Get Their Attention: How to Write a Killer Headline

Business.com / Marketing Strategy / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Think of your headline as a two-second advertisement. These 5 tips will help you get the readers attention—and make them want to read on.

When it comes to writing, there are countless components—and, of course, they’re all important. You’ve got the basics, like including a call to action, and some of the intricacies, such as testing to determine the perfect format that resonates best with your audience. But few components have more visibility and influence than your headline.

Think of your headline as a two-second advertisement; it has to inform and hook someone to read the rest of your content. No small feat. According to Daren, one of the biggest reasons why a company's sales copy is not selling anything is because of bad headlines.

So how do you write a headline that attracts readers—and gets them past your intro paragraph? Here are five surefire tips to help new Web marketers rise to the challenge.  

Related Article: 9 Monstrous Copywriting Mistakes, care of Halloween's Michael Myers

Tip 1: Make Your Headline a “How To”

So much of what people search for online falls into the “how to” category. In the business world, you’ll find how to’s for using various technologies, tracking metrics, etc. Personally, it might be a how-to DIY piece or child-rearing advice. By making your article a how to, you automatically gain appeal with a large group of potential readers.

It sounds a bit oversimplified, but I wouldn’t be entirely surprised to see “How to pour plain water into your glass in 49 ways” go viral one day. Somehow, step-by-step instructions—and clear direction—just make nearly any topic more appealing and digestible.

Perfect example: You’re now reading the body of the article. Would you still have read this far had the title been “Headline writing tips for new marketers?” Maybe—but it likely wouldn’t have had quite the same appeal.

This recent "how-to" article at WebHostingSecretRevealed.net got more than 3,000 likes on Facebook (see it live here).

Tip 2: Focus Your Headline on Current Content

Relevancy will always be important in drawing interest—and what’s more relevant than your topic tied to a trending topic?

For example, you’re writing a piece about document security. What’s more appealing: a headline that is straight to the topic (ie; “Keep your documents safer”) or one that ties to a current event (ie; 3 things we learned about document safety from Hilary Clinton)?

Social media metrics have proven time and time again that trending content simply gets a higher CTR because of a tie to current topics; those are the topics people are currently concerned with. The same goes to headlines; by tying your headline to a trending topic, you automatically increase your odds of being read. Of course, currency and timeliness never hurt for SEO purposes, either—call it a double win.

Need some help finding what’s trending? Use Google Trends to get an idea of where to start.

Note that this article has nothing to do with the recent iPhone 6s launch and yet the page is ranking well on some iPhone 6s related searches and drawing some readers' attention (see it live here).

Tip 3: Instantly, Immediately, Now!

We are a society that thrives on instant gratification—and even then, we typically want things yesterday. If I’m buying something, I want it in-hand now—it’s one of the reasons that brick and mortar stores are still doing well, despite the frequent savings available via online retailers.

Point being, the more instantaneously you can deliver to your prospects, the more you’ll sell (and the more you make them wait, the less you’ll sell). So the tip to make your headline a bigger success? Align your headlines with your product delivery cycle.

Sure, you can tease something upcoming, but unless there’s proximity, you’re likely not going to get too much traction.

For example, “New X comes to market Tuesday” or “Countdown to Product X’s Release Begins” or “Presale for X Starts Today” not only deliver intrigue, but let your prospects know what to expect and when. By letting them know what’s coming, customers are able to better prepare or, more importantly, take action.

This "instant fix" article draws more than 100 comments at Writetodone.com (see it live here).

Tip 4: LOL, OMG. WTF?! #Fail

BuzzFeed is notorious with today’s online entertainment—and thanks to its popularity, the list mogul has been able to provide some insight into what makes some of its content so successful. The secret is that the majority of its content fits into seven categories:

  1. LOL (humorous content)
  2. Win (useful content)
  3. OMG (shocking content)
  4. Cute (well... cute content – think kittens and baby animals)
  5. Trashy (ridiculous failure of others)
  6. Fail (something that everyone shared frustrations of)
  7. WTF (strange, bizarre content)
One of the recent top stories at Medium - I'm sure the title gives many readers a "WTF" moment. (see it live here).

So what does this mean for your headlines? Simply consider which of the above seven success-proven categories your content would fit into – then write the headline to fit. This isn’t to say that it needs to have a “shock and awe” factor by any means, but writing to the seven categories does help to give interest and audience appeal.

Take, for example, this LOL: “18 Unmissable Throwback Songs You Hear at Every Latino Party," it’s got mass appeal and it’s funny because it’s half-way true. No idea why it’s so appealing but it is.

Or “Here’s How to Free Up Space in Your iCloud," it’s a “Win” that also makes use of Tip #1. Get more lessons from Buzzfeed’s success.

Related Article: Hey Small Business Owner, Does this Headline Grab Your Attention?

Tip 5: Ride on the Famous

You know why the famous stay in the headlines? Because they have proven themselves.

Ok, maybe not in the case of the Kardashians (although I suppose you could call them experts in their own rights if bad decisions and viral videos are the topic at hand), but think of the Bernie Madoffs, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerbergs of the world.

One way to get more reads? Write those leaders into your headlines in relevant ways.

For example, “8 Ways to Think Like Warren Buffett” or “Make Your New Website a Success: 3 Things we Learned From Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook” tie content to a relevant industry leader in a way that is not misleading. Being upfront is important for multiple reasons—legality, for one, but also it is important to building the rapport with your audience that you need to gain loyalty.

Salescopy sample at The Motley Fool (see it live here).

Wrapping Up

There are plenty of ways to drive more success through your headlines, but the above five are sure to draw intrigue, make your headlines more noteworthy, and—importantly, draw readers in (and keep them reading beyond your first paragraph). Give them a try and watch your stats rise.

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