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6 Secrets to Writing Killer Headlines

The best copy in the world won’t get read if its headline isn’t engaging enough to encourage people to click on it. In fact, crafting headlines has become an art form in and of itself. Well-known writing experts like Brian Clark of CopyBlogger are creating content, guides, and courses on how to craft headlines that sell, that persuade, that get people’s attention.

That’s well and good if you’ve got all day to read up on writing fabulous headlines, but what about the rest of us? Lucky for you, I’ve read it all, so I’ll condense what I’ve learned here for your benefit.

Why Headlines Matter

The average adult attention span is 8 seconds. May I point out that the average attention span of a goldfish is currently 9 seconds?? Goldfish don’t have the distractions we do, nor do they multitask, simultaneously reading a blog post while checking email and playing Flappy Bird. Lucky them.

So when you’re trying to get the attention of that person (not goldfish), you’ve got to bang a lot of drums and shoot off a ton of fireworks. After all, 100 million emails are sent every minute, so there’s a lot of competition for your audience’s attention.

Remove and Replace
Image Credit: Remove and Replace

So yea. It’s a challenge. And while sure, useful and well-written content is the key to getting people to come back to your blog or site, they have to first want to get there. Your headline is the Golden Ticket to getting them there.

So How DO You Get People’s Attention Through Headlines?

As I said, writing headlines has become a bit of an art form. There are proven techniques that consistently get more traffic and more clicks. Now, that being said, if your content is bunk, I can’t help you. Getting people to click to your blog doesn’t guarantee you’ll ever see them again. For that, you need to ensure you’re providing informative content that answers questions your audience has. But that’s for another blog post.

Here are some of the best strategies for headline writing.

Ask a Thought-Provoking Question

We can’t help it; it’s in our nature to try to answer questions. So when one is asked in a headline, we scratch our heads. If we can’t answer it, we click so we can find out the answer.

Here’s a good example of this:

Image Credit: Freakonomics
Image Credit: Freakonomics

The Freakonomics blog uses this strategy to create curiosity. My only beef with this example is that I wish they’d said what “that” was. I think titling this “What Does a Panda have to Do with the Price of License Plates in China?” would be more compelling (it refers to the Panda minicar mentioned in the article). “That” is rather weak, so learn from it and do better.

Use Unexpected Wording

When people come across surprising words in your headline, it stops them cold. That’s why I used the word “killer” in the title for this post. It indicates that the tips I’m going to provide you in this post are better than just “good” or “wonderful.” They’re “killer!”

Image Credit: ABC News
Image Credit: ABC News

Here are some words you can try out.

    – Shocking
    – Little-known
    – Never-before revealed
    – Explosive
    – Mind-boggling
    – Instant

Go ahead. Use one of these words in your next blog post and see if it doesn’t get more clicks.

Tell People How to Do Something

People want answers. They want to lose weight, make more money, and generally find answers to their problems. That’s where your blog content comes into play. If you’ve written a post that will help with weight loss, don’t be afraid to tell people to lose the weight! Specify how much and how quickly for even more interest.

Image Credit: Web MD
Image Credit: Web MD

Now, most of us who see this headline know that simply reading this article and following its instructions isn’t a guarantee that we, too, will lose 21 pounds in 21 days. But it’s an eye-opening enough command to get us to read.

Notice something important here: with this headline strategy, you’re not saying “Learn How to Lose Weight” or “How to Lose Weight.” You’re saying “Lose the Weight.” It’s a direct imperative statement where you’re telling your readers what to do. It’s assertive without being too forceful.

Use Numbers

Another proven strategy for headlines is to use numbers. That could be something like:

    – 7 Tips to Get Rich Quick
    – 101 Places to Post Your Content
    – Top 10 Companies Using Social Media
    – How to Earn $405 in Your Sleep

In each of those examples, our eye is drawn to the numbers. They’re quantifiable. They tell us exactly what we can expect: 7 tips; no more, no less.

Image Credit: Huffington Post
Image Credit: Huffington Post

Image: Huffington Post

Top 10 posts will live on into infinity, but sometimes using an odd number, like 7, throws people off when they expect a round number like 10. That’s a good thing. Also, always use the number form rather than spelling the number out to get more clicks.

Teach Readers “How To”

Another dead simple technique is simply to state what you’re teaching in a post (assuming it’s a tutorial-type post). Use “How To…” to effectively tell readers exactly what they can expect in reading your post. It’s blunt and to the point.

Image Credit: Mashable
Image Credit: Mashable

Using the “how to” technique, you can really zero in on what your readers want. The Mashable example above teaches people how to spend just 10 minutes a day on Twitter, but what do readers really want? They want those 10 minutes to result in more followers and sales. So we might tweak that title to “How to Boost Your Twitter Followers 7x in Just 10 Minutes a Day.” We’re still saying we’ll teach readers the same thing, but now we’ve provided more incentive for them to click to read the article.

Tell a Secret

People love secrets. It doesn’t matter that you’re also telling the same one to anyone who clicks to read your blog. It makes them feel included. And if it’s one that someone doesn’t want them to know (see example below)? Even better.

Image Credit: Marketing Eggspert
Image Credit: Marketing Eggspert

That post above is one of my own. I realized I had a different take than many other marketing consultants, who wanted to get customers to pay them to do their email marketing. But I took the angle of “revealing” insider tips to readers so they could do it themselves. It worked.

Be Creative With Your Headlines

There’s no restriction on how creative you can be with your headlines. Just keep these guidelines in mind:

    – It should give some indication of what the post is about. Don’t make people wonder too much.
    – Keep it short so it appears in RSS feeds and in search results in its entirety.
    – Include a keyword. This will help people find it by searching.
    – Have fun with it!

Don’t be afraid to test out different headlines and see which get more clicks. And read other blogs! You can see what headlines appeal to you on the blogs you read and you can build your own headline-writing strategy around what you learn.

Remember: the headline is the front door to your blog. You’ve got to leave the door unlocked, with a waft of fresh-baked cookies coming through to lure people in. That’s what a good headline will do.


Guest Blogger Susan Payton
Guest Blogger Susan Payton
Susan Payton is the President of Egg Marketing & Communications, an Internet marketing firm specializing in marketing communications, copywriting and blog posts. She’s also the founder of How to Create a Press Release, a free resource for business owners. She’s written three books: DIY Press Releases: Your Guide to Becoming Your Own PR Consultant, 101 Entrepreneur Tips and Internet Marketing Strategies for Entrepreneurs, and has blogged for several sites. You can connect with her on Twitter or through .