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July 14, 2021 (Updated: May 4, 2023)
Headlines give readers a preview of what they can learn from a particular piece of content, and they also emphasize why the content is unique or interesting enough to take up a portion of the reader’s time. As a marketer, writing these types of headlines can be tricky, but it’s worth the effort to make your content as engaging as possible. In this guide, you’ll learn why creating an attention-grabbing headline can be crucial to your content success and how to implement some top-notch strategies for yourself.
A headline is a brief and engaging introduction to a piece of content. Headlines are often used for news writing or other forms of informative writing such as blog posts. A headline’s primary purpose is to attract an audience and persuade them to completely engage with your content. A good headline can convince someone to read an entire article, watch a full video, or stay tuned to a specific TV channel to see an upcoming segment.
With written work, a headline typically gives the reader a preview of your content. For example, the headline “10 Best Practices To Drive Traffic to Your Social Media Channels” tells readers what they’re going to find within the article and why they should care about it. In contrast, titles are often shorter than headlines and encompass a broader summary of a work.
An easy way to distinguish between titles and headlines is to think of a nonfiction book. These chapter titles often function like headlines, as they are small blurbs about the information you’ll uncover in that section. However, the title of the entire book sums up the main idea of all the chapters combined.
Writing a catchy headline can improve how real users and automated internet programs view your content. Some benefits to writing an attention-grabbing headline include:
Headlines are the first interaction a reader has with your content. Having more interesting headlines can make people curious about what else you have to say. This may entice them to click on or otherwise interact with your content and seek other information you’ve created. If these readers enjoy one piece of content, they may be more likely to return for more.
Headlines are just one piece of content that search engine algorithms use when they decide how to rank content. Better rankings can increase your click-through rate, allowing for more exposure to a broader audience. Because of this, optimizing your headlines with keywords may make it more likely that people will encounter your articles.
With the internet, social media, and other 24-hour news outlets, we’re constantly encountering articles, stories, and headlines. There are often many articles written on the same topics, and readers have many choices as to which ones they want to read. Creating a catchy headline can make your content more appealing than that of your competitors. Using a content creation firm such as CopyPress’s blog writing services can help you create headlines that attract readers to your top-tier pieces.
Depending on the full content of your article, you may choose a specific headline format to best present the information to your audience. You can also choose to use positive headlines that uplift, inspire, entertain, or educate the reader. Conversely, you might use negative headlines—ones that are somber or urgent—for specific topics. No matter which tone you utilize, understanding your options may help you choose the most effective headline format for your content. Headline formatting options include:
How-to articles present a problem and give the reader a way to solve it. Headlines for these pieces of content often state the problem and preview the intended outcome or resolution. For example, the headline “How To Write an Email Newsletter Your Subscribers Want To Read” implies that the reader’s email newsletter could be more engaging and that this article will give them tips to make that happen.
Listicles are articles that present their important information in an easy-to-read list format. Headlines for these types of articles typically include the number of list items in the article and the group or category into which the items fall. For example, a listicle headline like “13 Tweets To Increase Your Engagement” tells readers that each of the 13 points in the article provides information about how to build a better audience on the social media platform.
Writers use difference articles to compare two similar or related topics. Headlines for these pieces usually follow one of two formats: “X vs. Y” or “Difference between X and Y,” substituting one letter for one topic and the other letter for the second topic. A headline like “The Difference Between Copywriting and Content Writing” tells readers the article compares two related types of writing.
Question headlines are versatile and can apply to most types of content. Asking the reader to ponder something may capture their attention and encourage them to explore your content to find the answer. For example, a headline like “How Can You Increase Your SERP Placement with Just One Keyword?” may get people wondering about the topic and interest them enough to read and find out more.
Outrageous headlines often make surprising claims, causing people to question the truth. This type of headline can be effective if the claim is true and isn’t just a ploy to gain readership. For example, the headline “How a Small-Town Marketing Firm Became King of the Stock Market Overnight” sounds like a fictional story, but if the claim is real, it could spark a reader’s curiosity and maintain their attention.
Credible headlines cite a source by using statistics or subject matter experts. These headlines encourage readers to engage because they build a level of trust with an audience by promising factual evidence. For example, the headline “Four Top SEO Experts Discuss the Content Trends of the Next Decade” promises that authorities in the field are giving their opinions and advice in the article, which may persuade the reader to click and learn more.
Writers use “best of” headlines to indicate that they’ve taken the time to compile the most important information on a specific topic to make things easier for readers. These headlines imply that the reader only needs to interact with one article to learn all about a topic. While many headlines of this type use the phrase “Best of,” you can also use different superlatives to emphasize the quality and scope of your content. For example, the headline “The Ultimate Guide To Creating an Infographic” suggests that this article can tell readers everything they need to know about making an infographic.
The AIDA Principle is a philosophy that writers use to guide people through the engagement process to make a conversion. In content marketing, a conversion is getting someone to respond to your call to action or other persuasive point. AIDA stands for:
Some models of this principle include a fifth step known as “conviction or evidence” between “desire” and “action.” This step could be necessary for topics that are less appealing to a reader. Adding tangible evidence about why the topic matters could help lead readers to the action phase.
You may be able to write more engaging headlines to attract an audience by following a few key principles. They include:
Consider who you’re trying to reach with your content. What do they like? How do they get their information? If you’re trying to write a headline to attract a specific audience, knowing your demographic is helpful, and understanding how these people interact with content is also beneficial. Consider feedback surveys or focus groups to help you learn more.
Most writers and marketers create content with an ultimate conversion in mind. The headline is the teaser or the elevator pitch, and the call to action or conversion is the resolution. Understanding what you want people to do after reading your content can help you craft a better headline. Consider drawing attention to your conversion from this first impression.
The purpose of a headline is to get the most important, most exciting, and most interesting information in front of your audience as soon as possible. When people interact with headlines, they’re constantly asking themselves “Do I care about this content?” or “Should I care about this content?” Providing important details in the headline that communicate your content’s purpose can help your audience decide if they wish to read further.
Though headlines are all about catching people’s attention, you want to create headlines that do so in a way that builds trust with the reader and leads them to the action step of the AIDA principle. Otherwise, your headline may be perpetuating clickbait. Being honest in your headline allows you to share the value of your content without duping the reader. As such, your headline should make a true claim that the content answers.
Make your headlines easy for people to understand by using words they know and recognize. Consider how your headline looks without a photo or the rest of the article to provide readers with more information. Does the headline still make sense without this additional context? Quality headlines should make sense as stand-alone text, which helps them remain accessible to the widest audience.
One of the best ways to get someone’s attention is to make them feel something. Appealing to emotions in your headlines can encourage people to pause and process those feelings while wanting to explore more about them through your content. The type of emotion you want a reader to feel may depend on either your target audience or the end conversion. Typical headline reactions may include joy, anger, surprise, sadness, curiosity, and fear.
Sometimes, waiting to write the headline until after you’ve completed the content can be beneficial. After writing, you’re fully immersed in the content and have a thorough understanding of what you’re presenting and how you want it to affect the reader. This may make it easier for you to decide which points are most valuable or interesting to your audience. You can then highlight those points in your headline.
Your first headline may not be your best headline. Take the time to brainstorm and make a list of multiple headlines you could use for your content. In his book “Think Better: An Innovator’s Guide To Productive Thinking,” author Tim Hurson discusses the rule of thirds. This principle states that when you’re generating ideas, the best ones come in the final third of the brainstorming or creative process.
For example, if you write 20 potential headlines, this principle states that the best options might be headlines 14 through 20. Challenging yourself to write more headlines may help you uncover the most effective one for your topic.
Here are a few examples of real marketing and content-centric headlines that may help engage readers:
This headline from optinmonster.com combines the listicle and how-to types. By including a number, it tells the reader how many tips they’ll find within the article. Using words like “need” and “now” encourages a sense of urgency and prompts readers to solve a problem with their email segmentation that they may not have known they had.
This headline from hubspot.com’s blog gets readers thinking about their punctuation choices. It introduces reasonable doubt about a potential common practice in writing. It also encourages readers to form an opinion before they read the content, which may make them feel either validated or challenged by the resolution.
This sample from shopify.com’s blog combines three common types of headlines: how-to, outrageous, and credible. This headline is outrageous because making over $1,000 in three weeks from a new business sounds too good to be true. It’s also credible because it gives specific figures of how much money the author made and how long it took them to do so. Finally, using the word “how” implies that the author gives steps or tips to help readers replicate that success.
While this headline from moz.com’s blog doesn’t fit neatly into one of the traditional categories, it evokes emotion for the reader. Similar to the difference headline format, this sample juxtaposes the words “good” and “unique” against “die,” which compares positive and negative emotions. Using the phrase “needs to” further urges readers to take a stance on the topic or explore it further to understand why this is a relevant matter.
Creating an attention-grabbing headline can be an essential part of your copywriting and content writing strategies because they help attract a readership, improve your SEO, and keep you competitive with other companies and their marketing teams. For this reason, many people choose to outsource their writing responsibilities to a company like CopyPress, which can provide the best content to help get more traffic and attract loyal readers.
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