Headlines are the most important things you’ll ever write. No one will read your content if you don’t lead with a compelling hook.
A really great headline has the power to keep readers on the page and directly impact a company’s bottom-line. That’s a lot of pressure for just a few words, but your readers—and your work—deserve it.
Always think about what your reader needs and where they’re located in the customer journey—and try to meet them there. Don’t force a headline on your reader.
With that in mind, here are five tips for writing headlines that convert.
1. Make the Value Clear
“Clarity before cleverness” is a phrase I repeat ad nauseam. I’m sure my team is sick of hearing it.
It’s fun to write a clever phrase, but if your clever wording hinders meaning, it’s time to revise. If your readers can’t understand your headline at first glance, they’ll leave. They won’t stick around and try to decode it.
It’s fun to write a clever phrase, but if your clever wording hinders meaning, it’s time to revise. If your readers can’t understand your headline at first glance, they’ll leave. They won’t stick around and try to decode it
Your value proposition needs to be clear, and you should anticipate the counter-arguments your readers may have. If nothing else, your headline should be a neon sign to the reader that says, “Hey! You’ve come to the right place. Stay here and read on.”
On the surface, writing clearly sounds easy, but it’s deceptively difficult. Often you need a second pair of eyes on your work to tell you if you’ve missed the mark on clarity. Don’t be afraid to bounce some ideas off your coworkers to see what they think.
Tip #1 in Action
The main headline on CV Maker’s homepage includes a clear, straightforward value proposition: “Create beautiful, professional resumes in minutes, free.”
Although this headline isn’t funny or catchy, it tells the reader exactly what they can expect from the site, addresses several potential counter-arguments, and quickly communicates what the reader will gain. If you were signing up for a service to create a resume, you might ask yourself, “Will this look good?” and “How much time will this take?” and “How much is this going to cost?” This headline clearly addresses all these counter-arguments in just seven words.
2. Use Numbers
Ranked lists abound in online content, and there’s a reason for that. Studies show that using numbers in your headline can help grab attention and get users to read on. Educational and psychological studies have even found that our brains respond better to odd-numbered lists, especially ones with three or five items.
Look for ways to work in a list, an interesting percentage point, or an otherwise helpful number in your headline. That doesn’t mean you should write an over-the-top headline just to include an impressive number. In fact, studies suggest that readers respond better to fewer superlatives, less hyperbolic language, and more specifics. If you can limit yourself to one superlative and one compelling number, you’re in a good spot.
Try to use numbers to create a concrete promise, and then deliver on that promise in your article.
Tip #2 in Action
Generally, titles that promise to share the “top” or “best” of something perform well. People often search for “best” products and like to see ranked reviews that quantify quality in an easy-to-scan way.
A blog post from A Secure Life showcases this point with the title “Top 5 Best Baby Carriers: Support and Security When Carrying Your Child.”
This simple title is especially impactful because it includes both “top” and “best” and has an odd number in it. Never underestimate the power of an easy-to-understand title with a number showcased in a compelling way.
3. Tailor to Your Audience
In your headline, you should tell the reader exactly what they will get from reading on, and then deliver on it in your article. Hopefully before you’re in the writing stage, you have your audience and purpose defined, so you know the context you’re working within.
If you know your audience, then you can use specific words that will resonate and make an emotional impact. For example, you can use illustrative adjectives, such as fun, free, incredible, absolute, strange, or true. The right adjective can create an emotional hook and invoke curiosity or urgency with just one word.
Try to narrow your value propositions and speak to a specific group. You may worry about leaving people out of your defined audience, but if your message really resonates with a distinct group, your headline will be successful.
Tip #3 in Action
Search Engine Land speaks to a specific audience with the blog post title “How a Single Guest Post May Have Gotten an Entire Site Penalized by Google.”
As an internet marketer, I can say this title gets me. When I read it, I’m immediately hit with a “loss aversion” trigger. I’m worried that I might be doing something that would get a site penalized by Google, and I want to avoid that at all costs. I’m going to read this article based on the headline.
Now, this isn’t a compelling title for lots of other people. If you’re not an internet marketer, this title probably seems boring or confusing. But for Search Engine Land’s audience, it has nailed a very specific value and emotional appeal.
4. Use Active Verbs
Headlines with clear, dynamic, active verbs stand out. Avoid passive voice by using verbs that add specificity and connect with your audience. Active voice personalizes your headline, while passive voice creates wordiness and further removes the audience from the action.
You can easily avoid passive voice by identifying “to be” verbs and revising the phrase so you don’t need them. It’s an easy trick. For example, you may start with a headline that reads “Why Passive Voice Should Be Avoided.” Your revised, active version of that headline could read, “Why You Should Avoid Passive Voice.” In the revised version, the noun or the person performing action is clear and you no longer need the “be” verb.
Focus on putting descriptive verbs in your headlines, and remember that a single, powerful word can make your headline extraordinarily successful.
Tip #4 in Action
Airbnb’s mission statement is “to make people around the world feel like they could ‘belong anywhere.’” The company distills the essence of its mission statement throughout its marketing materials with the headline “Book unique homes and experience a city like a local.”
Not only does this headline encompass the company’s mission, but it also incorporates compelling verbs in a concise sentence. It’s an imperative direction to the audience that describes the precise action it wants the reader to take: book a home with Airbnb. Then the verb “experience” encompasses the brand’s second value proposition: you’re not just booking a home—you’re creating a unique experience.
Purposeful verbs can resonate with your audience and make a big difference in how they feel and what they do.
5. Use “You”
Numerous studies show that headlines that include “you” perform best. In fact, BuzzSumo analyzed one million headlines and found that headlines containing the phrase “will make you” earned the most Facebook engagements.
Try using imperative sentences or working “you” or “your” into your headlines. As an added bonus, doing so can help you avoid passive voice.
Tip #5 in Action
Some of my all-time favorite blog headlines come from The Muse. The company’s blog gives readers career advice, from interview tips to productivity hacks, and the headlines are so successful due in part to their narrow audience and purpose. For example, one headline reads, “3 Reasons You Didn’t Get the Job, But Were Oh-So-Close.”
The audience for this blog post couldn’t be clearer: someone who recently interviewed for a job but didn’t get it. This headline puts a positive spin on a negative experience and promises that if the reader can just fix three things they did wrong, they’ll nail the next job interview. It’s a personal headline, and the reader can’t help but be drawn in.
This headline knocks it out of the park. It follows all the tips discussed above: it has a clear value proposition, it includes an odd number, it’s specific, it has descriptive verbs, and it has “you” in it.
The above five tips have points of overlap, and they can harmoniously work together to create the best headlines you’ve ever written. Next time you’re writing a piece, try brainstorming a bunch of headlines that hit on the tips discussed. I guarantee you’ll see results.