How to Write a Headline That Hooks Readers in 15 Ways
Knowing how to write a headline can be the difference between your neighbor reading your piece and thousands sharing it. Considered an invaluable skill by many, from journalists and copywriters to those starting a blog, coming up with a successful title takes time and hard work.
Yet, with practice, you’ll be able to create headers that encourage your readers to click. Take a look at our compilation of best tips for writing catchy titles to learn the most successful ways to draw attention to your piece. To inspire you, we've also included examples of our favorite ones.
How to write a catchy headline
01. Benefit from a title generator
It’s always good practice to reference a proven template or method when dealing with one of the most prominent features of your article. Using a title generator provides you with effective ideas for creating your headline within seconds. This professional tool gives you multiple possibilities from the specific words or phrases you type into the generator, thus streamlining the brainstorming process. You can then select from the suggested titles or use them for inspiration.
In order to reach a decision on your headline, think about what you want to accomplish with it. Maybe you need a header that can build up credibility for your claim. In that case, you’ll want to attribute to a source or use numerical data to back it up. Or say you want to set a specific tone. For example, you can use humor to introduce your lighthearted piece or sound more decisive by adding words like “winning” or “capture” in the headline.
02. Know your target audience
When you write for someone in mind, words won’t just seamlessly flow onto paper, they’ll actually become more impactful. That’s because creating content for an intended reader lets you focus on what’s important to them.
At the core of crafting effective headlines is knowing your target audience. To pull a potential reader in, you must be able to convince them at first glance that your content is beneficial. The ability to compose valuable content comes with truly understanding your audience, such as what stirs their emotions or awakens their desires. This will also help you invoke the right message that motivates them to take action, whether that’s reading your article or sharing it with others. The following example by The New York Times, “How to Pretend You’re in Cartagena Today,” perfectly embodies a headline that’s representative of its target audience. It speaks directly to those adventure seekers and addresses their relentless passion for global exploration, anywhere and anytime.
03. Be informative
When you give people an exact idea on what to expect, they are more likely to proceed. Writing a descriptive headline lets your audience know what they will gain from your article. This is important because they want to decide whether they will read it before taking the next step - and click. Readers will also finish a piece that they are actually excited about. In the blog title “The Ultimate Sourdough Bread Guide: Everything You Need to Know About Sourdough with FAQ,” artisan baker Bryan Ford maps out his entire plan for those who choose to accept his challenge.
The post itself is extremely thorough and highly detailed in line with its lengthy and informative blog title. With word choices like “ultimate” and “everything,” we can also anticipate nothing less than an authoritative piece that will fortify our faith in sourdough power forever.
04. Keep it simple
Using plain language, such as shorter sentences and specific word choices, ensures others can quickly and easily interpret what’s being said. Simple writing is now more relevant than ever before since most folks will read browsing on their mobile devices, giving you mere seconds to capture their attention or lose their interest.
You should always put yourself in your readers’ shoes as you’re writing headlines. Swing in favor of text that’s familiar to others. In most cases, everyday words or phrases are likely to gain more traction over jargon and other technical terms.
Additionally, clear and concise wording helps improve information flow for all kinds of audience. In turn, readers will appreciate your efforts in guiding them to the main points. While article titles like “‘Bridgerton’ Is All About Gossip, Marriage and Butts” may come off as spoilers, people are actually drawn to their simplicity and no-frills approach taken in the form of a matter-of-fact declaration.
05. Implement keywords
Getting your material read by thousands - perhaps hundreds of thousands - is the single most important thing you can achieve through writing headlines. In order to get there, you’ll need to optimize all of your content, from top to bottom, with keywords. These are specific terms people type into search engines like Google and Yahoo.
Keyword research is a driving force in your search engine optimization (SEO) efforts, helping you optimize your content to improve a web page’s position within organic search results. By strengthening your site's organic performance, you'll be able to reach a much wider audience.
First, you’ll need to come up with a list of words or phrases people use when searching for topics within your field. Second, you’ll want to analyze your findings by looking at their traffic potential and intent in order to find the best fit for your content. There are free and paid keyword research tools - including Google Keyword Planner and Ahrefs - that can help you measure the probability and suitability of each one.
Once you’ve got your winning keywords, you can begin incorporating them into your headlines. This lets search engines know that your content matches searchers’ intent. Luckily, most keywords are already in the syntax of your target audience. As a result, they are generally more specific and adaptable, such as “How to bake cookies.”
As seen throughout the blogging scene, the Kitchn site is skilled at naturally fitting keywords across its content. In the example, the keyword “How to Clean an Oven'' is complemented by Kitchn’s own personal recommendation, “with Baking Soda and Vinegar,” enriching the information provided to its readers.
06. Add interesting adjectives
Of all the parts of speech, adjectives are the most seductive. They are words that help describe or qualify nouns and pronouns in all shapes and sizes. A good use of adjectives also influences people to check out your work. For example, a noun, such as book, combined with the right adjective can instantly become “good” or even “fabulous,” depending on what you choose.
When writing headlines, consider adding interesting adjectives to express tones and emotions. In the example below, health and wellness blogger Isabelle de Burgh shows us how to make sunflower seed butter sound better. With the added element of “savory,” she is able to remind our minds (and stomachs) exactly what we’re in for.
07. Use the active voice
You immediately become more engaging to your audience by writing in an active voice. It also requires fewer words from you and creates a more natural and fast-paced narrative that just flows better. A quick recap reminds us that in the active voice, the subject performs the action, while in the passive voice, the subject is acted upon. By using the former, you will become more persuasive and committed in your words. In turn, this helps readers confide in what you’re saying and further strengthens your writing.
Many of Vogue’s stellar article titles use the active voice. In the following example, “Storm Reid Gives PJs a Glamorous Twist,” we witness it in two-fold. First, the young Hollywood star wears sleepwear. Cool. Second, in them, she’s actually making PJs look chic.
08. Make a specific promise
Show people why they must read your article and offer them value in return for their time. By writing headlines that promise to resolve a specific issue or problem, you are also indicating that the benefit of clicking is worth more than the seconds spent doing so.
Then, deliver on your promise. You’ve set expectations in your headline, so remember that the text must meet them. It’s about building trust with your readers and helping them feel connected to your writing.
The title, “Probably, The Best Veggie Korma In The World,” on the Riboudin Retreats blog, entices people to keep reading. The word choice of “Probably” helps balance the reality of such an ambitious undertaking - in good humor.
09. Provide accuracy
One of the biggest takeaways on writing headlines is establishing the accuracy of what’s being said. This is important because the title can change the way people read and remember an article. It’s especially relevant in news stories, where misleading information can shift perceptions and have negative repercussions.
Today’s savvy readers can automatically spot clickbait headlines for being too vague, desperate or sensationalistic. This old bait-and-switch scheme no longer holds a place online. Audiences prefer reading texts that are consistent in their messaging and honest throughout.
There are several parts of the so-called accuracy equation. One is to ensure that factual information is correct. Another component is to identify the source of each fact that’s being reported. The New York Times returns as another good example to follow, with its factually correct and properly attributed headline in “Eight-Armed Underwater Bullies: Watch Octopuses Punch Fish.” This goes to show you can be accurate and fun at the same time.
10. Align it with your content
Give your readers a real taste of what’s to come in your piece by writing headlines that add up. If your article makes a powerful declaration or statement, then let every textual component, from top to bottom, support it. Otherwise, it would look strange, as if you’ve missed your own point.
The New Yorker spends a lot of time creating article titles that emulate the success of their high-quality content. In its title “Udon Takes On New Texture At Hanon,” New Yorker readers are successfully lured into the niche world of Japanese noodles.
11. Inspire curiosity
Article titles are the curtain raisers to your beautifully crafted body of content. You can provide just enough detail in your headline to pique your audience’s interest.
Start by creating an irresistible title that teases your readers with a hint of information. Then keep the rest tucked away inside your piece. People have an innate desire to know what happens next - and will likely open the article to find out.
This Haaretz headline “I Hate Thatcher and the Royal Family - So Why Did I Love Season Four of ‘The Crown’?” has us guessing, why exactly?
12. Incorporate numbers
Numbers make your article sound authoritative because people see them as reliable and indisputable information. They also provide structure and tell us how much time it will take to get through the article. For example, in a listicle-type format, people would like to know ahead of their reading journey whether to prepare for the “top 10” or “100 best of.”
Additionally, numbers trigger our minds to feel things in a certain way. Often, even numbers can be easy on the eye, while odd numbers tend to stick out. Smaller numbers are more accessible than larger ones, and everything in between is on the table.
Let’s dive into Wired’s recent headline, “Stuck at Home, Scientists Discover 9 New Insect Species.” Taking the numerical approach toward building reputable titles, this example is not only supported by the inimitable odd number, it also does a good journalistic job of emphasizing attribution, “scientists discover.”
13. Create urgency
Having a sense of urgency propels people to act now rather than later. One effective way to stir this emotion in your headline is through adding time-sensitives phrases like “today” or “this week.”
Another way is to bundle the problem and answer together in your article title. First, you’re building toward issues that your audience may not be aware of. Second, by taking them straight to the solution, you’re leaving them with no other option but your own.
Wix Blog is good at attracting readers with its ability to write catchy blog titles. The example “Create a Powerful Landing Page in Under an Hour” draws you to the overarching issue of learning how to make one. It also nudges you to click for the attractive solution that guarantees you get it done in 60 minutes.
14. Write diverse variations
On a personal note, this article saw several variations of headlines before landing on the right one. The first one, considered a draft headline, was created ahead of writing any content. Then, after the article was completed, the title was tweaked a few times to shorten and optimize it.
Your headline is arguably one of the most important determinants of your article’s success. You’ll want to put as much effort and time into coming up with the strongest option that will please your audience. Try writing at least 10 headlines with a different verb, variation or structure. This will help your title get to where you want.
15. Test it out
Finally, grab your handful of headline variations and conduct an A/B test to see which one performs the best. The simplest method requires taking your best two options to social media and scheduling two tweets or Facebook posts with each competing title. Then, track the number of shares. Whichever garners the most attention is declared the winner.
By Cecilia Lazzaro Blasbalg
Small Business Expert & Writer