10 Proven Tips for Writing Effective Headlines

The headline of an article (or subject line of an email) is the most critical part of the entire message. It’s the first impression the work gives to readers and it determines whether they will read anything else. Writing headlines that seize attention and drag readers into the body of a message is a fine art and a precise psychological science. Here are some tips you can use when crafting blog posts or email newsletters…

How to Write Great Headlines

In The Copywriter’s Handbook, author Bob Bly sets forth several tried-and-true types of successful headlines, giving real-world examples of each and discussing in detail what made them some of the best-selling headlines of all time. Here are some of Bly’s tips, and a few of my own.
Direct headlines go straight to the heart of the article without trying to be clever; they grab busy people by the eyeballs and drag them into the main article. “Muscavado Sugar 40% Off…” “Free Antivirus Program Keeps You Safe…” The idea is to just state what you’re selling and its key benefit.
Writing Great Headlines
Indirect headlines capture attention by stirring curiosity. Double entendres also stirs curiosity; people read the article to learn which meaning the headline intends. “Fresh Bait Works Best” need not have anything to do with fishing or the actual subject of the article. Its “curiosity factor” IS the bait!
A news headline should really be news. A new or updated product is news, e.g .,“Windows 8.1 Update Released…” A popular event is news, such as “Fourth of July Sales Blast Prices.” The author’s unusual experience can be news, e. g., “My 12-day Near-Death Experience.”
“How-to” and “Tips” headlines grab the attention of do-it-yourselfers, and starting them with numbers (digits) has been found to be effective. “3 Ways to Fix A Leaking Faucet” will snare any frugal, self-confident reader. Similarly, “Where to find…” “When You Should…” and “7 Proven Tips for…” promise useful, helpful information. Others in this category are “Beginner’s Guide to…” and “The 5-Minute Guide to…” (Did you notice that the headline of this article made you want to click?)
Question headlines must ask questions that the desired audience wants to see answered. “Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor On The Bedpost Overnight?” may stir nostalgia for Dr. Demento, but few readers leave gum on bedposts; most don’t care about the answer. Obvious questions like “Do You Want To Get Rich Quickly?” don’t work, either.

Just Tell Me What to Do!

Command headlines bluntly tell the reader what to do. “Subscribe To My Blog Today!” “Boost Your Credit Rating By 50 Points!” “Download This Free e-Book!” A strong command to act should begin such a headline.
“Reasons why…” headlines appeal to the human tendency to rationalize. “Top 10 Reasons To Go Fishing.” “Why You Should Read This Article” just might work, too.
Testimonial headlines are highly effective because they purportedly offer independent validation of your article’s value. “I Lost 30 Pounds in 30 Days On This Diet” is impressive; add a well-known name and you have a really effective headline.
When posting on Twitter: Use more verbs, and fewer nouns for higher clickthrough rates. You can also use Twitter to help you choose an effective blog title. Post two potential blog headlines as tweets, see which one gets the most clicks, and use that as your blog post headline.
Certain words in headlines and email subjects have been found to encourage sharing. Try salting some of your headlines with words such as: Smart, Surprising, Science, History, Hacks, Huge, Big, Critical.
A headline is rarely perfect the first time it is published. On a Web site, headlines continue to work (or not) to bring you more traffic, clicks, and revenue-generating actions. Before scrapping an entire article on your site, try tweaking its headline a few different ways.
Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below…

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  1. MmeMoxie says

    Bob … This article is definitely, right on point!!! I like all of your suggestions, as they do, make you want to read more and find out what a business has to offer.
    From a consumer’s point of view … I know that, a catchy Headline, almost always, will capture my attention. They basically, “wet my appetite” and I want to see, what it’s all about. I think, most people are nosy, by nature and that is what makes us curious, in so many ways. We simply want to know the hows, whens, whys and wherefores, as much as possible.
    Especially in education, a clever topic headline, can help make the students want to learn more, about the subject matter. To me, this is what education is all about … Learning. Bob, that is the one thing that, I have done, is learned from your newsletters. The years I have been reading your newsletter, go way back to 1997, when the newsletter was called, The Tourbus. Even then, I couldn’t wait until I got another newsletter.
    Also, from a consumer’s view point … I can NOT stress enough, the need for your Blog or Newsletter to be grammatically correct and correct spelling, as well!!! Nothing will turn me off faster, than a poorly written article. Bob, you do stress the importance of proper grammar and correct spelling, next to where we comment. It really DOES make a difference.
    Please, have Dictionary.com in your Favorites or Bookmarks … I use it, ALL the time. I simply, open a new tab, to have it available, when I am commenting or writing. Proper spelling and grammar, helps make you look well-educated and professional, which is so vital in a business.
    When, I see either an article or comment, that is so badly written … I just don’t read it. Why, should I waste my time, when someone else doesn’t want to write properly. Now please, I am not talking about those individuals that have a language issue, that is a whole different ball game. English is NOT the easiest language, to learn and it becomes even worse, when you have to write in English.
    Bob, I really hope that, those who will continually read The Rankin File, will take your articles, to heart. You have had this newsletter, for a long time and your success shows, by all of your fans. I don’t think, most readers realize that, your newsletters go out to individuals, who live outside the USA. So, in essence, you are International. Your knowledge is exceptional and your “down to Earth” writings, help all who read your articles.

  2. Warren D. says

    This posting is a goldmine of practical help. I’ve been struggling to get people to open my emails, and now I know why. Looking back, my headlines have been bland, boring and not particularly enticing. Even I wouldn’t click on them! I will be trying some of these ideas ASAP.

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