10 Best-Kept Secrets of Effective Headline Writing

Posted on July 26, 2017 by F.A. F.

There are quite a few well-established strategies that can help anyone compose a difficult-to-ignore headline.

Although the title of this article may give the reader the impression that only arcane or rarely heard suggestions will be covered, it should be made  clear that the word “secret” is used in this headline as much to make a point (that the right words will snag readers) as to suggest that these strategies are unknown to most people.

How Important Are Headlines & What’s Their Purpose?

Copyblogger says that while 80% of your visitors may read the title of an article or blog, only 20% will go on to read the actual article or blog.  The goal, therefore, is to encourage the reader to read beyond the headline.  Naturally, your material has to make good on what the headline promises–otherwise it becomes another flashy neon sign lost in Wasteville.

What Are Those 10 “Secrets”  or Tips for Writers on Creating the Perfect Headline?

1. Use results of previously-written headlines to form your strategies for future creations. Metrics–such as a number of customer-created inquiries, social medial shares, inbound links & comments from readers–can help.

2. Use formulaic titles known to produce results.  Some examples include “Get Rid of (dilemma in question) Once & for All” or “Little Known Ways to (do this or avoid that).”

Examples:  “Get Rid of Halitosis Once & for All” and “Little Known Ways to Delve into Freelance Writing”

3. Make sure your headline subscribes to the so-called “S.H.I.N.E.” criteria. The letters stand for Specificity, Helpfulness, Immediacy, Newsworthiness, & (everyone’s favorite) Entertainment.

4. Adopt formulas proven to be successful in particular industries. For example, fitness experts like to follow these 3 rules: identify the problem, offer a solution and then, as a clincher, make some kind of helpful, practical promise.

5. Use emotionally-impacting “power words.” These are words that evoke or appeal to the emotions. Granted, this strategy may not be feasible in some markets, such as law enforcement, but within the right context, emotional appeals can be more successful than being brutally logical or merely dogmatic.

6. Make the reader the center of attention by personalizing the title. Of course, there is no better way to achieve this than by using the word “you,” but other strategies can also work.

7. Use colorful, interesting, thought-provoking, and life-infusing articles. Some examples include

  • “INCREDIBLE”
  • “PANORAMIC”
  • “STRANGE”
  • “DEADLY”
  • “SEDUCTIVE”
  • “TANTALIZING”
  • “SHIMMERING”

8. Many writers are more concerned with impressing erudite people like themselves rather than the majority their readers. When writing a headline, use language that appeals to and is easily understood by the reader. Yes, highfaluting language has its place (such as in science magazines), but for most Internet sites/markets, simple, straightforward language has proven to be most effective.

9. The headline should abide by the so-called 4 U’s of attention grabbing headlines. This means they should be

  1. Unique
  2. Ultra-specific
  3. Urgent and
  4. Useful.

A good headline will offer these 4 benefits or values to the reader.
10. Finally, a good headline should offer the reader something worthwhile for his or her time and effort. It should concisely but eloquently answer the questions:

  • “Why should I read you and not the other 100 articles competing for my attention?”
  • “What will I gain or learn from reading this article?” and
  • “Is what you offer in this article something I will be so wowed by that I will feel compelled to share it with my friends through social media sites?”

While a great headline can’t save a mediocre article, it can determine which of the well-written, entertaining and informative articles out there will get the most attention.  In other words, it’s the indispensable beginning to a good end.

About the author

It is alleged that F.A. F. started his career in the health/medical industry as a lowly Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA). While working as a C.N.A., he received on-the-job training under the watchful eye of a Cardiologist as an Athletic Trainer’s Assistant (A.T.A.). After working in healthcare for about 12 years, he entered a nursing program but dropped out, choosing instead to complete a BA in English (technical writing). The high number of life science courses he completed qualified him to start a medical writer career. This experience then led to a Master of Science/PhD in public health. Although F.A. is very knowledgeable about the electronics & IT industries, his main focus today is health & medicine. For fun, F.A. writes fiction, grows edible plants, invents board games & donates much of his time to worthy philanthropic causes.


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