How to write a powerful headline

Headlines are, without a doubt, the most important part of your copy. Without a powerful headline, even the best piece of content will be left unread. How to write a headline that your readers simply won’t be able to resist?

Lucie Simonova

Updated on Jun 19, 2024

Published on Jun 28, 2022

How to write headlines that work

Headline. The first line of your copy. We all know them, but only a few can truly make the most out of these couple of words that will determine the destiny of your article or blog post. 

According to CopyBlogger, “8 out of 10 people will read headline copy, but only 2 out of 10 will read the rest.” That might sound intimidating and hard to combat, but we’ve got you covered! 

So...How to write a headline that works?

As Hubspot says, “It’s one thing to write great content, but it’s another thing to get it read and ranked.” Great content is nothing without its readers, and irresistible headlines are the connector between the two.

To write a good headline, you first need to understand the purpose of it. In copywriting, headlines have two jobs—catch attention and get the next line of the copy read. They don’t need to educate or enlighten the reader; they just need to attract and persuade.

And they need to do it fast! The average attention span of internet users is not more than 10 seconds, and those are usually dedicated to quickly scanning through a site looking for relevant information. 

That means that your headline needs to grab attention in a split second; the rest will hopefully be used for the following paragraphs. So while there are no strict headline writing rules, it’s always good to keep in mind some proven tips and tricks that will get you the clicks you desire. 

3 simple tips for writing a headline

Writing great headlines is a craft that can be learned and improved over time, but you can always lean on the 3 following tips to get there faster:

  • Always keep your audience in mind
  • Keep your headline simple, snappy, and straight to the point
  • Follow proven headline formulas

Now that you have the pure basics, you need to understand why it is helpful to follow these tips to make them truly work. It’s time to get into the nitty-gritty!

1. Always keep your audience in mind

A crucial aspect of writing a good headline is always keeping your target audience in mind. Who are your readers? What traits do they have? Where are they on their journey? What is bothering them, and what answers are they looking for?

By always thinking about your audience, you will ensure that your copy is tailored exactly to their needs, all the way from the headline to the end. To do so, you need to adjust the tone of voice.

Do you want to approach your readers in a friendly way or keep your distance? Are your readers experts in the field or just starting to learn? The tone of voice needs to reflect that even in the headline.

Even if you have the best intentions, using a joky headline for a more formal audience might not work well and may actually put them off. To prevent that, try to put yourself in the shoes of your typical reader and view the headline through their eyes. Is it catchy and persuasive enough for them specifically?

2. Keep your headline simple, snappy, and straight to the point

Readers don’t want to think too much. They want information easily, and they want it fast. Do you have a really smart wordplay you’re dying to use? Just make sure that your target audience will get it. 

It’s always better to keep it nice and simple rather than use a metaphor that is clever but more difficult to digest. Remember—the attention span of people online is alarmingly short. If they can’t decode what you’re trying to say, they’ll quickly move on.

In copywriting, simplicity applies to the length, too. As we already said, a headline doesn't need to educate. You don’t need to overexplain, just say what you need to say in a neat and concise way, and you can mention the rest in the body of your copy. 

Now, all that’s not to say that you should never play around with the form of your headlines. Unique and creative headlines work like a charm, but they should never be too difficult to understand.

3. Follow proven headline formulas

Some headlines just work better than others. More often than not, it’s because those headlines follow some of the proven headline formulas, like including numbers and lists. While there are no limits to being creative with your headline, there are many reasons to give these formulas a try.

The number one reason is that their effectiveness has been tried and tested and proven to work. There are also statistics that support this. According to findings by Moz, readers resonate the most with headlines including numbers.

Proven headline formulas by Moz.com
Source: Moz.com

These headline formulas are effective because they were crafted to appeal to our brains. Some things just stand out to us more and make us intrigued. Others have an effect on our emotions and we click to read more because we feel connected or fearful that we will miss out.

If you leverage that knowledge, you’re almost bound to succeed. Without further ado, let’s get into some killer headline formulas that readers can’t resist!

Numbers and lists, the 2 things that attract

Numbers and lists are the two things that are sure to catch the reader’s attention. According to Semrush, lists generate 80% more traffic than other types of articles. Why? Numbers make your headline stand out because they are easy to spot in the sea of text.

Are you writing about research or reporting on a survey? Perfect time to leverage the power of numbers. Precise numbers work even better! Say “69.58%” instead of “almost 70%” and watch your social shares skyrocket. Why is that? Readers love specificity. 

Numbers and lists also provide predictability. The readers don’t want to spend their time thinking—tell them exactly what they’ll find in the post. Last but not least, listing things in a particular order gives your post structure, which is something that good content should always have.

Here’s what Žaneta Stýblová, Content Manager at Kontent.ai, says about the importance of being specific in your headlines:

Crafting attention-grabbing headlines is an art, and I've learned that placing the most important keyword toward the beginning is key. Today’s audience craves specificity and relevance. It’s a simple yet powerful strategy that ensures your headlines speak directly to your audience’s needs and interests.

Žaneta StýblováContent Manager, Kontent.ai

Use the “How to” formula

People want to consume useful content. They want to learn something new to know more, and do better. Surely your article or blog post is full of helpful information, but how can you let your readers know straight in the headline? 

Use the “How to” formula, which automatically translates to a useful piece of content. You can combine it with the previous tip and add numbers for extra specificity. Saying how to do something in “3 simple steps” gives the reader even more structure and predictability.

The “How to” formula automatically translates to a useful piece of content

Promise solutions (and deliver)

Readers like to know that their time spent reading your copy will be well-invested. Uncover the reward that’s just a click away—will they become smarter? Better? Faster? Mention your reader’s pain points and promise satisfying solutions. 

But beware! Be sure to deliver the promise you offered in the headline. If the copy doesn’t match it, the reader will soon lose confidence in your content and won’t be coming back for more. Clickbaits are not a good look.

Mention your reader’s pain points and promise satisfying solutions

Ask questions to generate curiosity

A question mark is an opening to dialogue. Readers want to be interactive, so give them what they long for! Turn them from passive readers to active content consumers by engaging them in a conversation.

Be careful, though; many questions can be answered with a “no”, which leads to the article being completely abandoned. Avoid this problem in copywriting by asking open-ended questions that require more thinking and can’t be answered with a simple yes or no.

Another huge pro of questions is that they generate curiosity. Humans are naturally curious beings and seek information to better understand the world around them.

If there is a gap in our knowledge, it makes us feel uneasy and creates the need to find the information we’re missing. For that to truly work, though, you need to be asking questions relevant to your audience. Pick and choose some burning questions your readers have and deliver the answers with your high-quality content.

Leverage the information gap by asking questions relevant to your audience

Last but not least, asking questions in headlines is also good for your SEO. People often type in queries formed as specific questions. Putting those questions straight in your headline and providing quality answers in your copy can score you a higher ranking on Google.

Establish a connection with the reader

Readers are human beings and want to consume content that is relatable, not random. The thing that separates these two and differentiates an active consumer from just a passerby is connection.

Address your readers in the headline to let them know that the piece of content was crafted just for them. You will make them feel unique, and they will instantly reward you with a connection to your copy. 

Make your reader feel unique to create a connection

Newspaper headline examples

When crafting the perfect title, copywriters and content creators can learn quite a bit from traditional journalism. Newspapers have long mastered the art of attention-grabbing headlines, designed to hook the readers in a matter of seconds. By analyzing newspaper headlines, online creators can adapt proven techniques to the digital age and drive exceptional traffic.

Let’s take a look at some catchy newspaper headline examples provided by Medium, and dissect why they would work really well with their audience.

“Behind the Scenes: Exclusive Interview with Hollywood’s Rising Star!”

This headline combines several catchphrases that spark interest and make the title very enticing. 

“Behind the scenes” promises insider knowledge where the reader can take a peek behind the curtain of mystery. “Exclusive Interview” evokes curiosity and interest by suggesting the reader will get the privilege of accessing information that can’t be found elsewhere. 

This title is designed to make the reader feel very special. It promises the readers insights and information that go beyond what is publicly known or seen, and it creates a sense of being let in on secrets and behind-the-scenes details.

“Local Hero Saves the Day: Bravery and Quick Thinking in the Face of Danger!”

This headline leverages many storytelling elements that engage the reader in a split second. 

“Local hero” is the protagonist of the story who faces obstacles but overcomes them with success. “Saves the Day”  suggests a dramatic event followed by a happy ending—the reader is intrigued to find out what exactly happened but can expect a positive outcome. That way, the readers won’t have to think about being negatively affected by the article. On the contrary, the story is likely to lift their spirits.

“Bravery and Quick Thinking” and “Face of Danger” promise a story filled with tension, heightening the drama and stakes of the story, which makes the headline very enticing. The headline plays with the reader’s emotions, which is a highly effective strategy—as Marketing Insider Group says, emotional headlines evoke feelings in readers that encourage them to engage with content.

Show us your best headlines

If you enjoyed these catchy headline examples, check out our other blog posts:

Do you have tips on writing great headlines or an interesting story about yourself and your journey to successful titles? Share your ideas with us on XLinkedInFacebook, or Instagram.

Interested in writing killer headlines in Kontent.ai? Feel free to schedule a 1-on-1 demo or start a 30-day trial to see how it can help you deliver the content of your dreams.

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