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7 Tips for Writing Great Headlines (Without Resorting to Clickbait)

By: Compose.ly — September 28, 2018

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This article was written by Compose.ly writer Heather Farrington.

The number one enemy of web content – other than misinformation – is boredom! A small percentage of people who see your headline will choose to read your content.

Want to increase the number of eyes digesting your hard work? Read our tips to learn how to write a headline worthy of your article that people will want to click.

1. Grab Attention with Vivid, Action-Oriented Language

Select words that paint a picture in the mind of your reader. If you must address a concept, use concrete imagery to make your content engaging. Beige and navy-blue language will guarantee that your article is quickly passed over. Think back to elementary school and how you were pressed to use action verbs and descriptive sentences full of colorful adjectives and adverbs. Reconnect with your inner child to make your headlines exciting and interesting.

Once you have someone’s attention, what do you want them to do? Readers are far too busy to play guessing games with web content. When they read a title, they want to be intrigued and know why they should continue. What will they get out of reading your article? A perfect title assures your readers that your content won’t waste their time.

Writers who know how to write a headline use call-to-action verbs to communicate purpose and provide direction for readers. Use words that identify the benefit your article offers, such as:

  • Learn
  • Discover
  • Win
  • Create
  • Find out
  • Save
  • Sign up
  • Download (free)

When you’ve piqued a reader’s interest and clearly told them why they should read your article, then you’re well on your way to writing a good headline.

2. Ask a Question to Spark Curiosity

sparking sprinkler

People like answers. When there’s a question, they want to know the response, especially if you’re asking a question that they’ve previously asked themselves. Consider your target audience and the topics or issues they want to know more about, then pose the question.

The headline for this article could’ve been, “Do You Want to Write a Great Headline without Resorting to Clickbait?” Experts call this technique a “yes question,” because the writer expects a “yes” answer from the target audience. The reader connects with the question and is compelled to consume the promised information. It’s not a trick: a good headline tells readers you have information they want, and they respond positively.

Never underestimate the power of an intriguing question, one designed to stir the imagination and find out more. Consider this example: “Tangled up with Incompetent Freelance Writers? Here’s How to Avoid That.” Note the descriptive language and imagery; “tangled” is an evocative word. This headline also uses the yes-question technique, but the brief follow-up sentence is the call-to-action that revs a reader’s curiosity. Here is the answer to your vexing problem: click this headline to read it!

3. Make a Promise (And Keep It)

In your headline, promise to solve a problem. How often do people use the internet as a resource to overcome a challenge? Very often! Craft the perfect title to help your target audience find the useful answers you’ve supplied them. For instance, imagine you’re in desperate need of a freelance writer for various projects, and you don’t know where to begin looking. Then you read this headline: How to Hire a Great Freelance Writer: Everything You Need to Know. You’re clicking that link, right? If the article contains useful and relevant content, then the writer kept the promise made in the title. Problem solved!

Even when readers aren’t looking to solve a specific problem, they’re almost always looking for digestible information. The perfect title tells readers that your content will educate them. Who doesn’t love a good “How to” article? Or “Expert Tips for …”

Today’s busy individuals want quick and concise information that will practically impact their lives. They want to know how to accomplish a specific task expediently or be able to follow a bullet-point list of tips for tackling their latest project.

When it comes to both your headline and your content, think streamlined. Think reader-friendly. Think simple – not for the purposes of “dumbing it down” but for efficiency.

We live in a world where professional companies pay top dollar for efficiency experts to revamp their operations. These days, one of our most valuable assets is time. If you want to provide the perfect title, let readers know you’ve streamlined the information for them.

4. Write Stimulating Titles While Avoiding Clickbait Clichés

Sensationalized headlines that attract attention but offer disappointing content will quickly give your blog a bad reputation. It’s not all about attracting eyes to your headline. You must live up to your promises and deliver the advertised information. Let your creative juices flow and use engaging language in your headline but be sure you’re providing the corresponding content.

You don’t want to swing too far in the other direction either. If you truly have sensational information to share with the world, don’t undersell it, or downplay for fear of being labeled as clickbait. Do you have a highly valuable but little-known tip to share with your target audience? Proudly advertise it with a justifiably sensational headline – and deliver on your promise.

Today’s discerning digital readers have grown weary of clickbait. They’ve developed an incredible ability to spot its formulaic clichés and dismiss them. If you want to distinguish your stimulating headline from the clickbait crowd, avoid titles using overused phrases like the following:

• this is the • will make you • when you see • til you see • what happens when
• wait til you • here are the • you see what • you need to • this is what
• that will make • what this guy • what happened to • like a normal • in the world
• what he did • looks like a • I’ve ever seen • how to make • blow your mind

If you just want a few clicks, those phrases will help you achieve that goal. If your goal is to write a stimulating title matched with quality content, then you’ll want to leave these clickbait clichés behind.

5. Use Numbers Wisely

abacus closeup

Studies show that numbers draw a reader’s attention. If you’re writing a list post (also known as a listicle), number the points and include the total in your headline as a digit. Not only do numbers draw attention, but they also promise the reader an efficient, orderly experience that’s easily digestible. They might not have time to read a thesis on the topic, but they can surely process 7 tips within the next available ten minutes. Let your readers know what to expect from your article and don’t leave them guessing – or they’ll scroll right past your headline!

Use numbers wisely but don’t get stuck on them. Add the number to your headline once you’ve completed the article and have written the appropriate number of points to get your message across.

Is there an optimal number for a headline? Yes and no. Many researchers agree that for short lists (under 10), odd numbers attract more attention, because they’re … odd. Some studies suggest that people don’t trust even numbers as much, because they seem too neat and contrived. Whatever the cause, odd numbered lists appear to get more traffic and “pop” in the headline, as in the following examples:

But don’t count even numbers out just yet! After number nine, studies recommend lists ending in 0 or 5. Our brains seem to process larger numbers more effectively when they end with these specific digits. Those who know how to write a headline will often use the numbers 10, 15, or 25 for longer lists:

Use numbers wisely but don’t get stuck on them. Add the number to your headline once you’ve completed the article and have written the appropriate number of points to get your message across succinctly. Opinions vary, but it makes sense not to write the article based upon a predetermined number for the headline. You never want to sacrifice quality material for a catchy header. Instead, aim for the perfect title and valuable content. No compromises!

6. Incorporate SEO Keywords Naturally

The perfect title and outstanding content offer little value if no one finds your article. SEO keywords are a digital writer’s greatest ally and should never take a backseat when crafting your good headline. Let’s not forget what the term SEO means – search engine optimization.

What words are people using when they’re searching for information contained in your article? Never assume. A wrong assumption could easily leave your article on the side of the road. What should you do?

Start With a Google Search

Googling is the simplest way to choose focus keywords for your headline. In 2017, Google removed their “instant predictions” options from their settings menu. Now the autocomplete function is always on and shows popular search queries when you begin to type search words. Type your topic into google search and watch how it autocompletes, suggesting real search queries on your topic.

Imagine that you’ve been learning how to write a good headline and have decided to compose an article about employing freelance writers. You want to know the best keywords to use in the headline and text. Start by typing “freelance writer” into Google search. You’ll see results that include “freelance writer jobs”, which isn’t what you want. You then type “hire freelance writer” or even “writers” (plural) and see more suitable options. The first box below your cursor simply mirrors your search box, so you’ll want to look below that for the list of actual searches people use.

Notice that as you type in “hire freelance writers,” Google adds words to the beginning (or end) of your phrase to show additional search possibilities for your topic, like “hire freelance writers online.  It’s best to look for a phrase with three words or more, because the more specific your keywords and title, the less competition you’ll have in search results. Once you find your best option, build your headline around that keyword phrase. The biggest drawback to using Google search for keyword purposes is that you’re limited to five results.

Use Keyword Research Tools

If you want more options or more specific keyword phrases, it’s worthwhile to consider using a keyword research tool. These tools take the guesswork out of your keyword planning and help you craft the perfect title with confidence. Keyword research tools are the secret weapon for those who know how to write a headline.

Choose from free or premium services. Some tools offer completely free versions or have limited-time free trials. Premium versions typically cost about $30-100 monthly (sometimes more). If you’re a very prolific writer or content marketer, it’s you’d likely benefit from using a premium service.

Craft Crisp Headlines Around Keywords

Natural keyword integration is a key component in learning how to write a headline that’s SEO-friendly. Choose your keyword or phrase first and then build creative, relevant language around it.

Big Tip
Remember to keep it short. Opinions vary, but many internet marketing experts recommend headlines with no more than 6-10 words. If it takes over ten words to explain the primary purpose of your article, then readers will likely pass over your headline in search of more expedient information.

7. Talk to Your Target Audience

As you learn how to write headlines that grab attention, fulfill promises, and pop on search engines, remember to define your target audience and speak their language. Grab their attention and connect with them.

Many different websites likely distribute the same information you do. You want your readers to regard your site as a familiar resource, and choose it because because they feel connected to it and they trust you. When they see your site pop up in a search, they should feel drawn to it based on their previous experience. Connect with them in the title and throughout your article.

Use subject-specific terms familiar to your readers when you craft your title. Many times, these will match your keywords. For instance, the headline for this article contains the term “clickbait,” which is a searchable keyword and a term familiar to digital writers.

Familiarity draws attention, because it makes people feel comfortable. When you choose words specifically related to your topic, it lets your reader know that you share a common interest. They’ll want to know what you else you have to say about it.

Use your title and content to show your target audience that you’re a well-informed resource. What builds your credibility? Other than delivering on promises made in the headline, the most important trust-building factor is a relevant topic. If you want to show that you’re plugged-in to the latest information, then choose a specific subject your educated readers want to know more about.

If It Seems Too Difficult, Consider Outsourcing

What if you’re just not that excited about writing great headlines for your business’s blog? What if your new and growing business requires more content than you can manage?

You want quality, SEO-friendly content but aren’t sure who you can trust to handle it. We can help. Find out how Compose.ly connects clients with writers who exhibit the creativity and technical expertise your business needs.

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