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You’ve spent hours creating a piece of content — likely a thousand or more words long. It’s a success; however, success often relies on just a couple words: the headline.
Traffic from search engines, social media, and email depends on the headline. It needs to spark curiosity and convey a benefit to earn your reader’s attention, all in a single sentence.
The challenge of headlines is that no matter how good your content is, a bad headline will bury it under a pile of competitor’s mediocre content on the same topic. That’s a lot of pressure.
If you feel like you never have enough time to focus on brainstorming headlines, this guide is for you. In this post, you will:
Download this tear sheet of 180 emotional words to write headlines that cut through the noise and compel readers to click (which you can test using the tool in the next section …).
CoSchedule’s Headline Analyzer helps you find the right balance of common, uncommon, powerful, and emotional words. The result? Headlines that are easy to scan, grab your reader’s attention, and spark engagement.
For the reader, your blog post is an investment of time and attention. The job of your blog post headline is to prove to them that their investment will pay off.
Your blog post headline needs to achieve two things:
Here are five blog post headlines that do this successfully.
Example: What’s the secret to winning a brand safety strategy in 2020? by The Drum
This question headline hits both the specificity (i.e. brand safety strategy) and the end result (secret to winning) of the blog post. Question headlines are powerful because they imply they’re answering a burning question for the target reader.
To write a successful question headline, focus on the relief that the answer to the question (i.e. your blog post) will bring to your reader.
Make sure you’re not asking a question that your target reader thinks they know how to answer. If they feel like they can get away with not reading it, they’ll likely skip it altogether.
Example: How to Kill Writer’s Block and Become a Master Copywriter in Only 3 Hours a Day by Copyblogger
This headline addresses a huge pain point that creatives experience: the writer’s block. However, it doesn’t just say you’ll learn how to overcome writer’s block — the headline gets specific and tells you it only requires three hours a day.
That transformation to a master copywriter sounds realistic; the headline didn’t offer some magic, instant solution. The focus on three hours a day implies a process you can implement with a clear goal.
Write your benefit-focused headline with a vivid pain point and end result in mind.
Bonus note: This headline could also fit into the “how to” headlines covered below. However, this Copyblogger headline fits better here because it focuses on the transformation, rather than on the process or steps.
Example: Happiness Hack: 10 Ways To Be Happier, Backed By Science by Lifehack
The reason the proof headline works is obvious: it backs up the content of the blog post. Just like testimonials and customer success stories, it tells us this blog post is worth our time and energy.
The “backed by science” element could also appeal to those readers who have searched for similar tips before, but were disappointed by bogus claims and superficial tips.
The “happiness hack” implies that the tips in these posts are easy and a shortcut, rather than a complete life overhaul.
Your proof headline can rely on industry reports, statements from experts and leaders, and other resources your audience inherently trusts.
Example: How to Write a Cover Letter for a Job in 2020 (12+ Examples) by Zety
A how-to headline represents actionable steps to get better at something. This example by Zety is tailored to job seekers and uses the wording that you’d use when asking that question.
This is essential because this headline matches the search intent and search terms the target audience uses. However, this comes with a challenge; every other article on the topic does the same.
To make your how-to headline stand out, ask yourself, “How can I make it stand out and feel relevant, timely, and valuable?” Zety did it by adding a reference to specific cover letter type, the current year, and the examples.
What makes your blog post better than the others in high ranking? Use that in your how-to headline.
Numbers in headlines are powerful because they give us a frame of reference. You can talk about ideas, steps, tips, ways, reasons, examples, and more.
Certain topics naturally lend themselves to a number headline. Research some popular terms in your industry to find them. For example, if people search for business ideas, living room decor examples, or hiring process steps, a number headline is a great option.
When choosing your number, make sure it matches the topic and context. If you’re listing steps of a process, 30 will sound overwhelming to the reader. If you’re talking about ideas, five may be too few.
News articles move fast. You have a very short window of opportunity to grab your reader’s attention, and you’re competing with dozens other news outlets for it.
Your news headline needs to convince them that:
These headlines need to be accurate, direct, and uncluttered. Check out these news headline examples to get inspired.
This headline is made out of two, full sentences. The first one states the fact, and the other one points out that tomorrow — and any day in the next 100 years — that fact won’t be the case.
You could replace the second part with a “here’s why it matters” sentence and end up with a similar sentiment, but it wouldn’t be as impactful, the punchline wouldn’t be there. With Mashable’s headline, we know that this event happens once in a millennium.
To emulate this headline, find the main takeaway of your news article. This is your first sentence. Then, use the reason why the main takeaway matters as the second sentence.
Example: Four views: How will the work visa ban affect tech and which changes will last? By TechCrunch
Reporting on opinions is important, but so is labeling them as opinions rather than solely facts.
In this example, four TechCrunch reporters and editors discussed and analyzed the U.S. work Visa ban and its impact on the tech industry. By using the headline to announce four views, TechCrunch made it clear that this article dives deeper than just numbers and facts into lasting, big-picture consequences.
For an opinion headline, make sure you’re not using a personal opinion as the headline — this could be misconstrued as a fact and mislead the reader. Asking a question or describing the topic are better options.
To indicate an opinion piece, you can use these simple phrases:
In this headline, we first learn that something went well, after which it turned for the worse. The “here’s what went wrong” statement tells us we’ll learn what caused the downfall. Who was responsible? Could we have prevented it? Is there data to support the explanation?
Use this news headline when covering a story about a significant negative change. You can also flip the script and use it when something changes for the better by using the “here’s what went right” statement.
Example: How lockdown converted the world to cycling, and the speedbumps that lie ahead by The Economist
This headline from The Economist is a clever play on words. The article covers the growth of bike shops during the pandemic and announces there are still some issues and challenges (speedbumps) to handle.
Depending on your industry and focus as a publication, you may replicate this wordplay approach to headlines. Look for industry-specific words that could also represent a process, a change, or another more generic concept.
Get creative and brainstorm some word combinations to make the most out of the wordplay headline.
Example: ‘You Have to Be Willing to Get a Bit Uncomfortable’: How a Reporter Covers a Protest by New York Times
Original statements are often the most powerful way to make a point. It lets us in on their joy, pain, and learning. If this New York Times headline was written in third person, it wouldn’t be anywhere near as impactful and raw.
The direct quote approach also helps make your headline emotional. Readers want in on human stories, and direct quotes are the direct way in.
To write a direct quote headline, start by writing 5–10 headlines in third person. Then, look for direct quotes that could replace parts of your headlines and make them more personal.
Social media feeds move fast, and it’s up to your headlines to convince someone to click through to your piece of content instead of scrolling past it.
The unique thing about successful social media headlines is communicating the benefit of a blog post without much space to do it. Even if your full headline is longer, you can tweak it to make it shorter and punchier for social media — without losing its key point.
Here are some social media headline examples you can refer to when writing your own.
Example: How to Write a Blog Post in 2020 (Free Blog Post Template) Tutorial by Ryan Robinson
In just one line of text, this headline tells you:
The full title of this post is “How to Write a Blog Post in 2020 (Free Blog Post Template): The Ultimate Writing Guide for Bloggers,” but for social media, Ryan Robinson boiled the title down to its essentials.
Apply this to your own social media headline by cutting out all words that aren’t essential to understand what the piece is about. Then, add words that showcase the relevance, timeliness, and process you’re sharing in it.
Example: FREE TRAINING: How to Kickstart Your Email List to Grow Your Online Business by Amy Porterfield
When you look at this landing page on its own, the title doesn’t actually have the capitalized “free training” at the beginning of the title. When you share it on social media, it’s front and center.
This is a great approach for content that is time-based or limited in any other way. If you share a lot of other, more evergreen content, capitalizing certain words makes time-sensitive content stand out.
You can capitalize phrases such as: livestream, free training, [month] special, video series, etc. Make sure you don’t make all of your headlines urgent — this might make people start ignoring them. Remember the quote, “If everything is important, then nothing is.”
Example: Changes in Consumer Behavior: Rising Retail Categories by Think with Google
Here’s another great example of a headline that works really well on social media but doesn’t appear on the page.
This report from Think with Google only features one headline on the page: “Rising Retail Categories”. The first paragraph then introduces the rapidly changing consumer behavior. In the social media headline, though, we can see the “changes in consumer behavior” focus.
It gives us the context we otherwise wouldn’t have. For your social media headlines, brainstorm different phrases you can add in front of your headline to provide extra context and background.
Example: The Show’s Inside — Why Companies Should Develop Internal Podcasts by Forbes
This Forbes headline is another great example of a short and straightforward. They could have added more to it: three use cases, four reasons, steps. If they had done that, it would still be a great headline, but Twitter would have truncated the extra characters that don’t fit.
A headline that’s cut off halfway through creates more confusion. With six words (not counting “the show’s inside” punchline), this social media headline creates instant clarity on the topic.
Can you shorten the point of your piece of content down to less than ten words? Try starting your headline with “why” to see if that helps.
When you rely on paid ads (including social, search, and print), banner blindness is a real challenge. When people perceive page elements as ads, they tend to ignore them.
Headlines can help. The right ad headline can instantly connect with the target reader by tackling their dream and the pain point that keeps them from it.
Check out these six examples of advertising and copywriting headlines across PPC, social, and print.
Example: “What you’re really buying is a bigger bed for you,” by L.L.Bean
This dog bed ad is excellent because, of course, it’s not the dogs that will buy the dog bed. A framework called Jobs to be Done (JTBD) describes this scenario well. It’s the process a consumer goes through whenever they aim to change their existing life-situation into a preferred one but cannot because there are constraints that stop them.
In this case, the job to be done is to improve the dog owner’s sleeping conditions — not the dog’s. However, many marketing messages for pet owners are focused on pet’s comfort, but this one’s different.
This headline gets honest about the real benefit. To use this approach in your ad headline, dive into your products from a JTBD perspective.
You’ll be surprised with what you uncover!
Example: Best way to learn Python ad, by Codecademy
If thousands of people are searching for the best way to learn Python, you could make many assumptions as to why they’re searching for that. Starting a new career, changing careers, and automating their tasks are just a few.
However, when you look at the organic search results for this search term, most of them are focused on beginners and people entering the workforce for the first time. This includes questions from Quora and Reddit.
The third ad on this screenshot from Codecademy uses the exact search term in their headline, while also mentioning a career kickstart. It’s specific, relevant, and uses the words people already type into Google.
When writing your Google Ads copy, look at exact phrases and their organic search results to find out more about their search intent. This will make your ad headline stand out.
Example: Build landing pages that work ad, by Elementor
Elementor’s ad headline works well because landing page optimization can interest many types of marketers, but the headline isn’t too specific to detract many of those marketers. At the same time, it’s not too generic either — landing pages that work doesn’t interest a generic audience.
This headline also directs us to the remaining copy, which indicates more specific results, like lead generation and product sales. There’s some scarcity sprinkled in with the “see what you’re missing” statement.
Brainstorm some headline options that sit in the middle of the generic/specific spectrum, pair them with specific copy, and test them to see their impact.
Example: Download our free holiday handbook to prepare for a merry and profitable shopping season ad, by Nosto
This simple Instagram ad headline hits the bullseye in many ways:
Swipe this example for an ad that promotes a free piece of content. You can start by filling out the blanks in this exact sentence and get creative from there: “Download our free [time-based] [format] to [action verb] for [season].”
Keep an eye on the bullet points above to get as clear and specific as possible.
Example: The best online guitar lessons – Learn the easy way that works, by Guitar Tricks
This ad headline from Guitar Tricks implies a pain: learning to play guitar can be hard and may not work. Their “learn the easy way that works” states that they acknowledge this, their way is easy, and it works.
To write this type of headline, identify a significant pain point your audience goes through on a regular basis. Then, write a statement that describes the exact opposite and work it into a complete headline.
Example: Job hunting? How well can YOU answer these 64 toughest interview questions? By Benci-Ventures
This 1994 print ad example is a masterclass in sparking the fear of missing out (FOMO). It introduces a new report that contains the 64 hardest job interview questions to answer and lists 14 of them.
Even if you think you can answer these questions, you’re left wondering if your answers are good enough. The ad copy refers to “the right answering strategy,” “the report reveals,” and similar statements multiple times.
The ad headline summarizes this approach of testing your ability to sell you the product. To use this in your headlines, define the transformation someone will go through if they act on your ad. Then, ask them if they can achieve it beforehand — remember to make it specific.
To get media coverage, your press release headlines need to stand out. However, unlike some other headlines, they’re not competing with a feed of news articles or social media posts, but a journalist’s packed schedule and email inbox.
The best press release headlines are:
Here are some press release headline examples that hit these points.
This New York Public Library headline is consistent with their usual press releases. NYPL is a recognizable cultural entity, and almost all of their press releases start with the library’s name.
The headline continues with the announcement of a new album by NYPL and the album’s title. For anyone regularly reporting on NYPL, this is more than enough to dig into the press release for more information.
This headline also tackles the who (NYPL), what (album), and when (now; implied) of the standard journalistic reporting. Keep the five “w”s and one “h” in mind when coming up with a headline: who, what, when, where, why, and how.
Global Market Monitor published a study on smartwatches. In their press release headline, they stated every detail a reporter could need to decide whether they want the study or not.
Instead of sharing the most important or surprising fact from the report, this headline implies that many types of publications, stories, and summaries could benefit from this study. Journalists can cherry-pick those that match their focus, region, and format.
This type of headline will always be longer than most others, but by adding details like these, you’re making it more accessible and useful to more reporters.
This headline states two facts based on numbers, but it’s the door into a bigger point of the press release: Target’s focus on their employees’ wellbeing, health, and support, both in general and during trying times.
Target could have named this press release, “Target supports employees during a global crisis,” but that would have been vague. The headline they chose speaks loudly on their long-term efforts to support their workforce.
It indicates a background that goes much deeper than just the starting wage and recognition bonus. When writing your press release headline, pick one or two tangible facts that speak to the larger picture in your press release.
Take this headline and replace the “makes history with” with “gets”. It sounds mild and mediocre. Getting Golden Globe nominations are never not special, but making history with them is next level.
Why does this event make history? It’s Apple’s first ever Golden Globe nomination, and they got multiple. If your press release is announcing something that’s truly first of its kind, new, unexpected, or game-changing, state it in your headline.
Of course, be careful not to exaggerate — the effect will be the opposite.
Even if you’ve never heard Patrick Stal’s name, calling him an ex-Uber executive gives you all the information you need to know.
This headline didn’t need to state his years of experience, the exact role he played, or any other credentials. The “ex-Uber” descriptor did all that in just seven characters. To use this approach, search for reputation indicators, like this one, to make your press release short and effective.
You now have a swipe file of headline examples that will help you write effective headlines every time.
One more thing to remember: you don’t have to do this alone.
CoSchedule’s always-free Headline Analyzer can help.
September 14, 2020
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