33 ways to write a headline that will get the best results

According to Copyblogger, 8 out of 10 people will read a headline, but only 2 out of 10 tend to proceed to read the rest of the post.

Yikes, right?

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

Fortunately, data and analytics are there to 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.

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Headlines Bring Traffic—And Lots Of It!

stats on why you should spend more time writing a headline

Upworthy’s co-founder Peter Koachley had their website tested and came to a striking conclusion: Traffic directed to content on the website could vary by up to 500% because of headlines.

That’s probably something we all knew instinctively, but now we’ve got tangible proof. Next time you think you’re spending too much time coming up with a headline, just remember that.

In fact, Upworthy is no stranger to investing a lot of time into finding the perfect headline for their posts, often writing at least 25 headlines for every single thing they publish. To those guys, getting 500% more traffic by investing a bit more time into writing awesome headlines is worth the extra effort.

And Quicksprout suggests spending half the amount of time it took to create your content on writing an amazing headline. Wow.

So here are 5 ideas for optimizing your headlines to bring in loads of traffic:

1. 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.

2. 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.

Posts starting with ‘The best way to…’ have the potential to go viral super quickly. Look at this one 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.

3. Give advice for improvement.

Instead of persuading your readers to do something, show them why it’s worth 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.

4. Provide solid evidence to support your 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.

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5. 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 post is ‘What I Learned from Being a Broke, Unemployed Graduate‘ published on Entrepreneur. That post’s 19,000+ shares speak for themselves.

How Perfect Is Your Headline?

This study from Moz shows that readers like posts that are either understated and feature up to one superlative word or go overboard with superlatives in showing why the content is worth reading.

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

Here’s how to do it:

write an extremely positive or negative headline for the best results

6. 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.

Pro Tip: Try using any of the superlatives from this handy-dandy headline writing tear sheet.

7. 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.

8. 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’.

9. 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.

The Ideal Length Of A Headline

This KISSmetrics study showed 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:

10. 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.

11. 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.

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12. Try an alternative headline for social media.

If your headline is meant for social media, you can make it slightly longer and bizarre, emotion-rich, devoid of keywords, and based on shock or curiosity factor.

13. Condense your headline for email.

Headlines that perform well in emails are usually around 50 characters long and feature the strongest words at their beginning.

14. Write for search engines to help your readers find your content.

Search engines will favor headlines that are shorter than 70 characters and keyword-rich.

15. Know the best length for your language.

If you want your headline to perform well in your language group, 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.

What Does Your Headline Actually Look Like?

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

Here’s how to choose the right typeface for your headline:

16. 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.

17. 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.

18. 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.

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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.

19. 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 Headline With Google

Use Google’s related search terms and advanced search options to see what kind of headlines people look for.

Google’s auto-fill option will give you an idea on how to structure your headline so it corresponds with the actual search terms used by Google users. That automatically improves the chances of your post rising straight to the top of the search ranking.

how to write a headline with Google

Here’s how to write a headline using Google and its tools:

20. Find words your readers are looking for with the Keyword Planner.

Use Google Keyword Planner to understand what search terms your target audiences look for.

21. Try suggested search.

Just type the first words of your headline to see whether the auto-fill suggestions are similar to it.

22. 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.

23. 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.

24. Research dynamic keyword insertion.

Explore dynamic keyword insertion (DKI). Check high impression DKI ads that at the same time have a low click-through rate and avoid using those phrases in your headlines.

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Clarity Is Appreciated

Readers prefer explicit headlines that clearly state what they’re going to get from reading the post. 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:

25. We like it when you address us.

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

26. 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 post.

Think about how powerful these headlines sound:

write a headline that promises results

27. Help your readers see their future.

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 post and boosts its accuracy in tackling one specific action or problem.

28. Don’t joke around (at least not yet).

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

29. Avoid passive voice.

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

Know Your Competition

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:

30. 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 29 previous points (skim through their headlines with this information in mind), then brainstorm how to write headlines that will trump theirs.

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31. 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 headlines and choose one with a unique angle.

Imagine the possibilities if a reader could read your headline and know it’s your content just by its tone.

32. Test new headline ideas.

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’ll get 5 new ideas on what might.

33. 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.

How Will You Write A Headline?

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 33 tips from this post, you’ll be able to add a touch of uniqueness to every post you publish.

Oh! And don’t forget to download your infographic and tear sheet to help you write better headlines.

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write better headlines with this free headline analyzer

Write The Best Headlines With A Free Headline Analyzer

The headline analyzer will help you:

  1. Use headline types that get the most traction for social shares, traffic, and search engine ranking.
  2. Make sure you have the right word balance to write readable headlines that command attention.
  3. See the best word and character length for search engines like Google and email subject lines, while also seeing how your readers will scan your headlines.

Try The Free Headline Analyzer Now

What tip do you plan on using when you write your next headline?