How to write headlines that get you noticed

Crafting a compelling headline is the first step to making your content more viral.

Most journalists and sub editors will rattle off headlines without a second thought. But what do you do if you’re managing your company’s blog and you don’t have the confidence of a seasoned hack? Here we share our top tips for creating great headlines to help get your content read and shared.

1. Read other blogs every day for inspiration

If you want to know what good headlines look like, find and follow websites that already excel at headline writing. Follow at least one in your specialist area and a couple of general ones.

For example, we follow the Content Marketing Institute which blogs daily on topics related to content. We also like Inc.com and Upworthy. When you read a headline you like, make a note of it. You may be able to repurpose it for your own use or make it relevant to your own specialist subject matter.

2. Ask a question in your headline

One headline writing trick it to pose a question. Tabloid editors regularly do this to grab attention even when the facts of the story might be less than certain.  For instance, ‘Will Sean Quinn regain control of the Quinn Group?’ You could also include ‘Guess who, what and when’ questions in your headline. ‘Guess who the boss is watching now?’, ‘Guess who George Clooney is dating?’ You get the picture.

Just make sure to avoid questions that your reader will answer ‘no’ to.

3. Use a number in your headline

Count how many blogs you read every day which feature a number in the headline.  ‘Five  tips to transform your bottom line’, ‘12 habits of really brilliant sales people’. This trick has been used by magazine editors for years who have found that numbers on their covers really boost sales. If you read The Score.ie, you’ll see how they have built a successful news app largely based on this kind of headline.

Try a number in the headline of your next blog and see if it improves your click rate.

 4. Offer a benefit or promise in the headline

Magazine editors know that it’s better to focus on selling the ‘benefits’ of their content on their covers, not just the ‘features’. So for example ‘Everything you need to know about buying a car’ sells the benefits of the content. Another way to offer benefits is via ‘How tos’ – for example, ‘How to handle your problem employee’.

 5. Never over-promise and under deliver

It’s no good creating a compelling headline that doesn’t follow through. Click bait is a term used to describe headlines that make you click. But if the content doesn’t deliver it will leave the reader feeling short changed. So if you promise Six Top Tips in your headline make sure you deliver half a dozen tips that are not just ‘Top’ they’re absolutely brilliant. Equally, if you are going for a ‘click-bait’ type headline such as ‘8 of the most amazing cat photos you’ll ever see. No.5 had me in tears’, then no. 5 had really better be a standout photo, not just as so-so as the others.

6. Negative can be positive in a headline

Newspapers already know this, but ‘negatives’  sell. So ‘5 of the Worst Headline Mistakes’ may perform better than ‘5 of the Best Ways to Write a Headline’ (might just AB test that one!). If you don’t believe this, a study of 65,000 headlines showed that negative superlatives outperformed positives by a whopping 63%. Read more about the study here.

7. It’s ok to be emotional in your headline

A little bit of emotion can go a long way in a headline. ‘The most amazing cat photo we know you’ll love’ or ‘You’re going to go crazy for these sales tips’, are both examples of emotive headlines. Tell the reader how they are going to feel after reading the content and see how your posts perform.

8. Don’t make headlines too short or too long

Make sure your headlines are no more than 72 characters long. Any longer and they won’t display fully when your blog is indexed online. A study by  Outbrain (on paid links) found that headines between 60 and 100 characters performed best. Click through rates declined for headlines under 60 and over 100 characters.

For a handy character calculator click here.

9. AB Test your headline

It’s easy to try out the theory of all of this. Simply AB test your headline. Post one blog with Headline A and amplify it for a week. Then change the headline on the piece of content (Headline B) and amplify it for a further week. See which one performs the best on your key metrics. It’s not just about page impressions. See which post enjoys a better conversion rate or prompts a reader to take an action.

Free headline generator

The best way to improve your headline writing is to try out these nine tips and check your blog performance.  You’ll soon get a good idea of which headlines work best for your target audience.

PS: At 256 Media we love headlines so much we’re working on a nifty headline generator, which will be free on our blog.

Sign up here to our e-zine if you want to be one of the first to try it out.

About Karen Hesse

Karen Hesse is Managing Director of 256, a Dublin based Strategic Content Marketing Agency. An award winning journalist and publisher she has 25 years experience in creating hard working content assets for clients. She is Ireland's leading expert in content marketing strategy.