How to Create Better Headlines



April 14, 2016 (Updated: May 4, 2023)

If you think creating a great headline isn’t worth your time, think again. Not only is the headline the first thing your reader sees, it’s also your best chance at enticing a reader to click through for more. Learn eight tips for creating better headlines, and understand why this key feature can make or break a post.

Rely on Numbers

Image via Flickr by Sean Davis

Whether you’re a natural-born list maker or you just love a good top 10 countdown, you can’t deny the attraction of a fun list. Even readers who aren’t naturally drawn to articles written in list format often find themselves clicking through these content headlines to read more. This is largely because numbers stand out on a search page. Digits break up the sea of text that appears in search results, making it easier for numbered headlines to get attention and click throughs.

In a world with ever-decreasing attention spans, headlines that provide quantities give readers a better idea of what to expect. A reader planning a quick day trip might only want to read about the top five activities in a destination, while a reader brainstorming party themes might prefer to sort through as many ideas as possible. No matter what your readers want, they’ll know exactly what they’re getting when they click on your headline. Check out CopyPress’ list of ’34 Headlines: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.’

Keep It Short

Numbers are important for much more than grabbing a reader’s attention. In fact, counting characters and positioning words strategically should be a major component of your headline game.

When it comes to headline length, character limits are real. While you can theoretically devise a headline of unlimited length, search engine results will cut off your headline after 65 characters. That means a large portion of your search traffic may never have the chance to take in a lengthy headline.

Along with the number of characters, the word count of your headline also influences its success. When readers scan headlines, they generally only read the first and last three words. That means an ideal headline includes just six words. Since it’s short and sweet, this type of headline has a higher chance of grabbing an interested reader’s attention.

Get Specific

If you’ve ever tested out vague headlines in an attempt to attract readers through an aura of mystery, you’ve probably learned that ambiguity doesn’t pay off. Instead of drawing readers in, vague headlines tend to turn readers off. In addition, readers without a lot of time on their hands will probably skim right over an unclear headline.

When developing a great headline, do your best to be as specific as possible without giving all of your content away. Tell readers exactly how much value you’re offering without revealing your methods, and prompt your target customers to click through.

Create a Sense of Urgency

Whether your content is time-sensitive or evergreen, creating a sense of urgency is a smart way to capture attention. Keep in mind that giving the appearance of urgency doesn’t have to read like a tired sales tactic. Instead of relying on overly salesy phrasing, hone in on a topic that you know your readers will consider critical, and highlight it in the headline.

Creating a sense of urgency is also a smart way to connect with readers on an emotional level. Triggering emotions with power words like “amazing” or “surprising” can also lead to higher conversion rates and more sales. No matter what words you choose, however, make sure they paint an accurate picture of your content. Headlines affect both how readers consume content and how they remember what they read, so this component couldn’t be more important.

Ask a Question

Another great way to connect with readers emotionally is to phrase the headline as a question. Much more than a bold statement or a promise of value, a question starts a conversation with a reader.

Try to avoid overly simplistic questions or ones that can be answered with a simple yes or no, as readers may just glaze over them. Instead, devise a compelling question that prompts intrigue and invites the reader to learn more. Be sure to answer the question within the content, and you’ll have a better chance at building your readership, too.

Use Keywords

As you develop the ideal headline, don’t forget to include your keywords. Without them, your content will be less likely to appear when readers search for them.

Take care to avoid keyword stuffing, however, and incorporate these words and phrases naturally. Keep in mind that an awkwardly phrased or repeated keyword might turn off a potential reader, but a well-positioned keyword can improve both search results and click-through rates.

Be Unique

When your readers don’t have much time to spare, they’re unlikely to click on a headline that sounds just like something they’ve read a few times before. If your headlines read just like all the others, your click-through and conversion rates are probably much lower than they could be.

Make your content and your business stand out with unique headlines. Let your business’s personality shine, and you just might find that you connect better with your target market.

Develop a Formula

Whether you produce a small amount of content each month or you’re a prolific producer, you’ll want to develop a headline formula that gets results. With a formula to rely on, you’ll save time by knowing what works and what kind of results to expect. Try a basic formula that includes a number, an adjective, a keyword, and a promise. Remember to keep your headline under 65 characters and as close to six words as possible.

As you develop headlines and monitor your traffic, don’t forget to measure your success. Track metrics like page views, client inquiries, lead generation, and social shares to determine how well your formula is working. If you don’t like what you see, tweak the formula to incorporate more of these best practices and see what improves your results.

More than just offering windows into your content, headlines attract readers and prompt actions. Use these tips to create winning headlines for your content.

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