6 main rules of writing compelling headlines
It’s a mystery: Why do so many online writers spend hours in creating high quality content and then put so little thought into writing a good headline? After all, if the headline is not compelling enough, no one will ever get to the rest of an article or a copy.
However, a well-written headline can do more than simply grab attention and lure the readers into the body of the text. Like a movie trailer, it can build excitement, pique curiosity and give readers a taste of what is to come. Or it can bore your audience, turn them away and even diminish your credibility, by making your message sound “spammy”.
To prevent the latter from happening, make sure that you keep to a few helpful rules when writing your headlines.
Make it short
You do not have to be a good writer to explain what the text is about. But you have to be a great writer to do it in 5 words. It is possible and online news magazines are great examples of headlines that are both short and rich in informational scent. Here is one example: “Experts find ‘possible’ Da Vinci”
Make it clear, not clever
“Clever” headlines create ambiguity and leave people guessing about the relevancy of the topic to their current search query.
Generally, clear, direct and uninventive headlines have proved to be more effective on the web than intriguing, witty headlines so frequently used in print.
The Golden rule of writing a great headline: Tell your readers exactly what your piece of content is poised to deliver and save your sense of humor and word play for the body of the article.
As The Atlantic magazine, in its article “Google Doesn’t Laugh: Saving Witty Headlines in the Age of SEO,” has put it “headlines that stray off the ‘literalness’ line” will not do well on the web.
If your goal is to attract more views to your website, your business, your product or your writing, then your headlines should be optimized for search engines.
Do not over-think it! Speak the user’s language, or more precisely, use likely search terms and front-load your headlines with the most important keywords.
Make it relevant
Online users are busy, proactive people, who do not have time to study an article or a sales copy to understand if it is relevant for them. Therefore, each of your headlines should convey the main message, letting your audience judge with a high degree of confidence, whether they will be interested in reading the full text or not.
Add the benefit
Compelling headlines, just as any piece of content, should always strive to speak to the reader’s immediate needs, desires and emotional triggers. Often, communicating the relevance of your content is not enough to have online users click on the link and read the full article.
In order to motivate people to choose your website or your piece of content out of the tens of other online pages, you have to attach a powerful, mouth-watering result to your headline.
Two great examples of such headlines are:
- “How to lose unwanted pounds without dieting”
- “5 ways to write for fun and profit”
Dress it up with emotionally stirring words
Frequently, when two headlines are relevant, clear and SEO friendly, the headline that gets more clicks is the one that uses emotionally stirring words aimed at capturing readers’ attention. You too, can really ‘dress up’ your headline by adding a few compelling words to it.
For example, try to add the adjectives “eye-catching”, “sizzling”, “compelling” or “magnetic” to the word “headlines” and you achieve an appealing and attainable effect. If you are not sure which power words to choose – a variation of “fast”, “simple”, and “easy” are your safest bet.
Best headline formulas that work
Have you ever wondered what popular teenager magazines, news portals and a great piece of copy have in common? The answer is captivating headlines that people respond too.
You can learn from these media and modify their best time-tested headline formulas to promote your business, sell informational products or gain loyal readers who will regularly turn to your website looking for more juicy knowledge-bites.
Here are some of the sure-fire headline templates that work every time:
How to [desired result] without [downside]
- How to triple your sales without selling
Do you make these mistakes?
- Do you make these dating mistakes?
Do you recognize the [number] early warning signs of [blank]?
- Do you recognize the 7 early warning signs of burnout?
You don’t have to be [something challenging] to [desired result].
- You don’t have to be rich to retire early
What everybody ought to know about [blank]
- What everybody ought to know about social networks
SOLVED: How to [problem]
- SOLVED: How to stop your dog from barking
Top [number][blank] for [blank]
- Top 10 tips for hassle-free living
[Do something] in half the time
- Speak fluent Spanish in half the time
Ways to screw up [blank]
- 21 ways to screw up your relationships
Reasons to/NOT to [blank]
- 10 reasons to delete your Facebook account
The beauty of these Headline Formulas is their Universality. They can be applied to any online niche and still capture the reader’s attention and curiosity. However, you might want to test a few different headlines to see which ones work best for your business or your website.