing, the headline writing tips and techniques discussed below will help you create strong and impactful headlines.
1. Remember the 4 U’s of Headline Writing
Introduced by Melanie Duncan, the Easy 4 U formula is considered a rule of thumb for headline writing by many writers. According to this formula, a good headline is:
- Create a sense of urgency
While it is hard to incorporate all these things in a single headline, you should aim to include at least two in order to make the headline strong and effective enough to compel your audience to read.
Take a look at the headline of a blog post published on Moz:
The headline is unique – it stands out.
It’s also specific and clearly conveys the usefulness of the post – what it is about, who it is targeted to, and what the readers will learn from it.
Here’s another example:
While the headline is not very unique, it is highly specific, useful (who doesn’t want some extra cash?), and creates a sense of urgency.
2. Surprise Your Audience
People love surprises and research has shown that presenting your audience with something unexpected helps capture attention.
Take a look at how Rand Fishkin chose to title a post he wrote in October, 2018:
Even though people know that there are many fake accounts on Twitter and many famous people have fake followers, most of them wouldn’t be able to ignore this post.
Because the headline delivers something they did not expect – the figure it highlights is surprising as well as incites reader curiosity to find out more details about the study the writer is referring to.
To make your headlines winners, add an element of surprise in them.
3. Use Negative Words
Bad news sells better than good news. Although most people may not accept or realize it, they are generally more compelled to read negative news. Just look around, even though people always complain about crime and corruption and how depressing such news is, these topics are some of the most watched and talked about issues.
According to experts, the possible reason for this phenomenon could be that positive headlines seem to be over-promising, inauthentic, or have become clichéd due to overuse whereas the negative headlines seem to address real issues.
People are more interested to know about the mistakes they should avoid or being told what they are doing wrong rather than learning the ‘best’ ways to do something.
Negative headlines create shock and incite reader curiosity.
Take a look at following examples:
These headlines got a lot of clicks because they created instant intrigue.
Negative headlines play on basic human insecurities. Try adding a hint of negativity to your headlines and see how they improve the engagement rate.
4. Use 5Ws and H
Do you remember the 5Ws and H you learned in elementary school?
What, Why, Who, Where, When, and How.
When in doubt, use them to write headlines.
To attract and engage a reader with interrogative words, you’d have to use them creatively rather than by simply asking questions.
Let’s say you are writing a blog to explain video marketing.
Bad Headline Examples:
- What Is Video Marketing?
- How To Use Video Marketing In Your Business?
Here’s an idea how to improve these headlines using the same interrogative words:
- What Is Video Marketing? Understanding the Benefits, Challenges and Best Practices For Running a Successful Video Marketing Campaign
- How to Incorporate Video in Your Marketing Strategy to Improve Customer Engagement?
5. Use Numbers
The effectiveness of headlines that include numbers has long been established. Numbers help your headlines stand out and allows the writer to set realistic expectations – readers get a clear idea of the amount of information they are going to get.
Since listicles are easy-to-read, they are likely to be read by a larger audience.
The best content writers use this technique to improve search engine rankings (Yes! Google likes them too).
For example, if you search for tips for traveling on budget on Google, 9 out of 10 results that appear on the first page have numbers in the titles.
6. Create FOMO
No one has time to read every piece of content available out there. But, people want to stay updated. Expert writers play on this very human desire to grab attention. They use headlines to create a FOMO – Fear of Missing Out – effect on their audience.
If you are struggling to attract and engage an audience, leverage the power of headlines to create FOMO. Tell your audience what they have been or would miss out if they don’t read your post. Take a look at a few headlines examples that use FOMO to grab the attention of their audience.
7. Address Your Readers
Call out to your readers in the headline to instantly grab their attention. It helps writers to connect with the audience and convey the message in the post if the headline addresses the reader. For this, use the word you in the title.
To get an idea about how the word you can be used in titles, take a look at the following examples.
Other ways to address your audience is to zero in on region, city, work, interests, and more.
Consider this example:
The headline speaks to it specific audience – people that are moving or thinking about moving to Houston.
8. Use Active Voice
While there is no harm in using passive voice occasionally, experts recommend using active voice in headlines.
One of the basic tips to attract a wider audience and increase engagement is to make your writing simple and easy-to-understand. Sentences that use a passive voice take more cognitive effort to understand. As a result, the likelihood of getting your message across decreases.
Use of active verbs makes your writing, and headlines, clear, concise, easier to understand, and more convincing.
9. Offer a Benefit That Your Target Reader Cannot Ignore
If you want people to read your post, give them a good reason to do that. Tell them why they should read your article or blog post and not any other – offer a benefit that they can’t overlook. And as we all know that majority of readers only read headlines to decide whether a post is worth reading or not, state the major benefit in the title.
Check out the following example – there’s hardly any business owner or manager who can ignore this headline. The figures that the writer has used in the headline are so amazing that anyone who comes across this post will feel the urge to at least take a look at it. How can you ignore something that promises to share ways of increasing profit by 150%?
10. Put Yourself in Your Readers Shoes
One of the best ways to ensure if the headline you have created is worth clicking is to put yourself in the shoes of your target reader. Think about what would make you click.
This technique not only helps you identify if your headline is weak or poorly structured, but also if it’s over-promising. While a poor headline won’t get you clicks, a clickbait-ish headline will put off your readers and prevent them from returning.
Bonus Tip: Use a Headline Analyzer to Determine the Strength of Your Headline
I recommend that you create multiple titles and then choose the best.
Use the tips discussed in this post to create at least three headlines for every piece of content you write and then use a headline analyzer to identify which one is the most powerful.
In addition to an overall score, headline analyzers also provide a breakdown of strengths and weaknesses of a title.
Here are some good and free headline analyzers that you can use:
- ShareThrough Headline Analyzer
- The #1 Headline Analyzer by CoSchedule
- Emotional Marketing Value Headline Analyzer by Advanced Marketing Institute
With these new techniques in your arsenal, you can now attract and persuade more people to read your content. Create headlines that your audience cannot overlook and experience improved customer engagement.