The best headlines serve as a promise to the reader about what they’ll get for their time. Never forget that a great headline acts like a bargain: “read this, and you’ll get something special or valuable or informative out of it.”
So how do you start to shape expectations and earn interest right from the headline? You can rely on a couple of tried-and-true formulas, as one option. You should also mull how accurately and succinctly your headline summarizes the central takeaway from your post.
To help you get started, here are three methods you can try in 2018 to write better blog headlines and earn more clicks, along with a few other tips.
This first method is time-consuming and involves some hefty thinking, but after a few tries, you’ll be able to do it subconsciously in seconds.
Identify a central thesis, argument, idea or purpose of the article
Identify two to four main sub-points or pieces of evidence for the main point
Use the above two items to summarize your article in less than 200 words
After writing your summary, edit it down to 100 words
Edit your 100-word summary down to 50 words
Edit your 50-word summary into a single sentence
Take your sentence-length summary and condense it further into a headline below 90 characters
See if you can condense the message into just a few words using less than 65 characters
Re-read your 200-word summary to see if you left anything important out, then come up with an alternative <70 character headline
Repeat steps 7-9 to come up with a few alternative options
This method may seem tedious, but it’s good practice for teaching your brain to recognize thought processes we take for granted. Translating a huge chunk of text into a short summary involves lots of mental processing, but we are able to do it in seconds thanks to our wonderful minds.
Publishers like Buzzfeed, Upworthy, and Bored Panda don’t earn millions of clicks a week by coincidence. They have blog writing down to a science, including the practice of writing juicy headlines that generate stampedes of clicks.
Based on research and performance data, here are a few of the most successful three-word headline phrases these publishers use to generate huge, highly engaged audiences:
will make you
this is why
can we guess
only X in
the reason is
are freaking out
X stunning photos
tears of joy
is what happens
Using numbers to imply a list (“10 Reasons Why…”)
Referring to the audience in the second-person (“You Won’t Believe…”)
Implying emotion (“This Hilarious Piece of Advice…”)
Lead with a strong, commanding action verb (“Take Control of Your Day by…”)
When writing headlines with this approach, make sure they still accurately reflect the actual content of your article. Which brings us to method #3.
Rand Fishkin of Moz offers a handy way to resolve the conflict between headline descriptiveness and viral appeal.
He suggests creating at least one headline using each of the above methods. Then, try to combine them.
Descriptive Headline: “Implied Consent Laws Demand Choice Between Incriminating Yourself and Mandatory Jail Time”
Sensational Headline: “This One Weird Trick Could Get You Out of a DUI, But You May Spend the Night in Jail!”
Combination: “Here’s What Happens When You Delay Your Breathalyzer Test in an Implied Consent State”
Headline writing is a tricky dance, but when you recognize what’s important, it becomes that much easier. Keep your audience’s valuable time in mind, promise them something great, don’t misrepresent the post, and study your own data to discover what works!