If you’re using blogging and content marketing to engage your audience, you know just how much time and energy it takes to cook up a seriously delicious piece of content—and get it to stand out online.
Would you be surprised to learn that while 8 out of 10 people will read an article’s headline, only 2 out of 10 people will read the article? It’s as horrifying as it is true. That means that if you’re investing 8 hours into crafting a magnificent blog article, driving traffic to it, and sharing it across the web—it’s only being read by 20% of the people that know it exists in the first place. Not cool.
Rather than letting your blood, sweat, and carefully polished prose go to waste, the best thing you can to squeeze value from your blog is to invest a little brain power into crafting a headline that will hook your audience and make it absolutely impossible for people to click away.
You may be familiar with Upworthy, a high-traffic online publisher that publishes a wealth of infotainment style content each day. When it comes to writing headlines with high returns, Upworthy is almost unmatched. Why? Because they insist that their editors write at least 25 different headlines for each post they publish. Then, the top headlines are tested out across the platform’s Facebook page and website to identify which one elicits the maximum reaction. It’s like the heavy-weight class of headline writers and the popularity of their platform is proof that this stuff truly works.
What they’ve found is that the headline is one of the single strongest levers to pull people into their site. In fact, UpWorthy discovered that by split testing headlines, they “Can see 20% difference, 50% difference, 500% difference,” according to co-founder Peter Koechley. “A really excellent headline can make something go viral.”
Ready to level-up your headlines and put Upworthy’s findings to use for your small business? Let’s do it!
Here are 11 tips for writing click-worthy headlines.
1 – Choose Words that Evoke Powerful Emotions
The Advanced Marketing Institute has a free tool called the Emotional Marketing Value (EMV) Headline Analyzer. EMV words are words that tend to evoke emotion in people and 20% of the words in the English language are considered to be EMV words.
To use this tool, simply copy and paste your headline into it and it will tell you the headline’s EMV score.
According to the tool, most professional copywriters use 30-40% EMV words and the best copywriters will write headlines with 50-75% EMV words.
CoSchedule did a study on headline effectiveness to confirm if a high EMV score correlated to the popularity of an article. They found that articles with a high number of social shares (more than 1,000) had higher EMV scores than articles that didn’t get shared as much.
The takeaway? Emotion moves people. It engages them. It compels action.
2 – Practice Headline Writing with Every Article
Creativity is a muscle. It requires practice and if you hope to grow your creative muscle, you need to stretch yourself beyond your comfort zone.
That means following in the footsteps of the Upwrothy editors and writing multiple headlines for every article you hope to publish. By pushing yourself to construct different approaches and concepts, you’ll uncover new and better opportunities to entice your audience.
To get started, try writing at least 5 different headlines for each article you write and then selecting the best one.
Upworthy experienced rapid growth through viral social sharing of their content. In a presentation entitled “The Sweet Science of Virality” they revealed that part of their editorial process requires their writers to write at least 25 different headlines for each article.
Writing a lot of headlines forces your brain to work and stimulates the creative areas of your mind.
Your brain has a reticular activating system (RAS) that determines what stimuli and ideas your mind is consciously aware of. When you are working on an article and you decide to make it a goal to write 25 headlines, your mind will start looking for headline ideas, even during the hours when you aren’t working on your article.
Sure, you may not have time to write 25 different headlines for each article you write, but try to get into the habit of writing at least 5 different headlines. You will become a better headline writer over time and most likely come up with a headline that performs better than your original.
3 – Dial in the Digits: Headlines with Numbers Work Better
The conductor ran a study on headlines to find out what type of headlines performed the best. They found that the most popular type of headlines were headlines with numbers in them.
In fact, 2 of the top 3 characteristics of a powerful headline are included in the title of this article, can you spot them? Take another look: 11 Powerful Tactics to Help You Write Click-Worthy Headlines.
But, why do people like numbers so much?
Numbers can make an article more specific and give the reader clear expectations of what to expect inside the article.
Furthermore, a study conducted by Outbrain and Hubspot found that headlines with odd numbers got 20% more clicks than headlines with even numbers. So if you are writing a list post, create a list with an odd number of items if possible.
So what do you do if you write a list post with an even number of items? Here are a few suggestions…
- Add another item or remove the least important item from your list.
- Present the last item as a bonus item or pro tip instead of a numbered part of your list.
- Write the headline using an odd number. For example, instead of “26 Tip for New Bloggers”, you can write something like “25+ Tips for New Bloggers”.
4 – Adding Parentheses or Brackets Can Increase Click Rates
Another trick for writing headlines that people will click is to use parentheses or brackets within the headline. Copywriters often use this tactic when writing headlines, so if you’ve gotten long-form direct mail sales letters, then you’ve probably seen this tactic used.
Furthermore, a study by Outbrain and Hubspot showed that titles that contained brackets got 38% more clicks than titles without them.
So how do you use parentheses or brackets in your headlines? Here are a few ideas…
Mention a bonus
Mentioning a free bonus might entice some people to click on your headline, especially if your bonus seems valuable to them. Here’s an example headline:
Original Title: 7 Steps for Writing Viral Content
Updated Title: 7 Steps for Writing Viral Content (Free Checklist)
Another way to use parentheses is to add some credibility to your headline.
Original Title: How I Started My E-commerce Business
Updated Title: How I Started My E-commerce Business (And Generated Over $100k in One Year)
Upworthy and Buzzfeed became famous for creating headlines that got people curious. Curiosity is another tactic you can consider to get people to click, as long as your article provides a satisfying experience for your reader.
Original Title: 11 Amazing Facts About Zebras
Updated Title: 11 Amazing Facts About Zebras (#5 Will Shock You)
5 – Include Dashes and Colons—They Get Clicks!
Like brackets and parentheses, em dashes and colons can also improve click-through rates for headlines. A study by Outbrain published on Hubspot found that headlines with hyphens generated 9% more clicks.
Here are a few ways to use them when writing headlines.
Short keyword phrase followed by article title
One simple way to write article headlines is to use a keyword phrase followed by the article title. This approach could be good if you are targeting certain keywords for SEO purposes
SEO Myths: 5 Common Misconceptions about SEO
Writers can use a short lead-in phrase to make titles more interesting.
Breaking News: Tiger Escapes from Zoo
Adding in a qualifier
You can also add a short phrase at the end of the article title. In the example below, the additional words at the end of the title imply that the article will contain full details of the story.
How My Bank Account Got Hijacked—The Full Story
Using em dashes and colons allows you to add a little more information to your headline and make it a little more interesting to potential readers.
6 – Use Split Testing to Improve Your Headline Writing
When writing article headlines, use split testing to determine which headline will perform the best. Most email service providers (ESPs), like Mailchimp, allow you to test headlines by sending different versions of your headline to segments of your list to see which headline gets more clicks.
Serious WordPress bloggers can also install plugins like Kingsumo Headlines and Thrive Headline Optimizer that allows them to test different headlines for each article.
The people that are following your blog might respond to different headlines that other people, so testing headlines is a good way for you to get to know your audience and improve your own headline writing skills.
7 – Can You Write a Simple Question Like This One?
Another headline tactic you might want to consider is asking a question in a headline. According to a study published in the Social Influence Journal, question headlines on Twitter got 50-350% more clicks than ordinary headlines.
Here’s an example:
Original headline: 7 common blogging mistakes
Question headline: Are you making one of these 7 blogging mistakes?
The reason why question headlines work is that the reader might become curious and want to know that answer to the question. If you’ve written a good headline for your article, you may be able to write it as a question that gets your readers curious.
8 – Create a “Curiosity Gap”
One concept to create amazing headlines is to create a “curiosity gap.” This idea was popularized by entertainment blogs like Upworthy and Buzzfeed.
Curiosity gaps are a powerful copywriting technique that leaves out a little info, which encourages readers to become curious and click. Copyhackers used this technique to increase clicks on Mad Mimi’s sales page by 927%.
Here’s an example:
How I Launched a 6-figure E-commerce Business
Curiosity gaps should be used carefully and you should avoid writing titles that are pure “click-bait.” Readers should feel like the article they read satisfied their curiosity or else you could lose the trust of your audience.
9 – Consider Using a Negative Headline
When writing headlines, consider using a negative headline.
Here is an example of a headline rewritten as both a negative and a positive headline.
Regular headline: 5 Tactics that Marketers Use to do SEO
Positive headline: 5 Powerful Tricks that Marketers Can Use to Boost SEO Traffic
Negative headline: 5 Common Mistakes that Cause Marketers to Fail at SEO
Outbrain did a study of 65,000 headlines and discovered that negative headlines got 30% more clicks than regular headlines. Another interesting finding was that positive headlines got 29% fewer clicks.
So why do negative headlines perform better than positive ones?
Most likely, the reason is due to writers overusing positive headlines and certain keywords, like “free” and “best.” Also, negative headlines can work really well as many people are more focused on avoiding negative experiences rather than pursuing positive outcomes.
Positive headlines can still work really well, particularly if they are believable and contain real numbers. However, negative headlines are definitely worth testing out as they seem to perform better on average.
10 – Rewrite Your Article Sub Headlines at Least Once (Even the Conclusion)
If you want to master headline writing even faster and upgrade the quality of your article at the same time, then try rewriting the sub-headlines within your article at least once. Most bloggers spend a little time trying to write a good headline but don’t spend any time at all on the subheadings.
The subheadings are really important too because most readers will scan your article before they decide to read the whole thing. Writing interesting subheadings can convince readers to stick around and read the entire article.
You should also consider writing a unique subheading for the concluding paragraph. A lot of writers use phrases like “To Wrap It Up” or “Conclusion”, but with a little thought, you can think of a more interesting and unique subheading for your final paragraphs.
11 – Focus on Clarity
With so much content out there, busy people really value clarity in headlines so that they know exactly what they’ll get if they click on a link. Writers often try to be creative to write headlines that stand out or have shock value, but sometimes the best approach is to just be straightforward when writing headlines.
Conductor performed a study on headlines and discovered that headlines that are clear and specific tend to get more clicks on average.
Movexa is a supplement company and they were able to increase sales by 89.97% for one of their products by simply adding one word to increase clarity. Their original product title was “Natural Joint Relief” and they changed it to “Natural Joint Relief Supplement”, which nearly doubled their sales.
If you’re not sure what type of headline to use, being direct, specific, and concise might be a good default approach to take when writing headlines.
Commit to Mastering Headline Writing
Headline writing is a skill that takes time to master and it’s an important task to spend time on to maximize the number of people who will read your content. Commit to practicing it by writing multiple headlines and even sub-headers for every article that you write.
Despite the studies cited in this article, remember that there isn’t a perfect formula for writing headlines every time. Feel free to get creative and test your results to see what works.
About the author
Founder of Small Business Ideas Blog + Web Developers Etc
Brian Liang is the founder of Small Business Ideas Blog and Web Developers Etc, which offers website, hosting, and design services.