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Finally, an easy formula for a killer headline

“We all have problems. The trick to writing a captivating headline is to figure out your readers' problem and hinting at the solution to this problem in your headline.”

Research has revealed that there is one way to know with 100% certainty that your latest article or sales letter won't convert leads into paying customers. Want to know what it is? *Drumroll*

That it never gets read in the first place.

Sorry, I lied. There's no research. I figured this out myself. Just like I figured out that a bad headline is far less likely to make the reader continue down the page than a really captivating one.

Spend the time getting it right

It has been said that when writing a sales email, you should spend 80% of their time on the headline. This makes sense. After all, if your email never gets opened, you've wasted 100% of your time writing it.

"On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent 80 cents out of your dollar."

Confessions of an advertising man (1963), David Ogilvy

So what makes a good headline? While there's no magic formula there are some techniques that are proven to increase the open rates.

First of all, research shows (I didn't make this one up) that when you read, your eyes tend to observe the first and the last three words of a sentence. That leads us to the first rule:

Keep it short and snappy

The three-word rule suggests that the ultimate length for a headline is six words. This is not the whole truth, of course. Your headline must, first and foremost, make sense and be grammatically correct (if you're not intentionally breaking the rules, that is).

Watching the length of the headline also helps ensure that it's totally visible on all platforms and in all formats.


Don't use your headline to make general claims like 'The best way...', 'The leading.... '. Suggesting that what you're about to present is 'the best' of anything is likely to turn the reader off. It's predictable and boring.

Instead, be as specific as possible. Dropping names or statistics to indicate that you can back up the claim you're about to make is the way to go. And it goes without saying that the article has to deliver what the headline promised. No one likes to feel ripped off.

Reputable company uses click bait headline - you'll never guess what happens next!

Their clients will think they're ridiculous. That's what happened.

Click baiting - the idea of trying to get people to read your articles by using sensational headlines that seldom deliver what they promise - has become every day practice for many online news sites relying on social sharing.

So why are they a bad idea? First of all, chances are your readers are going to end up feeling cheated on the content. Secondly, if you have anything interesting to say, you simply don't need them.

Spend some extra time thinking out an original article instead.

Weasel riding a woodpecker

Source: buzzfeed.com

If this article didn't feature a photo actually showing a baby weasel riding a woodpecker I would be dubious of this headline.

Be helpful

We all have problems. The trick to writing a captivating headline is to figure out your readers' problem and hinting at the solution to this problem in your headline. Let your reader understand that the answer she's looking for is in your article.

One of Indietech's most clicked blog posts ever is Penny Wilson's Crisis management 101: How to be a good man in a social media storm. This not surprising as it's nailing the combination of being specific, helpful and...

Create a sense of urgency 

Because we all know that when it comes to reading an article 'later', well, later never happens. No one has ever successfully gone through the articles-I-intend-to-read-sometime-but-not-today list. And that's despite there being plenty of apps out there to facilitate for it to happen.

That's why your post has to feel urgent enough to be read now. Danger or curiosity (or a combination of these) often works great.

Another reason that Penny's article did so well was that the headline implies that there is a danger out there and that by reading the article you can learn how to survive it.

Statistically the 'How safe is your...' headline is a safe choice when inspiration runs dry.

Few parents will be able to resist reading this.

How safe is your child - headline

Source: mohavedailynews.com

Stay newsworthy

Your reader has a limited time to choose between your text and your competitors’. One feature that will be crucial to them picking yours is that it brings them something they've never heard before (or at least they don't think they have).

One way of checking whether your headline stands the test is to ask yourself whether your reader is at risk of thinking: 'I know what this is going to be about'.

Entertain the reader

This is a very tight rope to walk. It goes without saying that headlines suggesting the reader is in for a snooze fest will not be clicked. On the other hand, not everyone likes a pun. To some people witty headlines are a turn off, while others, like Google, just don't get them.

Or, as David R. Wheeler puts it in his article in The Atlantic, Google doesn't laugh. In the age of SEO, even the last frontier of punny headlines - evening newspapers - are starting to abandon anything that doesn't please the algorithms.

The key is, as always, to find a middle ground where - while always writing for your readers first - you keep those algorithms in mind.

New York Post headline

Source: New York Post (print)

Classic example of a clever headline from New York Post. It's safe to assume Google would not laugh.

So what does it all boil down to?

While there are thousands of people out there ready to offer you their view on how to write a winning headline, in the end, there are only two types of headlines you can write. Those that get people reading and those that don't. And in the end it's often as easy as asking yourself:

"Would I read this?"

How to write killer headlines

Source: The Daily Telegraph (print)

Yes. Yes I would.

Indietech blog article author - Digital Marketing and Web Design insights
Noted by Hanna Jacobsen

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