Believe it or not, some of the best headline writing strategies come from the good old days of newspapers. They’re a fading breed, but we can still learn from those who went before us, right?
In the newspaper industry, writers and editors had to grab readers’ attention right off the bat with an enticing headline. Otherwise, nobody ever read the small copy below those headlines.
The same thing is happening on the Internet. I don’t know about you, but I see about 50 headlines before I’ve had my first cup of coffee in the morning. So how do you make yours stand out and skyrocket your conversions?
Let’s find out.
What is a headline?
A headline is the copy that appears at the top of a document or piece of text. It’s typically larger and bolder than anything else on the page (other than the call to action), and it’s designed to convince people to read on.
If you’re collecting emails, for instance, you need a strong headline to convince people to convert.
But let’s face it. It’s easier to convince someone to part with their email address for a 20 percent discount than to convince them to read a 3,000-word article. We’re talking about time investment here.
Your headline is the first thing someone sees when encountering your article in the Google search engine results pages.
It’s also the first thing they’ll see if you share your latest article on social media.
And what about on your main blog page? You might post a short excerpt of the blog’s copy, but the headline stands out first.
Clearly, headlines matter. But how do you make them sing?
How can I write a good headline?
To write a good headline, you need a hook. In other words, you have to consider your topic, then figure out the best way to present it to your audience.
I’m going to share some foolproof formulas with you later on, but focus on conveying value. You can also tease your audience with an incredible statistic or some other surprising fact, but make sure your audience knows they’ll get value from what comes after the headline.
What are the overall headline writing rules?
The headline writing rules are pretty simple:
- Remove any word that doesn’t contribute to value.
- Try to keep stop words (a, the, of, etc.) to a minimum.
- Keep headlines to 70 characters or less if possible.
- Don’t be boring.
- Focus on unique adjectives and verbs.
That’s it. Other than that, feel free to use your creativity — but don’t neglect the insight I’m about to share with you.
Can I use these tips when writing emails and email subject lines?
Since headlines are designed to convey value, they’re great for email subject lines because they reduce your chances of being kicked into the dreaded spam folder. You want to ensure deliverability of every email.
You can also use these tips and tricks in your email body — such as for subheadlines. Don’t neglect other aspects of email copywriting, though.
14 pro tips to improve your headline writing performance
1. Follow the 4 U’s rule when writing headlines
Alliteration is a useful concept because it makes information easier to retain. That’s why it’s helpful to remember the four U’s of headline writing: unique, urgent, ultra-specific, and useful.
Each of these qualities should be present in your headline if you want people to click and read.
Your headline must be unique
I’ve been working in the digital marketing field for a long time, so I’ve seen millions of pieces of content marketing. That’s not an understatement.
Years ago, it wasn’t uncommon to see the same headlines appear over and over again:
- How to fix your sink
- When to take your dog to the vet
- Are garter snakes dangerous?
Those headlines get the point across, but they’re boring. So how can we liven them up?
- Clog, Schnog: Fix Your Sink in 10 Minutes or Less With Household Items
- Sick Pooch? 21 Times You Should Definitely Take Your Dog to the Vet
- Garter Snakes: Dangerous or Helpful? We Have the Answer
Your headline must be ultra-specific
Specifics are essential in headlines because readers want to know if they’ll be wasting their time. Plus, you convey authority and credibility when you can get specific about your topic.
Let’s rewrite the generic headlines from the last section:
- 101 Ways to Fix Your Sink Without a Plunger
- When to Take Your Dog to the Vet Because of Coughing
- How Dangerous Are Garter Snakes and How Can You Identify Them?
Each of these headlines adds an element of specificity to the topic, either by numbering the tips or adding extra information about the article.
Your headline must create a sense of urgency
Urgency can help improve click-through rates because people feel like time is running out. We can use our generic headlines to write better, more urgent versions:
- Clogged Sink? Check Out These Strategic Fixes Before the Flood
- Sick Dog? Don’t Wait to Take Him to the Vet. Here’s Why
- Snakes in the Yard? Learn How to Identify the Dangerous Species
Each of these hits a pain point. Nobody wants a flooded kitchen, a critically ill dog, or a potentially venomous snake in the yard.
Your headline must be useful
You can look at the examples I’ve provided to see how I’ve integrated usefulness into each one. These headlines promise that we’ll help the reader solve a problem, make a decision, or keep their families safe.
If you don’t have anything useful to say, maybe you’re writing the wrong content.
2. State the obvious: Write simple and easy-to-understand headlines
Think of your headline as a seed. It’s just planting an idea in your reader’s head. Hopefully, it’ll grow into a full-fledged plant as your article or other piece of content unfolds, but for now, you’re just focusing on that seed.
Don’t try to be too clever or witty here. Instead, focus on functional, simple language that gets your point across and promises what’s to come.
3. Use powerful words when writing headlines
Powerful words tend to be verbs. They’re strong and actionable, so people get excited about the content.
In this article, for instance, I used the word “skyrocket.” I could have used the word “increase,” but that’s not nearly as powerful.
4. Include specific numbers and data in your headlines
You’ll also notice that this article’s headline specifies “14 Great Tips.” I didn’t have to use a number, but it was a strategic choice.
Numbers tell your reader exactly what they can expect from your article.
You can also use statistics, dollar figures, or percentage points in your headline if you’re writing a data-driven article. The numbers themselves can surprise your audience and encourage them to click.
5. Making a strong statement
There’s nothing wrong with coming forward with a strong opinion or position in a headline as long as you can back it up.
My business partner, Neil Patel, recently took that chance with an article on his blog:
As you can see, it’s already generated 153 comments.
By saying, “Everything I Taught You About SEO Was Wrong,” he generated curiosity. His regular readers wanted to know what he meant, So they clicked.
You can use controversial statements and strong opinions, but know your audience. If you don’t think your audience can handle an audacious statement, choose something else to create interest.
6. Use your targeted keywords in your headlines
I rarely write an article without putting the focus keyword in my headline. Why? Because it’s the first thing Google sees.
If the headline doesn’t include my primary or targeted keyword, how will Google know where to rank my content?
In this article, I’ve focused on the keyword “headline writing.” As you can see, it’s the first phrase in the headline. I also incorporated the keyword “conversions” because I knew I wanted to talk about how headlines can inspire conversions.
7. Make it mysterious to grab people’s attention
Sometimes, headline writing boils down to asking a simple question:
- What’s the best way to clean my carpet?
- How do you handle a break-in at your apartment?
- What’s the best procedure for dealing with bed bugs?
These are all questions people type into Google’s search bar every day. If they’re related to your brand, you can answer them by creating a question in the headline and a response in the body copy.
8. Think about what matters to your audience and use it in your headlines
Audience research is essential. You can learn what they care about through polls and surveys.
Over time, you’ll get to know them so well that you’ll be able to anticipate their needs and questions.
9. Address your readers using the 2nd person when headline writing
You’ll notice that I’m talking directly to you in this audience. You can also use second person in headline writing:
- What’s Your Interior Design Style? Click to Find Out
- Do You Know the Best Way to Train Your Dog?
- Can You Guess Which Popup Type Works the Best?
Each headline directly addresses the reader as “you.”
10. Create a sense of controversy to draw readers’ curiosity
An article went viral back in 2014 on the Huffington Post. Scott Dannemiller wrote an article called “The One Thing Christians Should Stop Saying.”
You already know it’s controversial, right? Unless the reader believes Dannemiller completely, he or she will have at least a partially negative reaction.
That’s okay. Opinionated posts can get shared and clicked wildly. This one has nearly 80K social shares.
11. A/B test your headlines to check what works best
We built A/B testing into Hello Bar for a reason. We knew our customers would want to test different versions of top bars, modals, sliders, page takeovers, and other assets to see which ones worked best.
A/B testing works. In fact, it’s essential. Play with different types of headline writing to figure out what works.
12. Whenever possible, use images to complement your headline writing
That’s a cute picture, right? It’s a mother and daughter putting money in a piggy bank.
I might be writing an article about savings for your kids’ college funds, teaching children the value of a dollar, or setting an allowance for kids.
Whatever the case, a good image helps complement your headline writing.
13. Give readers a strong reason why they should click your headline
You’ve seen those Upworthy-style headlines, right? It’s always something like, “A Man Shouts at His Toddler. You Won’t Believe What Happens Next!”
That’s an extreme version of this headline writing tip. The goal is to give your readers a strong impetus to click.
14. Make an audacious promise in your headline
“I’m Going to Teach You How to Make $100,000 in Two Weeks.”
That’s an audacious headline, right? But if I can back it up, I’m going to get clicks.
Making an audacious headline shows that your confident in your article or other piece of content. Plus, people will be so curious to see if you can follow through that they’ll click.
Pro Tip: Always follow through.
5 awesome templates to help you writing super catchy headlines
I promised to deliver headline writing formulas, so here we are. Following these formulas can help you create a headline that generates clicks, but don’t be afraid to be creative.
If you need to add an extra word or number to a headline, do it. Always make sure you’re serving the copy and the reader.
In the following five sections, I’ll give you the formula and three examples to get your creative juices flowing.
1. Number + adjective + noun + keyword + promise
- 17 Amazing Steps for Pest Prevention That Will Help You Sleep Better at Night
- 8 Pro Tips on Digital Marketing That Will Save You 20 Hours a Week
- 101 Spectacular Ways to Speed Up Christmas Shopping for a Stress-Free Holiday
2. How to + action + keyword + promise
- How to Run a Marathon Without Getting Dehydrated
- How to Prove You Can Quit Smoking and Appease Your Family
- How to Lose Weight and Feel Healthy Without Depriving Yourself
3. Definition + guide to + action + keyword + promise
- The Foolproof Guide to Building Legos for Toddlers Without Stress
- Simple Guide to Eating Healthier in Restaurants While Still Having Fun
- Our Complete Guide to Doing Keyword Research in 10 Minutes or Less
4. Negative word + action + keyword
- Quit Smoking by Using Our Essential Oils
- Stop Worrying About Your Kids’ College Funds With a 529 Plan
- Don’t Write Another Article Without Doing Keyword Research
5. Call to action + keyword + promise
- Check Out These Headline Writing Tips to Improve Your Click-Through Rates
- Read These 30 Articles on Pest Control to Keep Your Home Bug-Free
- Check Out These 10 Tips on Dog Nutrition to Raise Healthy Pups
4 questions to ask yourself when writing a great headline
Headline writing doesn’t end with your first draft. I know, I can hear the collective grown, but hear me out.
A novelist doesn’t write a book and immediately send it to his or her editor. The author goes through rewrite after rewrite until it’s polished and ready for public consumption.
The same goes for your headline. Often, your first stab at a good one won’t yield the ideal version. You’ll have to tweak words and word order to make sure it’s clickable.
After you’ve written your headline, perhaps using one of the headline writing formulas above, ask yourself these four critical questions.
1. Is my headline accurate?
Your headline must promise what’s to come in the copy to follow and it must state your position accurately.
As a simple example, you don’t want to promise “14 Great Tips That Will Skyrocket Your Conversions” if you only list nine tips. Your reader will feel cheated.
The same goes for the result to which you allude in your headline. If you promise your tips will help your readers sleep better at night, you’d better deliver tips that knock out insomnia.
2. How compelling is my promise?
Compelling is in the eye of the beholder, but it’s also very nuanced.
Let’s say you want to share a tip that will cut 10 minutes of work from your readers’ schedules every day. That’s interesting, but it’s not all that compelling.
But what if you tried a multiple?
Instead of promising to save 10 minutes per day, you could promise 70 minutes per week or, even better, 300 minutes per month (or 5 hours per month). That’s more compelling and clickable.
3. How easy it is to understand?
If I read a headline I don’t understand, I’m not going to click.
There are lots of funny examples on the Internet of newspaper or Internet articles that just missed the mark.
Take this one, for example:
It just doesn’t work. It’s too obvious to be compelling, and it almost sounds as if the author is poking fun at the subject.
Make sure you’re coming across very clearly to your audience. A great way to make sure you don’t trip up is to show or email your headline to someone else. Ask them if the promise is clear. If they don’t get it, rewrite.
4. Are all words in my headline necessary?
Sometimes, you can cut words from your headlines entirely while still retaining their original intent.
Let’s say, for instance, that you’re writing an article about how to train for a marathon. Your first stab might look like this:
“25 Absolutely Necessary Tips for Running Your First Marathon”
At first glance, it looks okay. But I could remove a word without changing the headline’s meaning at all:
“25 Necessary Tips for Running Your First Marathon”
I could also write it like this:
“25 Essential Tips for Running Your First Marathon”
Learning to pare down your headline writing can make your headlines more compelling. The word “essential” is more powerful than “necessary,” and “absolutely” is an unnecessary modifier for “necessary.”
How’s that for word salad?
Great headline writing real examples
I see lots of amazing headlines every day. I’ll point out a few that might help make your headline writing more effective.
First, let’s look at this one from Optinmonster:
The fact that it promises 73 items in this list post is impressive. It also uses the phrase “proven to work,” which suggests data-backed tips. As you can see, it got nearly 3K shares from Facebook alone.
I’ll also highlight an example from Hubspot:
This is a predictive headline that promises a major change in the advertising space. If you can get ahead of the news and shock your readers, you’ll get plenty of clicks.
Finally, let’s look at a headline from Quicksprout:
It’s “The Definitive Guide to Conversion Optimization.”
The headline doesn’t sound all that captivating at first glance, but its power lies in its simplicity. Neil and Joseph are promising to provide the ultimate guide, which means that readers had better pay attention.
Headline writing sounds easy. It’s not. However, you’ll get better at it the more you practice.
You can use headline writing tips for articles, blog posts, email subject lines, and more. They’re all over the place, so you need to know how to get attention.
Start by following the four Us: unique, ultra-specific, urgent, and useful. Keep your headlines simple, powerful, and data-driven whenever possible.
Start by making a strong statement. You can use an audacious or controversial claim if you want.
Include your targeted keywords, retain an air of mystery, and make sure you know what really matters to your audience.
Finally, make sure you’re A/B testing your headlines. Otherwise, you won’t know what works with your target market.
What’s your favorite headline writing hack?