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.
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.
Headline scroll stoppers
Let’s look at some key principles to write headlines that attract your reader’s attention like opposite magnet poles:
This always works. Curiosity is powerful. And you should inject curiosity in each one of your headlines.
Do you make these mistakes in a job interview?
This is none other than a way to get curiosity. Contrast triggers people and sucks them into your copy.
How to lose weight by eating at McDonald’s.
Proof is powerful. It makes claims believable. The world is filled with claims. And you need readers’ trust to just get them to read the rest of your copy.
What doctors do when they feel rotten.
Call out your market – or call out their problem
Invest without fear.
Get clear with the benefit that your product provides. And try to tie it to some of the eight life forces.
How to get a refund on non-refundable airline tickets
Sometimes, you can write short punch headlines with the only goal of catching attention. And then expand in the subheadline.
An unsolicited headlines masterclass by the LinkedIn News team
If you use LinkedIn regularly, you might notice that every headline LinkedIn publishes in that little News section is perfectly written and positioned:
- “Omicron goes west”
- “A must-read sign of the times”
- “Apartment living at all time high”
So, after collecting LinkedIn News headlines for months, here are some nuggets on what made those headlines great.
Here are the characteristics:
Embrace intentional vagueness
If your headline tells the whole story, then why should they click on it?
Open loops, omit information, make your audience want for more.
These are some examples:
“Job market booms in four states” – They intentionally omitted the names of the states.
“Tesla loses key top executive” – They left out the name of the executive.
Cut unnecessary words
Pretend that every word costs you $1,000.
This will help you cut what’s unnecessary.
“In 2022, Apartment living is trending at an all-time high of 97% occupancy.” → “Apartment living at all time high”
“Unemployment rate fell from 4.2% to a healthy 3.9% in December.” → “Unemployment drops while hiring stalls”
Bury the interesting metric
Save the most important piece of data for the full article, or… throw it behind a lead capture form.
“96% of brand marketers use Twitter to network in 2022.”
People won’t click here because you gave them all the information already.
But here are some good examples:
- “Peak TV hits yet another peak”
- “COVID vaccines help Walgreens profit”
Lead with the big name or brand
It’s not new, big names draw attention:
“Walmart bets on the future of food.”
Even though you don’t care about the future of food, you might care about Walmart.
“TikTok star quietly snags BOSS gig.”
The perfect headline doesn’t work
You know the drill…
Someone says, “Hey, our conversion rate is low. We need better copy.”
So you hire a copywriter. Or, you write it yourself. Regardless, you end up with a document of finalized copy… the good stuff.
Then you implement the copy and let it ride.
What’s the problem here?
Advertising today isn’t like it was back in the ‘60s. Today, we have the luxury of A/B testing copy with a few clicks.
But we often don’t set up tests, because freelance copywriters and agencies, and in-house teams like to come up with “the perfect headline” or sales page, pitch it… and that’s that.
This burns money
No matter how good a copywriter is, odds are low that their copy is the highest-converting piece out there.
Here’s how to make more money—and get better copy:
- If you hire freelancers, ask copywriters to give you lots of options. Instead of settling with the option your copywriter likes best, ask them for the 10 best headlines they came up with while drafting. Test them all.
- If you write copy in-house, don’t settle. Test copy until you’ve found a “ceiling” for your conversion rate—a point where new, better copy doesn’t seem to have an impact.
… Then watch what happens. Let’s imagine 3,000 people hit your homepage per day, your AOV is $50, and your conversion rate is 1%.
In that case, a simple 0.1% boost would be a $4,500 increase in monthly revenue.
Test some copy, make money, test new copy, make more money… rinse and repeat.