Write Winning Headlines

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When browsing a magazine, visiting a website or doing an online search, people look at the headlines to decide what to read. It’s a mistake to believe that headlines don’t matter when you have great content. If your headline doesn’t grab a readers interest, they will move on.

Your headline is the bait to get people to start reading your article. Your first paragraph is the hook that helps them decide whether to read the whole piece. After that, you keep visitors reading with quality content. None of that happens if your headline sucks.

Take this article for example. The title makes it clear the topic is writing headlines. Most writers know how to write a headline. Why should they care about improving? The first paragraph argues that poorly thought out headlines lose readers. How can you improve your headlines?

What Makes Your Article Special?

You need to connect with your readers. Write headlines for your target audience, not for mass appeal.

Let’s say you’ve written an article about how to create garden gnomes using a chainsaw and chisel. “Garden Gnomes” is a headline that would come up in more search results than “How to Craft Garden Gnomes”. That larger group of searchers may want to buy garden gnomes, see pictures of them, or learn their history. If they are interested in anything about garden gnomes except how to make them, they will abandon your article after the first paragraph. The second title comes up just for people who want to make garden gnomes.

Since garden gnomes can be made out of other materials, you can be more specific. “How to Carve Garden Gnomes”, “Eight ShortcutsWoodcrafters Use to Create Interesting Garden Gnomes” or “Party in the Garden: Chainsaws, Chisels and Gnomes” clarify the article’s content.

A more specific headline causes your article to appear in fewer search results, but you’re only eliminating people who wouldn’t read it anyway.

What’s A Good Headline Length?

If you can, write your headline in eight words or less. Short headlines are slightly more effective. Slightly. Go for writing a quality headline first. If it comes down to choosing between two equally appealing headlines, use the shorter one. To create a variety of headlines, a few examples are in order.

15 Types of Headlines

1. How to do something faster, better, easier or more enjoyably.

“How to Craft a Wooden Garden Gnome in Under Two Hours”

“How to Organize Your Closet Fast”

“How to Give Your Car a Tune Up in Six Easy Steps”

2. The secrets of something. This should be insider knowledge. Make sure you’ve researched enough to make yourself an expert on the article topic.

“Secrets of Celebrity Garden Gnome Woodcrafters”

“The Secret to Losing Weight Daily Without Special Diets”

“The Secret Method of Day Trading Without Losing Your House”

3. Who else wants something? Implies that many people have already opted in, so that had better be true.

“Who Else Wants to Make Money Writing for Associated Content?”
“Who Else Wants to Cure Their Winter Blues Without Medication?”

“Who Else Wants to Improve Their Public Speaking Skills?”

4. Promote the benefits of something. This should be the main benefit. Work it out. Even if they don’t read the article, they’ve seen your promotion now. Multiple benefits in the title work even better provided they exist. Save the list of features for later in the article.

“Six Ways to Keep Your Car From Stalling in the Winter”

“Look Good in Last Year’s Swimsuit”

“Read Faster and Retain More Information”

5. Offer a problem and its solution.

“Your Sore Back Can Be Banished With the Right Mattress”

“Five Ways to End Your Nail Biting Habit”

“How to Find That Mysterious Engine Noise Before Seeing a Mechanic”

6. Guarantee something.

“How to Gaurantee Weight Loss By Getting Lost in the Woods”

“Public Speaking Course Gaurantees Your Success”

“Three Gauranteed Ways to Appear More Attractive”

7. News about a product. This looks like a news story instead of an ad. It doesn’t need to be a new product, just news to your readers.

“Scientists Discover Formula That Eliminates Rust Stains”

“Burpy Burgers Expands Into Canada”

“New Car Sets Mileage Record”

8. Get this benefit fast, even if something stands in your way. This is another problem solving headline. This time it’s for people who think they can’t solve the problem.

“You Can Balance Your Budget Today Even If You Hate Math”

“Get a Bank Loan Even If You Have Bad Credit”

“Find the Woman of Your Dreams Even If You Look Like a Dog”

9. Visualize this. Use a headline that puts a picture in the reader’s mind.

“Imagine Taking Your Vacation Further Away For Less Money”

“Turn Your Kitchen Into a Showcase”

“Your Garden Can Be Beautiful All Summer”

10. X ways to achieve something. Promise to deliver a certain number of ideas or solutions. This is an old type of headline that has always worked.

“Ten Ways to Reduce Anxiety”

“Four Chords You Need to Play Any Johnny Cash Song”

“Eight Common Small Business Mistakes”

11. If something, then something else.

“If You Get Everyone Else’s Busy Work, You Need to Know This Trick”

“If You Can’t Stop Eating, Exercise Can Help”

“If You’re Over 60, You May Be Missing These Savings”

12. A question. Also headlines that start with who, what, where, when, why or how but are a declaration.

“When Should You Launch Your New Book?”

“How Can You Find the Best Hotels?”

“Why You Should Research That Vacation Package”

13. A command.

“Stop Reading Boring Books”

“Eat Healthier On A Budget”

“Burn Calories While You Sleep”

14. Direct headlines. Get straight to the point.

“New Travel Website”

“Free Web Design Book”

“How To Start A Band”

15. Combinations of the other headlines. I’ve done this in some of the examples. Here are a few more.

“Eight Guaranteed Ways to Reduce Your Headaches”

“Where There’s Chicken, There’s A Secret Recipe”

“Who Else Wants to Stop Telemarketers From Calling?”

Which Type of Headline is Most Effective?

The most effective headline will be affected by the type of article, the audience and how much each type has been used lately. There is no one magic formula. As you do your research, notice which titles work for you and imitate a few. Then pick the best.

The most effective word you can put in a headline is YOU. This makes your readers feel like you are talking directly to them. Which do you find speaks to you better? “Turn A Kitchen Into A Showcase” or “Turn Your Kitchen Into A Showcase”?

Deliver on the Headline’s Promise

There is no point in crafting a great headline if you can’t deliver. If everyone can’t realize the benefit, put Most or Almost Everyone in the headline. When there are specific requirements, make them clear. By the time readers finish your article, they should be satisfied they got what you promised.

Article by Ivan Izo.

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One thought on “Write Winning Headlines

  1. Walter February 3, 2011 / 2:33 am

    Hey, this is very very useful for me. I will keep this as a reference whenever I write my next post. 🙂

    Like

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