Blog_Kelly_Headlines-newheader2

According to Copyblogger, 8 out of 10 people will read a headline. However, only two out of 10 tend to proceed to read the rest of your content.

Yikes, right?

This is really important to understand before you publish your content. Even if your content is truly unique and innovative, a weak headline will ruin its chances of being super successful.

Fortunately, data and analytics can help you write great headlines that will instantly capture the attention of your readers. Here’s your ultimate guide to write a great headline, backed by research.

Want to use Click to Tweet on your blog?

Understanding How To Write Headlines Well

1. Write At Least 25 Headlines For Every Piece Of Content

Blog_Kelly_Headlines-redo

Your headline makes your first impression with readers. A strong headline can drive more clicks. A weak one can send traffic away.

That’s why it’s important to spend time getting them right.

Upworthy’s well-publicized process suggests writing 25 headlines per blog post. That might sound like a lot. However, if anything, you could consider this the bare minimum. Some will be better than others. Some, in fact, will be downright terrible.

That’s okay though. You have to burn through bad ideas before you can find what works.

2. Use The CoSchedule Headline Analyzer

It’s not enough to guess at what a good headline looks like, though. You need a data-backed way to sort winners from losers. This is where the Headline Analyzer comes in:

1. Type in a few different headline options.

Screenshot of CoSchedule's Headline Analyzer

2. The Headline Analyzer will list them for easy comparison purposes.

Example of a headline in the Headline Analyzer

3. Scroll down to find your Score and Word Balance.

Headline Score and Word Balance in the Headline Analyzer

The Headline Analyzer is also built right into your social media calendar in CoSchedule to help you write the best headlines right where you organize everything else.

3. Focus Your Headlines On Helping Instead Of Telling

Have a look at the most popular Google searches—they’re mostly about solving a problem in the easiest and fastest way.

This Mashable post entitled, “How to Pay, Exercise and Take Photos Using Apple Watch“, gained more than 1,500 shares—mainly because it addresses an issue owners of this cutting-edge device find relevant to their experience.

Pro Tip: “How to” headlines get you instant bonus points with CoSchedule’s Headline Analyzer.

4. Suggest The Best Way To Do Something

Successful headlines connect with common searches and address a real target audience looking for the most effective strategies for solving their problem.

Content starting with “The best way to…” has the potential to go viral super quickly. Look at this article from Entrepreneur entitled, “The Best Ways to Do Market Research for Your Business Plan“—it was shared more than 6,000 times!

Pro Tip: Headlines with “best” and “better” also score higher with CoSchedule’s Headline Analyzer.

5. Give Advice For Improvement

Instead of persuading your readers to do something, show them why it’s worth the time to do it. Addressing the reasons and motivations of your readers serves as the basis for a really powerful message.

Consider this extremely popular post entitled, “Why You Should Forget Facebook“. The headline promises to resolve the cognitive dissonance it creates. After all, why should anyone want to ignore the largest social network? A headline like this one practically guarantees traffic.

6. Provide Solid Evidence To Support A Claim

There’s nothing more powerful than the “Backed By Science” claim. Insights derived from research are considered more accurate, relevant, and attractive.

Have a look at this post from Inc.com on “10 Productivity Strategies Backed By Science“. It has more than 1,100 shares—primarily because readers consider scientific findings credible.

Want to use Click to Tweet on your blog?

7. Share Your Experience

“What I learned” is another great headline strategy. Speaking to your readers from experience, you’ll not only gain their trust, but also promise a solution that really works.

A striking example of this kind of content is “What I Learned from Being a Broke, Unemployed Graduate” published on Entrepreneur. That article’s 19,000+ shares speak for themselves.

8. Avoid Clickbait

The era of clickbait supremacy is over. Audiences have caught on. If your headline over-promises and under-delivers (which clickbait does 100% of the time), readers will leave disappointed.

9. Ensure Your Headline Aligns With Your Content

Your headline should accurately reflect the angle of your content. Ask yourself these two questions:

  1. What’s the point of this content?
  2. What is the most important point this content makes?

If your headline doesn’t address each of these points, it’s time to start over.

10. Include Numbers In List Headlines

Writing a list? Include how many items it includes right away. This gives readers a clear idea of what to expect.

11. Experiment With Open- And Closed-Ended Questions

Open-ended questions are great for encouraging discussion (e.g. When Are The Absolute Best Times To Send Email?). Closed-ended questions, meanwhile, are effective for inspiring curiosity (e.g. Do You Send Email At The Absolute Best Times?).

Test each to see what performs best for you.

12. Hint At Something Interesting

Leave out just enough detail to get readers interested (without falling into the clickbait trap).

For example, something like, “This New Car Door Design Is Changing The Game”, might get an audience interested in knowing exactly how that hypothetical car door design works.

13. State A Problem (And Offer A Solution)

It can be tough to stoke a problem and offer a solution in one headline. However, when done well, this technique can offer a solid emotional one-two punch. Here’s a great example from Fast Company:

Example of a headline from Fast Company

It introduces a problem (one that readers might not even recognize as a problem). It then promises to show what the solution might be.

14. Include A Stat

People love to see numbers in headlines. This is especially true when they seem difficult to believe.

If you have a powerful stat in your content (like in this example), put it in your headline.

Example of a stat in a headline

15. Know Your Audience

Make sure you know who your real audience is, and understand what their interests are. You can do this with a little bit of research in Google Analytics.

16. Speak Like Your Audience, Too

Use words and language your audience uses. That includes the same types of jargon and technical terminology. You can get a sense of how your audience talks and what words they use simply by participating in social media conversations with them.

17. Be Relevant And Topical

The best written headline is useless if your audience doesn’t care. Craft headline copy that targets relevant topics and discussions happening in your industry or niche. Likewise, avoid straying onto topics outside of your scope.

18. Aim For Headline Analyzer Scores Of 70 Or Higher

Anything lower needs improvement. Holding yourself to this standard will ensure you write more effective headlines.

Understand How Emotions Impact Headlines

This study from Moz shows that readers like content that is either understated and features up to one superlative word or goes overboard with superlatives to show why the content is worth reading.

What does it mean for you? If you want your content to go viral, your headline must be located at one of those two extremes; otherwise it won’t catch anyone’s attention.

Here are some words invoking both positive and negative sentiments:

write an extremely positive or negative headline for the best results

19. Understand What Word Balance Means

The Headline Analyzer breaks down words into four categories.

  • Common: These are words frequently used in English. They’re recognizable and easy to read terms.
  • Uncommon: These phrases are used less frequently in common English. They’re effective for creating intrigue.
  • Emotional: Hit your readers right in the feels. Literally. These words drive action by targeting desired emotions.
  • Power: These words inspire feelings of motivation and empowerment.

For examples of each category, download the Headline Analyzer tear sheet included in this post.

20. Use Positive Superlatives For A Strong, Emotional Headline

Positive superlatives that will help you in headline writing are as follows: best, always, fastest, easiest, most, greatest, largest, funniest, hottest, strongest, biggest, ever, perfect, top.

21. Try Negative Superlatives To Draw On Fear And Doubt

A study by Outbrain showed that headlines featuring negative superlatives performed 30% better than those with positive superlatives.

What are negative superlatives? Never, worst, nothing, no one, no way, by no means, none. Featuring words like stop, avoid, or don’t in your headline is a good idea, too.

Pro Tip: Use the Headline Analyzer to understand whether your headline’s sentiment is positive or negative. Neutral headlines tend to perform worse than extremely positive or negative headlines.

22. Front-Load Your Headline Structure

Make sure that your superlative—whether it’s positive or negative—is always at the front of your headline. “7 Worst Mistakes Of Young Startups” sounds much better than “7 Mistakes Made by Young Startups That Are Worst”.

23. Going Extreme Can Be Worth It

This study from Startup Moon showed that using aggressive or violent words like kill, fear, and dead actually generates more social shares. If these expressions fit your context and aren’t offensive to anyone, use them to draw even more emotion from your readers.

24. Be Careful With Humor

Like avoiding ambiguity, avoid puns or jokes. Your headline must be understandable outside of its context.

25. Invoke Urgency

Is your content time-sensitive? Use words that inspire urgency.

For example, say you’re writing about an upcoming event with a registration deadline. Something like, “Register For Our Webinar Before Time Runs Out”, lets readers know they’re on the clock.

26. Make The Unbelievable A Reality

If your content includes something strange but true, use that to your advantage. For example, an article about 55 kids playing soccer against two pro soccer stars deserves a hyped up headline.

If your content is good enough, your headline will sell the story without resorting to cheap clickbait tactics.

Understand Ideal Headline Lengths

A Kissmetrics study shows that readers tend to absorb only the first three words and the last three words of a headline. Keeping a headline no longer than six words will help readers easily process it and reduce the interaction cost involved in grasping its meaning.

focus on the first 3 and last 3 words in your headlines

If you can’t limit your headline to six words, bear in mind that it’s the first and last words that count most. Use this knowledge to your advantage by including attractive keywords in these places.

Here’s what to remember when writing your headline:

27. Understand The Media Types Where You’ll Use Your Headline

The length of your headline depends on what you want to do with it—different lengths work for different media like emails, social networks, search engines, and language engagement.

28. Avoid Ambiguity And Get To The Point

If you want to follow the traditional strategy, write headlines that are information and keyword-rich, match the expectations of your target audience, and are understandable even when taken out of context. This also means keeping them relatively brief (if possible).

Want to use Click to Tweet on your blog?

29. Know The Best Length For Your Language

If you want your headline to perform well, consider the following for English: It should be between 60–100 characters and 16–18 words long.

Remember that every language has its own rules—only testing can unveil what really works.

How Do Your Headlines Appear?

Moz also surveyed their respondents about their headline capitalization preferences.

And guess what?

Apparently, 21% of them admitted that they liked to be shouted at with headlines written in capital lettering. If you want to go for a safer approach, just capitalize your words in title case—64% of respondents reported to like this.

when you write a headline, pay attention to its tone and appearance

30. Choose A Strong Typeface

Choose a font that has a strong visual impact and a personality but also fits the body text. Here’s a guide from CrazyEgg to help you find the right font.

31. Size Your Headlines To Stand Out

Make your headline visibly larger than body text. Its size can make it really eye-catching, even when pushed to extreme.

According to a study by Smashing Magazine, most of the best blogs’ most popular headline sizes range from 20–36 pixels, or about 2.5 times larger than your body copy.

32. Use Color To Grab Attention

67% of people say black is the best choice to help them comprehend the content, but other tints can add some contrast and visual interest.

Want to use Click to Tweet on your blog?

That study covered by Cutting Edge PR found 17% of people like bright colored headlines and another 52% say dark colored headlines make for good comprehension.

33. Align Your Headlines For The Biggest Impact

Centered headlines are most powerful visually, left-centered are more conservative and formal. Avoid justifying headline type—it can lead to bad lettering.

Polish Your Headlines With Google

Your headlines deserve to be found. Here’s how to use Google to sharpen your headlines and ensure you optimize them for SEO.

how to write a headline with Google

34. Write For Search Engines To Help Your Readers Find Your Content

Search engines will favor headlines that are shorter than 70 characters (which is relevant if your title tag is the same as your headline). Make sure your headline includes your target keyword as well.

35. Find Words Your Readers Are Looking For With The Keyword Planner

Use Google Keyword Planner to understand the search terms your target audiences look for. Google’s official support documentation explains how to use it.

36. Try Using A Suggested Search Term In Your Headline

Just type the first words of your headline to see whether the auto-fill suggestions are similar to it. Ubersuggest is an easy, free tool that surfaces actual autocomplete data:

Ubersuggest screenshot

37. Look For Related Search Terms

This list appears at the bottom of your search page and shows you what terms are related to the one you typed. That feature helps people shake up their searches to find relevant and related information.

Suggested Searches Screenshot

38. Narrow Your Search Results

Google Advanced Search will help you to narrow down your search results to see trends for a given region, language, and time frame.

Keep Your Headlines Crisp And Clear

Readers prefer explicit headlines that clearly state what they’re going to get from reading the content. Headlines featuring numbers—used extensively by a viral content platform, BuzzFeed—appeal to 34% of readers.

List posts also get some of the most shares of any content type.

With that in mind, here is how to write a headline with clarity:

39. Use “You” To Address Your Readers

Address your reader as you. This simply grabs your readers’ attention and helps them relate the headline to their personal experience.

40. Promise A Solution To A Problem

Use that will, to, and so in your headlines. This kind of headline already promises a certain value to be taken from reading the content.

Think about how powerful these headlines sound:

write a headline that promises results

41. Help Your Readers See A Better Future For Themselves

Think about this headline for a minute: “How To Do ___ That Will Help You ___”.

That headline—and others like it—clearly states the purpose of the content and boosts its accuracy in tackling one specific action or problem.

42. Keep It Simple

Readers skim on the web, whether on social media, their email inboxes, or in search results. Use simple headlines with clear language to hook their attention fast.

Overly complex headlines may get passed over if they’re too difficult to read.

43. Simple Doesn’t Have To Mean Generic (Don’t Be Generic)

Generic headlines get buried and forgotten. If you wouldn’t read an article based on a headline you wrote, scrap it and write more until you score a winner.

Pro Tip: The Headline Analyzer will tell you when you write a generic headline.

44. Be Specific

Narrowly focus on the one topic your content is about. Consider the main point and benefit of your post, and get granular by telling your readers exactly what your content contains.

For example, “How To Write Headlines Better” is less specific than “30 Ways To Write More Emotional Headlines.”

45. Avoid Passive Voice

Use active instead of passive voice. Active is easier to understand when scanning for interesting headlines.

For example, turn a passive headline like “30 E-Books Written By Astronauts” headlines into “30 Astronauts Wrote 30 E-Books To Help You Become A Better Leader”.

46. Include Words That Reference Additional Content

If your blog post includes an infographic, guide, template, or other downloadable content, reference it in your headline. This gives readers added incentive to click, and provides more detail about the content your blog post includes.

Here’s a recent example on our own blog: How To Build A Social Media Editorial Calendar The Easy Way (Free Template).

Know Your Competition (And Beat Them)

If you’ve ever wondered how much content is created daily, here’s your answer: According to A Day in the Internet infographic by MBA Online, 2 million new blog posts, 294 billion emails, and 864,000 hours of videos are uploaded to the Internet every single day.

write a headline to cut through the clutter

This means that you’re competing against lots of content. Being aware of such a degree of competition should only help you to work harder on your headlines and make them stand out from the crowd.

Here’s how to make sure your headlines are better than those of your competition:

47. Differentiate Your Headlines From The Competition

Research what your competitors are doing. Identify the expressions, keywords, and phrases your competitors use in their content.

From there, you will understand how to make your headlines stand out.

For example, review your competition quickly for the 46 previous points (skim through their headlines with this information in mind), then brainstorm how to write headlines that will trump theirs.

Want to use Click to Tweet on your blog?

48. Publish Headlines That Brand Your Content

Make it easy for searchers to identify key differences between your content and the stuff other people publish—otherwise you risk inducing a choice fatigue. If you feel like your headlines sound exactly what may publish on a competitor’s site, write 25 more headlines and choose one with the most unique angle.

Imagine the possibilities if a reader could read your headline and know it’s your content just by its tone. That’s the goal you should aim for.

49. Try Headline Ideas You Haven’t Experimented With Before

Be creative! Don’t be afraid of testing new content on your audience. Even if your headline doesn’t bring a lot of traffic, you may get new ideas on what might.

50. Use Social Media For Simple A/B Testing

Twitter makes quick and easy A/B testing easy. Simply try writing two different headlines, and use them as tweets to promote your content.

Make sure each headline includes a different variable (for example, one could be negative, and the other positive). Then, see which performs best.

Over time, you’ll develop a clear picture of what clicks with your audience.

51. Contradict Common Wisdom

Is there a commonly accepted “truth” you want to challenge? Write a headline that clearly contradicts it.

Try something like, “Why {Insert Action} Doesn’t Actually Help {Insert Benefit}”. These types of headlines can generate a lot of attention (as long as you have data and evidence to support your counter-claim).

Repurpose, Repurpose, Repurpose

Great headlines deserve to be read. In fact, they deserve to be read more than once. These tips will teach you how to repurpose them for maximum mileage.

52. Recycle Your Old Ideas With New Headlines And Angles

Recycle your content. A great evergreen piece of content can be easily recycled under a different headline based on thorough research meant to broaden the gap between you and your competition.

53. Consider Every Platform Where Your Headline May Appear

It’s likely your content will be shared on social media. It’ll probably be in your email newsletter, too. Try to write headlines that can easily be adjusted for multiple formats (such as social media posts and email subject lines).

54. Try Alternative Headlines For Social Media

What works well for a blog post might not work as well on social media. Consider writing alternative headlines to promote blog posts across various social channels.

This can also be an easy way to test different types of messaging to see what resonates most with your audience.

55. Condense Headlines For Email

Headlines that perform well in emails are usually around 50 characters long and feature the strongest words at their beginning. The Headline Analyzer can help with this.

First, enter a headline. Then, scroll down to find the section pictured below:

Screenshot of the Email Subject Line Previewer in the Headline Analyzer

Go Forth And Write Better Headlines Now

The data from this post proves that headlines are crucial for getting your content read, increasing your social shares, and improving your brand.

Headlines are the first thing your readers will see, and it’s your job to convince them to click and read your content. Even if you only use one of the 55 tips from this post, you’ll be able to add a touch of uniqueness to every piece of content you publish.

Oh! And don’t forget to download kit to help you write better headlines.

Want to use Click to Tweet on your blog?

Note: This post has been updated from its original version and may not reflect the views of its original author.