Guide for Writing High-Converting Headlines

Dayana StockdaleContent

Why spend time coming up with great content if no one reads it?

For headlines that convert, you need to take a step back and put yourself in your audience’s shoes. If you can discover the best possible thing your reader will walk away with after reading your content and then feature that benefit in your headline, you’ll be so much closer to getting excellent CTRs and shares on your blog posts, announcements, and releases.

Here are some more ways to write headlines that hook readers in.

1. Start a swipe file

Put your favorite headlines in a new Google Doc, a section of your Workflowy, or a folder that you fill with screenshots—whatever works for you.

You have to surround yourself with greatness to get better at anything. Writing headlines is no different.

Go one step further than just noticing what catches your eye by copying and pasting fantastic headlines from your favorite news, entertainment, and inspirational sites.
Some favorites:

Make sure that your swipe file is specific to your industry, your audience, and/or your blog’s voice. Otherwise all that inspiration will be for naught.

2. Use powerful words

  • Sabotaging
  • Missing
  • Launch
  • Dreamy

Say what?

It’s up to you to pick the right verbs and adjectives that will go with your topic, but the point is to never give up. Don’t settle for the first thing that comes to mind. Let your fingers fly over the keyboard and come up with some exciting alternatives.

3. Ask yourself a few key questions

When you get really stumped on writing awesome headlines, the easiest way to get out of the funk is to take a step back and ask yourself what the headline truly needs to convey.

We’ve developed a questionnaire that takes a stab at the heart of your content content so you can slay your headline.

The Killer Headline Questionnaire

DOWNLOAD THE KILLER HEADLINE QUESTIONNAIRE



Knowing the answer to questions like “What problem does my content solve?” and “What do readers get out of the content?” can make it really easy to write killer headlines.

It’s all about intention. You can get the full one-page questionnaire here.

4. Keep it short and simple

The consensus around the web for 55-character headlines is based on fact.

It has a lot to do with what shows up in Google search results and social sharing headlines, but also on how the human eye reads.

Sure, sometimes extra-long headlines can be just the ticket, but the only way for super long headlines to be powerful is if they’re rare. Unless you have a good reason, keep your headlines short.

5. Front load your keyphrases

Readers quickly notice the first couple words and the last couple words. Then the mind reads the entire headline a millisecond later (if it wants to).

So be sure to place your SEO keyphrases early on in your headline. Your potential reader will quickly find what they’re looking for. Plus, Google will deem your headline more relevant.

6. Backload the benefit

Ever notice how the “to achieve X” or “for X” part of the headline tends to come last? It harkens back to why we should front load keyphrases: people read the front and the end of the headline first. So while you want to place the topic in the highest relevancy (the front), you also want to prominently feature the benefit.

Use the end of the headline to let readers know why they should click through.

Headlines that are impossible to ignore

7. Hook ‘em at the end

You’re reading a perfectly nice headline and then all of the sudden BAM! Things get really interesting. These delicious endings aren’t necessarily benefits. They’re more like kickers.

8. Or Just hook ‘em with the whole thing

This post (weighing in at over 14,000 shares) called Why I Travel Alone as a Married Woman is the perfect example of a headline that doesn’t have a hook. It is the hook.

Whether you assume this blog post is going to be about marital distress or modern independence, you’re definitely interested.

9. Try the EMV Headline Analyzer

EMV stands for Emotional Marketing Value, a 50-year-old metric based on the harmonics, tonality, and emotional reactions to language.

Common headline-writing knowledge will have you stopping at just one or two emotional adjectives, but when you compete against the EMV Headline Analyzer, you’ll challenge yourself to elicit reactions with every single word.

Have a favorite blogger, copywriter, or reporter? Run your word-crush’s recent headlines through the EMV Headline Analyzer and prepare to drool at the high scores.

DOWNLOAD THE KILLER HEADLINE QUESTIONNAIRE

10. Use a small number in your numbered lists to show meaning

Picture this: 62 Software Tools for QA Testing.

Yikes! That sounds really overwhelming. Comprehensive sure, but definitely overwhelming.

When it comes to round-ups of tools, websites, or other items that you are (in effect) recommending, think in small numbers.
Like recommendations, really meaningful lists should typically be small as well. Like this one:

3 Things You Should Never Let Your Kid Hear You Say About Money

11. Use a big number in your numbered lists to show effort

Of course, not all tool-recommending lists need to be tiny. Take the following example:

25 Tools for Social Media Marketers

That post could easily have been broken into tools for visual content, time management, and social profiles, but that wasn’t the intention of the post. It’s an authoritative round-up meant to introduce everyone who comes across it to a tool they’ve never heard of before.

And whoa—this post has 87,000 shares:

Top 100 Most Powerful Resume Words

While writers and artists usually try to hide their effort, it’s a good idea to reveal it with a big number when:

  • You want readers to return to the content again and again
  • You want to create an authoritative post that will (hopefully) be an evergreen source of traffic
  • You’re writing a list highly relevant to your target market and your product/service

12. Republish old content with new headlines

Everyone has their own strategy for testing headlines. Some bloggers will tweet out headline variations at an un-optimal hour, only to pick the winner for the optimal time slot the next day (and update the winning headline inside of the blog post).

Another way to go about it is take a post that bombed, re-do the headline, share it on social media, and see if it does any better. If it still doesn’t get the response you were looking for, then the problem might be with the content. However, chances are you’ll have learned something about writing better headlines too.

Writing great headlines

13. Create your own headline templates

You can create templates based on awesome posts you’ve seen before, your swipe file, or on your own top performing posts.
Here are some potential templates:

  • [SEO keyphrase] : How to [action] to [get benefit]
  • 3 Reasons Why [SEO keyphrase] is [negative statement]—But Still [positive statement]
  • 15 [adjective] ways to [keyphrase]

14. Be more specific

Ever wondered why posts that talk about money are so effective? Things like How Sarah Earned $100,000 from Her Online Course in 2015.

It’s very possible that blog posts that describe a six-figure income get more opens and shares because they are blog posts that describe a six-figure income.

But there’s also the fact that these types of headlines are highly specific. They draw back the curtains of more generic posts like “How to Make Money as an Online Course Creator” and give us specific information before we’ve even clicked through.

15. Make your audience curious

More subtle than hooking or click-baiting, curiosity is a factor that deserves to be heightened in just about every headline.

In his book Copywriting Wizardry: Learn How to Write Spellbinding Headlines, Jack Chapman says it best:

On the whole people are insecure, they have problems that need solving; they have fears that need dispelling; they have hopes and dreams that need realizing, so give them the solution, the way to alleviate fear and the way to realize their dreams.

Get inside their heads, play with their psyche, create headlines that are impossible to ignore.

– Jack Chapman

16. Try writing the headline first

Sometimes you nail it right away, but typically your best headline is not your first try. That’s why it’s so important to give yourself something to build on top of. When you write the headline first, you have plenty of time to perfect it.

You can improve upon it when it comes to the blog post editing phase.

Plus, if you do write a decent headline from the start, you’ll be excited about making sure your content lives up to it.

17. Beware of weak verbs

Here are some words that should never come in a headline:

  • Believe
  • Think
  • Feel

Even if the post is about what someone believes, thinks, or feels, those words just won’t cut it. Instead, get more clear on the opinion.

This advice applies to verbs of all purposes. Clarity is always the trump card, so don’t pick verbs that are obscure. Weak verbs, like poor headlines, are terrible communicators.

18. Don’t repeat the lede

Unless you’re a reporter you’re likely not familiar with the term “lede.” It’s simply the first paragraph of a news article, and it quickly reveals the who/what/where/when.

Many blog posts feature subtitles. And of course, they all have first paragraphs.

Your opening line needs to work well with your headline and give additional information, without being repetitive. Double check that these key elements are getting along.

19. Make a promise

Your headline must make a promise. That promise can also serve as the benefit statement, the hook, or the curiosity element.

The promise is the driving force.

Here are some promises:

  • You will laugh
  • You will learn to lose weight
  • You will be caught up on your favorite TV show
  • You will develop a business plan

Start your headline-writing practice with identifying that promise, and it’ll be much easier to come up with other enticing elements.

20. Schedule time for headline optimization

Whatever headline optimization means to you—split testing Facebook posts or asking team members for feedback—you must schedule time for it.

Even if you leave headlines until right before you post, you need to allow yourself some time for stress free decision-making.

Jeff-Goins-headline-quote

21. If it’s not news-breaking, it had better be explanatory

While many bloggers don’t worry about news-worthy topics, others like to be go-to sources for industry news. When a huge piece of breaking news is being covered everywhere (or if you’re late to the party), don’t come up with a bland news-inspired headline.

Here are some things to cover that will help you craft a headline that cuts through the clutter surrounding a major news event:

  • Connect or compare the event to another event
  • Explain how or why the event occurred
  • Make a prediction

22. Count interesting items only

You shouldn’t title your list post “10 Things” and probably not “10 Tips.” Instead, be original. Here are some better things to count:

  • Reasons
  • Concepts
  • Steps
  • Secrets

Next time you create a list post, challenge yourself to come up with a more unique countable item.

23. Try doubling the benefits

To really up the effectiveness of a “how to” post that has an awesome benefit, try adding a second benefit. This is a super easy trick to make your headline irresistible and alluring.

Here’s an example:

How to Save Money –> How to Save Money and Get Ahead in Life

By doubling the benefit, you offer the reader additional meaning and a deeper promise.

24. Write with a sense of urgency

One surefire way to get more click throughs on your headlines is to make readers feel like they need to know the information RIGHT NOW.

Writing with a sense of urgency won’t work for every post, but whenever it makes sense for your content, you’d be wise to employ this strategy. Here are a couple examples from around the web that make readers think, I need to read this right now.

Of course, what’s urgent to one audience won’t be urgent to another, but the main takeaway is to write something that will make your audience stop scrolling and click through immediately.

25. Analyze your own misses

When you get lower-than-expected-shares on a post, don’t jump too hastily to blame the content. Sure, it might be bad content, but maybe a bad headline is the culprit?

Considering that 6 out of 10 people will share a post without reading it, it’s very likely that the headline or featured image is to blame for the low shares.

Conduct a content audit on your blog. Here’s how:

  1. Make an excel spread sheet with the name of each blog post, the number of shares it received for each network, the social media titles you used, and the number of comments.
  2. Categorize each blog post title by type (list post, how to).
  3. Check to see if each title uses powerful adjectives and clear language
  4. Look for connections between high and low shares on a network and the specific custom tweet or social media description

Using your spreadsheet, you can easily track insights that would otherwise be hard to uncover. Most likely, the headlines that performed the poorest had no powerful words and lacked a clear headline structure.

26. Use a thesaurus

Don’t use a thesaurus to reword the keyphrase in your title—that should be decided in Google Analytic’s Keyword Planner.

Instead turn to an online thesaurus to help you pad that keyphrase with on-point descriptors and verbs.

A thesaurus can help you come up with better countable items for list posts, shareable adjectives, more informative verbs, and irresistible benefits.

Ever had the sensation that the thesaurus isn’t showing you what you really want to say? Sometimes by looking at a mass of words that miss the mark, we can actually get clearer on the headline’s true intention.

The Killer Headline Questionnaire

GET THE KILLER HEADLINE QUESTIONNAIRE

27. Make your headline a call to action

Every copywriter worth their salt knows what a call to action is—and how and where to employ them. So why don’t we see them utilized as often in headlines? The truth is, putting a CTA in your headline can turn a complicated topic into something super easy to understand. Check out this example by Hubspot:

Make Personas for Your Nonprofit [Free PowerPoint Templates]

It can be a complicated affair for nonprofits to market their efforts, because they often imagine their work appealing to so many audiences. How can you sum up the mass of people passionate about one issue? The more complex the issue, the trickier it is to identify the audience most likely to help.

By creating content that solves this problem in a clear CTA, this topic is turned into a quick, powerful headline.

28. Use words that normally form a question

When in doubt use a list post.

When otherwise in doubt use a who/what/where/when/why/how post.

Both of these are common knowledge when it comes to writing headlines.

The reason that “question words” are so effective is that they immediately trigger curiosity and they set you up to share what the headline is truly about.

These headlines types are naturally informative and naturally intriguing without you having to try too hard.

Back those words up with benefits and keyphrases and you’re golden.

29. Ask your reader a question that they ask themselves

Perhaps you’ve noticed question marks in some awesome headlines.

How Much Should You Spend on Paid Ads? Here’s My Data-Driven Formula

Lots of marketers and business owners might be wondering how to pick the optimal budget. No matter how much money you have to spend, you still need to know how much of it you really should be spending.

Use this technique wisely.

Never ask your reader a question they haven’t asked themselves (unless you’re purposefully being sarcastic and clever). If you can write something your audience has often wondered, then you’ve got click-through gold.

Thou shalt not write headlines that don’t convert.

If you recognize how critical headlines are and allow yourself the time it takes to really nail them, then you’re that much closer to all your content marketing goals.

GET THE KILLER HEADLINE QUESTIONNAIRE
About the Author

Dayana Stockdale

Dayana Stockdale is MavSocial's marketing manager. She loves creative Instagram posts and geeky analytics reports.