What is the first thing you notice when browsing a blog’s front page?
What grabs your attention when reading news articles? What makes you want to click on a link?
Yes, headlines are that important. They act as a hook that attracts our readers, gets them to click on our articles, and give our words a bit of time and attention.
Yet, most bloggers work hard on a post, and only before they hit that “Publish” button do they stop for a while to think about their article’s title.
It’s not how this works.
First the headline, then everything else.
Because a bad or even generic headline means your article is doomed to go largely unread.
What makes a great headline?
An irresistible headline should:
- Provide some sense of what your post is about to the reader
- Elicit curiosity as to what benefit your article will provide
- Convey the idea that this post is somehow unique
- Urge the reader to read the post RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW.
Ask yourself these questions before you write your headline:
- Does your headline make it clear to the reader as to what’s in it for them if they read the post?
- What could you add to make your headline more intriguing and believable?
- Does your headline trigger a strong, actionable emotion?
Some even say that you should spend half of the entire time it takes to write a blog post on the headline. So, if you have a blog post that is really important to you, one that you really want people to read, you should obsess over your article’s title.
It takes work and focus, but the effort will ensure that as many people as possible read your posts.
Download this guide from your XYZ member dashboard, print it out, use it before writing your articles. Don’t worry, there’s no sugar.
Readers prefer straightforward, short, and simple titles to cute or cryptic ones. They want to know what the post is about, what to expect.
It’s worth it.
Like I said, it’s essential for readers to know what your post is about. Otherwise, they might not take the time to read it.
This is not just about SEO, it’s not about pleasing the algorithms to land one the first page, but it’s also about clearly defining your topic.
What is your post about?
How would someone who has never read it go about if they were to search the web for that kind of content?
Grab Attention With Numbers
I’d say this is the most important aspect. And one of the most overlooked.
Because odds are that your post is one of many on the same topic, and your headline is your best chance to distinguish it from others like it.
Imagine yourself searching for articles on a search engine or news aggregator — what would make you click your link?
Numbers convey multiple things at once:
- A sense of authority and data-driven content (even though that may not be the case)
- A perspective of how long it will take to go through the article (especially when skimming)
The Balancing Act
There’s one aspect of headline writing that baffles most bloggers.
It seems that, in order to make readers curious, the only valid approach is the clickbait title, withholding valuable information as to what the article is all about.
In fact, this is a misunderstanding of how curiosity works.
Curiosity is the side-effect of not just wanting to know what an article is all about, but also:
- knowing how to do something
- knowing how to solve a problem
- replicating a certain desired result
A quality headline is not about how much or how little information you share, but about the quality of the information you promise to share in your article.
A good rule of thumb is this: ask yourself what value does your article add to the average reader.
In other words, an irresistible headline is a promise to a result desired by your ideal reader.
Understanding the Formula
Rather than give you a list of headline templates you can replicate, I think it’s best if we spend some time trying to understand what is it about a headline that compels us to click to read the article.
That way, you can easily come up with new variations and add your own style to the headlines you write.
Below you will find 10 of the most popular headline formulas.
1. Questions, Questions, Questions
- Did You Choose the Wrong Topic for Your Blog?
- Do Your Readers Trust You?
- Do You Truly Love Yourself?
It’s all quite simple: ask the most burning question in your niche.
Because questions arouse our curiosity.
We all struggle with certain issues, we all want to know stuff that is going to help us on our journey towards accomplishing certain dreams and goals.
After all, we all turn to Google to solve a lot of our problems…
So ask yourself: which burning questions do my readers struggle to get answered?
Warning: the trick is to ask a question that deserves an answer, and also provide a valuable answer in your article.
Pro-tip: You can easily enhance a question-headline by adding a bit of social proof in the mix.
Example: Who Else Wants [Most Desirable Outcome or Benefit]?
Starting a headline with “Who Else Wants…” is a classic social proof strategy that implies an already existing consensus desire.
It validates the reader’s most burning question and makes it a lot more personal.
2. The Classic How-To
- How to Write Blog Posts that Your Readers Will Love
- How to Get People to Read Every Single Word You Write
- How to Be a Boss at Blogging When You Have 0 Followers
- How to Win Friends and Influence People (As a Blogger)
How to [Achieve Something Specific] always works as a headline because it promises the reader a solution to a certain problem.
This formula works best when you make the problem as specific as possible. For instance, instead of learning how to write blog posts, the first example above promises that you’ll learn how to write blog posts your readers will love.
This also means using strong words, make certain promises that are a bit on the dramatic side, just so you can emphasizeze how you are going to help your readers solve an issue they’ve been struggling with.
What problems are your readers struggling with? How can you narrow down this problem to make your post more specific? Remember, generic headlines sound bland; specificity adds interest.
Pro-tip: You can use a how-to headline as a way to make a case-study/personal story much more intriguing and feel like it adds more value to the average reader.
- How I Got 403 Comments on One Blog Post
- How I Wrote Five Books in Five Years
- How I (Almost) Ruined My Life
Note how the headline examples are all ultra-specific.
How to Build an Online Business would have been generic and bland; it doesn’t arouse curiosity.
How to apply this headline formula:
Can you share a case study? Can you interview someone for a case study? Or would your readers be interested in a story about your own journey/struggles?
Remember to add specific results for credibility and interest.
Pro-tip: Use the following formula: How to + List for the kind of headline that is almost guaranteed to work: within the first few words readers know what they’ll learn.
Start by writing a super-short how-to headline for the first part of this formula—highlight the key problem your readers are struggling with.
Then simply write down how many tips or steps you’ll share in the second part of the formula.
- How to Be a Better Blogger — The Four Steps, 15 Minutes Routine
- How to Overcome Boredom: 3 Simple Steps
- How To Be Consistent: 5 Steps To Get Things Done
3. Connect the Dots
Ever thought that Donald Trump has something to teach you about blogging? Or that Zen Buddhism can be applied to blogging? Or even that art and blogging are related?
This type of headline works because it makes your readers terribly, terribly curious. Of course, you need to deliver. The dots need to actually connect.
It’s got to make sense. You have to answer some difficult questions.
There’s no clear way to go about crafting such a headline: you just brainstorm ideas until something clicks. You start with two seemingly unrelated personalities/concepts/ideas and then try to notice their similarities and differences.
How does stoic philosophy apply to art? How can you use minimalism when it comes to religion?
Your ability to connect seemingly unrelated dots will ensure that you craft a headline that makes your readers want to click on your article.
4. The Guide
- The Concise Guide to Formatting Your Blog Posts
- The Definitive, Incredibly Short, Easy-To-Follow, No-Bullshit Guide to Blogging
- Gary Vaynerchuk’s Guide to Gutsy Blogging
- The Ultimate Guide to Inspiration
- A Step-By-Step Guide to Writing a Novel
The Guide is another old classic, but be careful how you phrase the contents of your guide.
When we use the term “guide” in a headline, it implies that the content is going to be in-depth and provide all the tools/steps/strategies we need to take action.
This headline formula is great if you plan on writing a blog post that is lengthy but also targeted at a specific group of people. The statement at the end acts as a hook, as it usually highlights a problem they’re struggling to resolve.
Use unusual words and try to entice your readers. The “ultimate guide” is a bit played out, but the “compact guide” is still making folks eager to read it.
Which reader problems can you solve? Don’t try to solve all problems in one go; instead, narrow down your topic as much as possible.
5. Goofs, Errors, Mistakes
- 5 Common Errors That “Help” You Make Bad Decisions
- 8 Bad Habits that Kill Your Creativity
- Are You Guilty of Making These Mistakes?
- 9 Mistakes That Will Screw Up Your Blog
Words like errors, mistakes, and goofs are power words, attracting our attention.
The truth is that we’re all afraid of making silly mistakes, so a list of mistakes arouses our curiosity, encouraging us to find out whether we’ve been silly, too.
In fact, most times it’s best to write about how not to do something than it is to explain to your readers how to do it.
Think about your readers and consider what mistakes they make. Or consider the errors you’ve made when starting out. Make sure your post also explains how to do your topic right.
6. The Classic List Post
- Top 10 Persuasive Writing Techniques
- 50 Ways to Become a Better Blogger
- 12 Books That Will Surely Make You Cry
- So Bad They’re Good: The 10 Worst Movies Ever Made
- Eight Undeniable Truths That Are Going to Change Your Life
Even though some want you to believe that readers are all but fed-up with lists posts, the truth is that these kind of posts continue to be amazingly popular.
My post “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Bloggers”, for instance, was read by over fifty thousand people and garnered an unbelievable 2854 likes and 602 comments, making it the most popular post on The Art of Blogging.
Think in terms of intriguing elements or tips that might help your readers. If you write about books, think about what kinds of books your readers are more likely to want to read about.
Don’t write a superficial post. Instead, include enough content to make it worth your readers’ time without going overboard.
For added interest, include interesting or emotional words in the title like legitimate, sneaky, kindness, love, or truth.
A high number can also help boost social shares sometimes.
7. The “Why”
- Why No One Reads Your Blog (and What to Do About It)
- Why Should We Read Your Blog?
- Why Being Bold is Essential to Having Success as a Blogger
- Why Frank Herbert’s “Dune” Is So Difficult to Adapt into a Movie
I believe it’s not how, but rather why that we are obsessed with. Isn’t it true that we want to understand why things are the way they are? Why do children ask questions like Why is grass green? Why do people get sick? Why is water wet?
Of course, this type of headline works best when you prove a surprising standpoint in your post. This will make people more curious to read the article itself.
Pro-tip: supercharge your article by combining a list and a why article.
- A List of 7 Reasons Why List Posts Work
- 10 Reasons Why You Should Read a Young Adult Novel
- 5 Reasons Neil Gaiman is a Master Storyteller
You can use this formula to stir up a bit of controversy, boosting comments and shares. But be sure you argue your case well.
8. Sharing “The Secret”
- What They Never Tell You About Blogging
- Little-Known Ways to Write Better Blog Posts
- Is This The Secret Recipe to Writing a Great Blog Post?
- What Everybody Ought to Know About Making Money Blogging
This formula is great for making the reader feel like they’ll be in-the-know on some super-secret information. It creates an emotional response. If the reader doesn’t click through to read, they won’t know the secret and they might be acting on insufficient information in the future.
When you use this formula, you’re telling your readers they should already know about something. It taps into the reader’s fear of missing out. If they don’t know this ‘thing’ could they be missing out on an opportunity for learning?
That’s what we all look for, after all.
Not so much for the shortcut, but for the secret.
We don’t want to waste time going down a path that leads to a dead end.
This formula also taps into a sense of scarcity. To your reader, this translates to “this is what no one knows, but I am sharing it with you.”
People love to be on the inside where the best information is. By using this headline tweak, you’re opening the door for them.
9. Solving a Problem
- Get Rid of Your Bad Blogging Habits Once and For All
- Here’s a Quick Way to Write a Great Headline
- Here’s a Quick Way to Organize Your Menus
- Here’s a Quick Way to Get Rid of Old and Nasty Addictions
Who doesn’t want to remove a problem from their lives permanently? Here you’re promising to do that for your audience and it’s a powerful statement. Make sure you can live up to it with your content.
Pro-tip: Time is of the essence these days. Your readers don’t have the time for long, complicated solutions to their problems. Offering them a “quick-fix” that actually works will go a long way towards making your readers want to read your article.
10. The Imitation Game
- 5 Unconventional Tips from The Father of Advertising Guaranteed to Make You a Better Blogger
- Write Like Ernest Hemingway
- Become a Business-Guru Like Elon Musk
Another fantastic way to grab people’s attention is to use a figure of authority as an example. It’s human nature to aspire to be better. And who’s better to aspire to than world-class individuals who are already successful?
The trick here is simply to use a name that shouts “social-proof,” and to promise advice that sounds plausible enough to the average reader. It wouldn’t do much good to promise readers that your article will help them “write blog posts like Bill Gates.”
So, as you play the imitation game, keep these two things in mind:
- Choosing an authority figure that is well-known and instantly recognizable by the average reader
- The area of expertise of the authority-figure you plan to use as a framework for your advice
The Art of Crafting an Irresistible Headlines
Here’s the plot twist: irresistible headlines are not just about applying these formulas, but rather about knowing your readers.
Understand which issues keep them up at night. Find out why they can’t make up their minds. Ask them what they’re struggling with. Answer their most burning questions. Know which quick tips can solve their biggest problems. Help them deal with those petty frustrations that steal their joy.
When your headline uses a proven formula and addresses reader problems, that’s a recipe for success. That’s how you become a popular blogger and an authority in your field.
Always serve your readers first.