Have Them at Hello: How to Write Headlines That Grab Your Readers’ Attention

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Effective headlines stop readers in their tracks.

Today we’re focusing on how to write a headline. Why? Because without an attention-grabbing headline, your content marketing efforts will be for naught.

According to Copyblogger, 80% of your visitors will read your headline. However, only 20% will go on to actually view the rest of the content piece.

Viewers instantly judge your work by this short set of words. It is the call to action for your content. A bad headline can lead to content marketing failure.

No wonder experienced copywriters spend so much time and care on writing compelling headlines.

7 Tips on how to write a good headline

While undeniably important, writing a headline doesn’t have to be a stressful ordeal. We’re going to share some best practices for how to write a headline that simplifies the process.

Ready? Let’s get started.

1. Know Your Target Audience

First and foremost, you need to know your audience. Use Google analytics and social listening tools to uncover the needs, interests, and pain points of your target group. This information will help you craft headline copy focusing on relevant industry topics and discussions.

Do keyword research to understand the search terms your target audiences are using. It’s important to use keywords in your headline to improve its SEO (search engine optimization).

In addition to matching your audience’s interests, try to get a sense of how they talk about these subjects. Using the same language, jargon, technical terminology, and conversational tone helps quickly establish a sense of rapport.

2. Keep Your Headlines Clear and Direct

Consider the platform where your headline will appear – article headers, title tags, email subject lines, social media posts, video titles. The location and media type will determine the headline length and format. For example, a title tag should be kept around 60 characters long to avoid SERP title truncation. However, research shows that longer headlines (between 12-18 words) get more attention on social platforms like Facebook.

Regardless of the platform, readers prefer clear titles that explicitly state what they’ll gain from the content. Your headline should get to the point, put keywords at the beginning, and use active voice.

More than anything, your headline should truly reflect your content. Never use clickbait titles – they won’t work and will only give your brand a bad reputation.

3. Demonstrate Your Value

Before clicking on something, viewers do a split second cost-benefit calculation to determine if the value of the content is worth their time.

Think about the problems your readers are facing and offer a solution or advice. Addressing these reasons and motivations creates a really compelling reason for readers to click on your content.

To weigh the odds in your favor, focus your headlines on helping your readers instead of talking about yourself. For instance, headlines starting with “The best way to…” or “Why you should…” are centered on solving the reader’s problem.

Provide an underlying, viewer-centric, reason for why people should view your content and include evidence to support your claim. Statistical evidence or research derived insights seem credible and attractive – such as “10 Headline Strategies Backed By Science.” Personal testimony, in the form of “What I learned,” is another great headline strategy.

4. Understand How to Use Emotional Appeal

Think about the word balance of your headline. It should be a mix of common words (for readability), uncommon terms (creating intrigue), superlative terms (for emotional connection), and power words (to motivate). According to Moz research, readers like content that is either understated – i.e. only containing up to one superlative term – or goes overboard on emotional appeal.

Experiment with both positive and negative superlatives. Multiple studies have found that negative headlines often outperform positive versions. Using words like “don’t” and “avoid” often work because people want to know if there’s anything they should stop doing. Meanwhile, “none,” “never,” and “nothing” create a sense of urgency, scarcity, and fear of missing out.

Another way to emotionally connect with readers is to flag them in your headline by using “you/your.” Or to engage their sense of curiosity by asking questions.

Incorporate emotional words and power terms at the front of your headline for more impact. Doing so also ensures that your hook never gets truncated.

5. Use Headline Formulas

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You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand these formulas.

Rather than reinventing the wheel every time you write a headline, it’s worth researching and developing formulas.

These are tried and true headline structures that incorporate the elements we’ve discussed so far. For instance, formulas such as “How to __ that will help you __” or “Little known ways to __.” These catchy headline structures keep things simple, demonstrate value, and include an emotional appeal.

A lot of headline formulas start with power trigrams – three-word combos that snag the reader’s attention. Some examples include:

• “X reasons why…”
• “This is what…”
• “Why you should…”
• “How to make…”

Research has uncovered that certain trigrams have huge correlations with social engagement – the most powerful being “Will make you…”

Headline formulas help you consistently write better headlines more easily.

6. Headline Appearance

Consider how to make your headline’s visual elements (typeface, font size, and colors) consistent with the rest of your branding.

Use design hierarchy to guide the reader to the most important pieces of information. For example, highlight the action verb in a different color. Bold, italic, and separators (e.g. colons and vertical bars) can also help set words apart.

Consider how headline alignment will appear on different screen sizes. If you write in a left-to-right language, use center-alignment for more visual power or left-alignment for a more formal appearance. Aligning your headline to the right can make it more difficult to read, so only do so with short titles.

Incorporating numbers in your headline (for instance, “5” instead of “five”) is another way to stand out visually. The human eye is drawn to the shape of numbers. They also help readers organize information into a logical order. Multiple studies have shown that headlines with numbers, such as a list post, tend to generate more shares and engagement.

7. Test Everything

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You’ll go through a lot of different ideas before you hit headline gold.

We know we’re preaching to the choir, but always test your headlines – it’s a critical part of how to write a good headline.

Start by writing several different headlines for each piece of content, read them out loud, and choose the best of the best. You can always recycle rejected ideas for other headlines and angles. Also, don’t be afraid to try headline styles you haven’t experimented with before – this will help keep your titles from getting stale.

Use A/B testing to see which versions get the most traffic and adjust headlines accordingly. When measuring success, go beyond clicks to look at the conversion rate and how many people are sharing your content. Analyze your best headlines for insights you can apply to develop effective headline formulas.

Great Headline Examples

Buzzfeed is an undisputed master of clickable headline formulas. For instance, “49 Things To Help You Solve Some Of The Confusing Problems You Encounter.” Notice the use of a number, how they flag the reader, and promise a solution to a problem.

Neil Patel is another champion headline writer with gems like “How to Build Killer Reporting to Uncover New Growth Ideas.” His titles consistently use power trigrams, emotional appeal, and questions to engage readers.

Michael Stelzner, of SocialMediaExaminer.com, is a more direct, understated, example for how to write a headline. He keeps things simple, approachable, and useful with headlines like “Visual Design for Non-Designers.”

Wrapping Up

Headline writing is an activity that bridges art and science – one that takes skill and experience to master. Data can help you uncover effective formulas, but creativity is what transforms them into winning headlines.

WriterAccess can connect you with amazing copywriting experts who can breathe life into your headline and create content your customers will love.

Schedule a demo today to learn more about how you can take your content marketing to the next level.


Lessa K is a freelance writer and SEO specialist who follows industry best practices to create quality content. She is skilled at breaking down complex concepts for readers. Her favorite writing topics are search engine marketing, home living, travel and women’s issues.


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