How to Write Headlines That Work

The best advertising minds have been debating how to write headlines for centuries. (The first print ad was written back in the 1400s and written advertising to catch attention has been going on well before that.)

Without thinking much of it, you scroll past hundreds of headlines every single day. It’s the first thing you look at when determining whether you want to read about something further.

The articles in your Facebook feed. The first text you see on a TikTok. The ad copy on Instagram Stories. The titles of YouTube videos.

The best headline, of course, is the one you end up clicking. Here are some principles for writing headlines your readers will devour:

Your headline is 80 cents of your dollar

It’s generally true that about 5x more people will read your headline than your content or ad. In the era of digital advertising, that number is much higher.

A viral post on Hacker News, for example, could mean that millions of people scroll past your headline before deciding to click. The difference between an average headline and a great one is huge.

Treat your headline like a cliffhanger

Many good headlines offer a problem, and subtly suggest a solution – one that’ll require you reading the content to discover. Check out a headline from TheRichest on YouTube:

The Most Secretive Club in America: The Meeting Place of the Rich and Powerful

People are interested in “secret clubs” and what stuff rich people supposedly do. So that headline has broad appeal.

Or, another:

Craziest Things Found By Airport Security

The formula: An initial problem or topic with broad appeal -> A cliffhanger follow-up teasing a solution.

Follow the cliffhanger principle in your headlines, and readers won’t be able to resist clicking for more.

Be very specific

Sometimes, being as specific as possible is the best route to drive traffic.

Sites like Insider and BuzzFeed thrive on these types of headlines. For example, a popular headline for the top article on Insider’s Lifestyle section reads:

A couple paid for their $45,000 dream wedding without going into debt

There are no tricks here – the content is described in specifics. But it does leave you wondering how someone was able to cough up so much cash for a wedding, and whether there’s any chance you can do the same.

And most importantly there’s a clear value proposition.

For anyone soon to get married or may get married someday (or know someone who is), taking a few minutes to see if there’s a nugget or two of wisdom in how to save thousands of dollars could be worth it.

But, that’s why it’s probably performing so well. In a world of murky-at-best headlines, specificity and clear value is refreshing for readers.

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