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Writing catchy, effective headlines takes work. In fact, you might spend almost as much time coming up with the headline for an article or blog post as it takes to write the piece. Understanding why some headlines work — and why many fall flat — can help you hit the mark more often with your own headlines.
Image via Flickr by InteractiveNewsprint
The best headlines serve as irresistible invitations to read the rest of your content. They might evoke emotion or inspire curiosity, depending on the subject, but they should always elicit a reaction.
Specifically, you want the reader to click on the headline and view your content.
Here are a few headlines that get the job done:
1. Eminem Terrified As Daughter Begins Dating Man Raised On His Music
Referencing familiar emotions, such as a parent’s worry for a growing child, can make a headline extremely effective. Add a celebrity’s name for even more juice.
2. 7 Ways to Make Money While Waiting for Disability Benefits
This headline combines several useful strategies: it uses a number to suggest a listicle approach in the content, it promises a way to solve a common problem (“make money”), and it adds specificity to narrow the audience.
3. How to Have a Healthier and More Productive Home Office
Make a specific, actionable promise with your headlines. Unusual adjectives can help add interest.
4. A Little Mistake That Cost a Farmer $3,000 a Year
As long as you don’t try to manipulate the reader, scare tactics can contribute to effective headlines.
5. Are You Making These Embarrassing Mistakes at Work?
Triggering a milder emotion can also encourage clicks, especially if you present a familiar situation for the reader.
6. Lose 8 Pounds in 2 Weeks
Don’t promise too much in a headline like this, but if you can deliver on the headline’s guarantee, you’ll find that specific, deadline-oriented language works well.
7. How Many of These Italian Foods Have You Tried?
Questions prove particularly effective in headlines, especially if you can engage the reader’s curiosity.
8. What’s Scarier Than the Sex Talk? Talking About Food & Weight
Sensational headlines work well if you don’t oversell them — or venture into crass territory. They can also add spice to otherwise dry news headlines.
9. More Than Half of Medical Advice on ‘Dr. Oz’ Lacks Proof or Contradicts Best Available Science
Statistics can add authority to your headlines and attract attention. Adding a celebrity name doesn’t hurt, either.
10. Lack Time? Here Are 4 Convenient Ways to Keep Your Dog Fit
Set up the headline with a familiar problem, then offer a specific number of ways to complete a goal or task.
11. How One Stupid Tweet Blew Up Justine Sacco’s Life
Combine a news story with a pervasive fear to create a great headline. Bonus points if it involves a cautionary tale.
12. 10 Signs That You Will NOT Make It As A Successful Photographer
You might anger a few folks, but confrontational headlines can encourage conversation and lead to clicks.
13. Sure-Fire Ways to Ruin Your Marriage
Turn around the common listicle approach to headlines by offering X reasons the reader can create an undesirable outcome.
14. 10 Different Types of Girlfriends – Which One Are You?
This headline plays on the same motivations that encourage people to take quizzes in magazines.
15. More of Us May Be “Almost Alcoholics”
Encourage people to click to find out if they’re part of a group you mention in the headline. Both positive and negative associations can prove effective.
Now let’s take a look at a few headlines that won’t do your content any favors.
16. Make One Million Dollars in One Day
Don’t over-promise in your headlines and under-deliver in your content. That’s a sure-fire way to lose a reader for good.
17. Study Shows Frequent Sex Enhances Pregnancy Chances
Headlines don’t work if they state the obvious.
18. We Didn’t Believe It. So We Fact-Checked It (Twice). Now Let’s Talk About How to Take It Worldwide.
This headline works in 18 words and a parenthetical aside, but we still don’t have any clue what it’s about.
19. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” Ultimate Guide
This type of headline can work well, but only if it’s actually the ultimate guide. If you’re just jotting down 500 words on the subject, rewrite the title.
20. Health Insurance Companies HATE This New Trick
Consumers get smarter every year. Clickbait headlines generate more irritation and resentment than intrigue.
21. The Weight Loss Trick That Everyone Is Talking About
If everyone is already talking about it, why does the subject deserve an article?
22. This Stick Of Butter Is Left Out At Room Temperature; You Won’t Believe What Happens Next
Some headline formulas have been done to death. The “You Won’t Believe What Happens Next” catchphrase has played out, so find a new way to hook readers.
23. The DOJ Just Released Its Ferguson Investigation — And What They Found Was Horrifying
Here’s another example of clickbait. If readers don’t actually find the content horrifying, they’ll feel cheated.
24. 60 Photos From the Past That Will Blow Your Mind
Today’s readers don’t want you to tell them how they feel. Headlines like these suggest that the article’s author knows people better than they know themselves.
25. What state has highest rate of rape in the country? It may surprise you.
CNN learned the hard way that using sensitive issues like rape as clickbait will turn readers against you.
26. 5 Reasons To Date A Girl With An Eating Disorder
Some people might still hate-read blogs, but most have cleansed their bookmark lists of offensive material.
27. Weight Loss Shakes Lose Weight Today
Keyword stuffing doesn’t just plague content — it’s also a problem for headlines. Often, you wind up with word salad.
28. No Results With Your Attempts to Stop Drinking?
This headline doesn’t say anything. The best headlines tell you exactly what the article will offer.
29. The Importance of the Legal Aspects of Business Correspondence
Clarity is essential for headlines. If readers don’t understand what the headline means, they won’t read the article.
30. How to Tie Your Shoes
Teaching your audience how to do something ridiculously simple probably won’t do you any favors.
Now we come to the ugly: headlines that could have been great if a copy editor had given them a second read.
31. Dead Body Found in Cemetery
You don’t say? Believe it or not, this headline made its way into a newspaper despite its accidentally humorous connotations.
32. One-Armed Man Applauds the Kindness of Strangers
If you’re aiming for an empathetic headline, don’t mistakenly poke fun at the subject.
33. Infusion Partners With Anheuser-Busch to Accelerate Business Innovation Using Microsoft Hololens
Jargon- and buzzword-laden headlines aren’t compelling to a general audience.
34. How To Write Award Winning Blog Headlines
As far as we know, there aren’t any awards for blog headlines.
35. No, Spooning Isn’t Sexist. The Internet Is Just Broken.
Never mind that it’s impossible to “break the Internet.” When your headline uses two completely unrelated statements and fails to tie them together — especially when one of those statements involves a trite buzzword or phrase — your headline fails.
36. Ebola in the air? A nightmare that could happen.
This headline seems to play on the aforementioned scare tactics, but it ultimately fails because the article goes on to say that it can’t happen.
37. These Workers Just Want Money, And You Won’t Believe What They Did To Get Some.
Workers, by definition, expect money — or some form of remuneration. Try not to resort to obvious statements in headlines.
38. Someone Gave Some Kids Some Scissors. Here’s What Happened Next.
If your readers immediately picture a preschool bloodbath, your headline isn’t doing its job.
39. Rubio Suggests Trump Has Small Genitals
In today’s political climate, this isn’t even newsworthy. It’s also a rather tasteless headline.
40. Tiger Puts Balls in Wrong Place Again
When you’re writing a headline, go ahead and try for the bad pun. Once it’s out of your system, revise.
If your headlines sound like they belong in the “bad” or “ugly” category, you can easily recover with a few tips. Great headlines give your content more visibility and help you rank better in search engines, so it pays to enhance your skill at writing them.
Start with the main idea of your article. Do you want to educate your audience? Entertain your readers? Inspire action?
Use adjectives and action verbs in your headline that appeal to your target audience or that serve the subject matter. Write three or four different headlines, then compare them. Why do you like one over the others?
The more you play with different headline formulas and constructions, the better you’ll get. As long as you keep your audience in mind, you’ll craft headlines that will encourage users to click on your article titles and read your content to the very end.