Count on this: Eight of 10 people will read your headline but only two will click it to keep reading.
If readers don’t click, the rest of your content doesn’t get read. End of story, literally. That makes headlines possibly the most important words you write.
The best headlines are single-minded in their mission: Make you click.
Do your headlines make your readers click on them?
Answer: Readers click headlines that click with readers.
There are many ways to write compelling headlines, many tips, tactics, and best practices for every medium and context.
Some people’s day job is figuring out which ones work best, so there’s tons of outstanding research out there — like here, here, here, and here — with scores of examples and often free templates you can copy.
To keep it simple, this post covers seven basic tips and tactics to help you craft the best headline to begin almost any piece of content.
It’s an equal-and-opposite partner post to How to Motivate Your Audience with an Effective Call to Action — which looks at the other end of your content.
Facts and feelings
The best headlines include both quantities and qualities. Put another way, facts and feelings. They appeal to both logic and emotion.
Numbers, for instance, are not just for lists (“5 Best Ways to…”). They can put a time stamp on results, making the promise of your headline seem possible. They give context or quantify potential gains or losses.
Qualities convey emotion, sentiment, power. They give your words and numbers impact.
The promise of a real solution, delivered with force and grace. Such a combination is hard to resist.
Quantities: The art of the possible
Go figure. Countless studies show that numbers are the single most compelling element in a headline. There are two important ways to think about numbers:
1. Count on numbers to attract.
Numbers promise specific steps or results, in measurable times. In short, they tell you what you need to know to decide if the promise fits the time frames and priorities of your life.
- 5 Meals You Can Make in Under 5 Minutes
- 5 Career Mistakes You Can Stop Making Today
- Make $5,000 in 5 Weeks
Each of these sounds achievable. If you don’t have time to cook or you’re frustrated at work, they hold out the promise that you can do something about it.
Numbers also show scale. A small number suggests the content itself may be easy to take in and apply to your life:
- 5 Tips to Eat Healthier
- 3 Ways to Start Your Day with More Energy
A large number suggests your content is comprehensive, definitive:
- 101 Apps to Make Your Life Easier in Every Way.
That’s perfect for evergreen and pillar content; you want people to find your post for a long time, and find it worth the visit.
2. Keep count.
A different use of numbers is just as important: word and character counts.
Headlines display differently across devices and social channels. Long headlines are more likely to get cut off, thus less likely to be clicked. Google displays a fixed number of pixels, so more l’s than w’s. And these numbers sometimes change.
A good general rule: Keep headlines under 65 characters or 10 words. It’s a reasonable safety zone for most displays. Research by CoSchedule shows the most clickable length is 54 characters and six words.You'll never feel like writing if it's physically uncomfortable to write.Click To Tweet
Social media channels provide guides to optimizing for their feeds. Sprout Social keeps this page very up to date with the best character counts and images sizes for many top channels. It features a free character counter to help you find the optimal length for Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn.
Qualities: Can you feel it?
Facts and figures convey authority, but there’s more to it than that.
3. Strike a balance.
Good headlines strike a balance among words that have different effects.
Headline analyzers (coming up next) break headlines down into four types of words:
- Common. These words are used frequently and easy to recognize, making headlines easy to read.
- Uncommon. Their uniqueness makes them stand out, drawing attention, creating interest.
- Power. These words inspire and motivate.
- Emotional. These words go for the emotions. Interestingly, negative emotions get stronger reactions — and more clicks.
4. Use a headline analyzer.
As I said above, there’s a lot of research on headlines. The stakes are high: A word that gets one percent more clicks than another could yield thousands more in earnings.
- Reading level
- Sentiment: positive, negative, neutral
The best headline analyzers let you try and try again to improve your headline score. They include a “word bank,” and sometimes a thesaurus, to help you seek that balance.
Headline Studio is a paid product, but there’s a free trial and an always-free analyzer too. Some WordPress plugins you may already use, like MonsterInsights (affiliate link), now include a headline analyzer among their features.
5. Include your keyword verbatim.
Search engines need to find your keyword in the first places they look: headline, subheads, first paragraph. So include your exact keyword, preferably within the first few words.
Search engine optimization (SEO) plugins like Yoast and Rank Math (affiliate link) let you create a search title for bots that’s different from your post title. You rarely need to concern yourself with that. But it gives advanced users pursuing a strategy some options.
Where to find the best headlines
Two final tips that’ll get you up from your keyboard:
6. Go shopping.
Headline analyzers are great. But for my money, there’s nowhere better to learn the art of headline writing than in line at the supermarket. I mean, of course, the magazine rack.
Scores of headlines and teasers blaring from the covers of that huddled mass of magazines, all with the single-minded goal of getting you to pick me! pick me! pick me! so you’ll hopefully buy the magazine.
Amidst such high-stakes competition, these teasers cannot afford to be any less than utterly compelling in very few words. So you’re learning from the best.
7. Take note(s).
While you’re standing in line at the market — and scrolling through your news and social media feeds — take a moment to notice why you click or don’t click on each headline, or pick up one magazine and not another.
Soon enough you’ll recognize the elements I’ve described and observe what role they play in your clicking decisions. Then apply those lessons to your own headlines.
Read the partner to this post — How to Motivate Your Audience with an Effective Call to Action.