August 16, 2021

What Does a Good Headline Look Like? What You Should Know

Headlines are arguably the most crucial part of an article. Without a great headline, your article won't stand a chance against the sea of content available to people online. No matter how well-written or well-researched your post, it won't make a difference if people don't click on it, and the easiest way to get them to click is by writing a compelling headline. Here are things to keep in mind when writing a headline for your content, as well as examples of "bad" and "better" headlines for each.

Readers Gravitate to Numbers and Lists

It's standard marketing knowledge that readers like numbers in headlines. When people browse articles on their devices, they are usually on the go, meaning they don't have time to sit and digest a dense post with several thousand words. Since people value speed and convenience online, they choose articles with headlines that simplify the reading experience. 

Bad headline: The Immune System

This headline has much to improve. It is more suitable for a children's textbook or another type of print material. Since there are so many subtopics under 'the immune system,' your headline can hint at the primary angle of the text and manage readers' expectations.

Better: 7 Ways to Naturally Boost Your Immune System

With this headline, you know what to expect, from the topic of the piece to approximately how long it will take you to read it. Also, when you include a number in the headline, people assume that you're writing a list article. 

Here are some words that signal a list:

  • Facts
  • Ideas
  • Methods
  • Reasons
  • Secrets
  • Statistics
  • Strategies
  • Techniques
  • Tips
  • Tricks
  • Ways

Readers Like Highly Specific Titles

When you write for an online publication, you need to be as specific as possible. For example, creating mystery and intrigue with your title—using "This is It," or "I Found What I'm Looking For," would be a mistake. These might be good song titles, but they aren't effective headlines for digital marketing materials. Don't leave readers hanging; your titles should state a promise that your article will deliver. Below are examples of good and bad headlines:

Bad headline: Graphic Design for Ads

This headline does tell you what to expect in the article, but it doesn't give you specifics about the topic. For example, what kind of graphic design will the writer talk about, and what exactly about it will he cover—ideation, testing ads, revising, or something else?

Better: What I Learned After 6 Months of Making Facebook Ads

This headline gives you a clear picture of what the article will discuss. You go into it knowing that you're reading someone's reflections about making pay-per-click advertisements.

Readers Appreciate Simple Headlines

There are plenty of ways to keep your headlines simple. You could choose reader-friendly words, keep the title's structure simple, and focus on being informative, not entertaining or persuasive. The best headlines aren't fancy—they get the job done.

Bad Headline: Here's Why a Changeover to Apple Products Will Be Beneficial

This sentence follows tip number two, which is to be specific—but it sacrifices simplicity in the process. As a result, you have a jarring headline.

Better: Here's Why You Should Switch from Android to iOS Devices

This headline says pretty much the same thing as the first. However, it uses more relatable words. Instead of 'changeover,' it uses 'switch,' and it eliminates 'will be beneficial’—the word 'should' implies that the reader will learn the benefits of switching to iOS when they choose to read the article.

Readers Like Personalization

Your headline should speak to the audience right away—otherwise, why would they want to read it? Don't bury the lead; put the most important angle front and center, both in your writing and the headline. Doing this lets the audience know that you know their pain points and want to help solve these.

Bad Headline: You'll Never Believe Your Mobile Phone Can Do This!

This title uses clickbait to capture the reader's attention, which, ironically, doesn't work. People are savvier about links and titles today, and most get turned off by headlines that overpromise and underdeliver.

Better: 5 Productivity Hacks You Did Not Know Your iPhone Could Do

For fans of Apple products and tech power users, this headline will get them immediately curious. If your audience consists of artistic professionals like graphic designers and illustrators, you can reframe the title to highlight how it will help their creativity.

Other Things to Remember

There are other ways you can show readers that you prioritize them. For example, using the 5Ws and 1H in your headlines will also engage them. Writing "5 Reasons Why You Need a Retirement Plan" is more empathic than "5 Arguments for Having a Retirement Plan." The former sounds like a friend talking to you about money matters, while the latter sounds like a bulletin you might read at the bank.

Headlines in 2nd person are also more personal. They call out the reader, which helps them form a connection with you. "13 Ways You Can Practice Mindfulness Wherever You Are" seems more readable than "13 Mindfulness Techniques That Has Helped Countless People." When you speak directly to your audience, they will be more receptive to your message.

Finally, don't be afraid to ask rhetorical questions in your title. People are drawn to questions, and putting a question in your title makes them more likely to click on the article. "Are You Making These 4 Common Mistakes in Digital Marketing?" is a more intriguing title than "Don't Make These 4 Common Digital Marketing Mistakes."

There Are Always Exceptions

Note that these aren't hard and fast rules. At times, writing an article in a list format will alienate an audience, or they might prefer poetic titles. It depends on the context. For example, many successful YouTube personalities could use a vague title for their video, something like "We made it!" or "I'm sorry…" and still rack up hundreds of thousands of views. 

The tips in this article are for marketers who are just starting a blog. Once you get to know your audience, though, you'll know what works for them and what causes them to pass on an article.

Conclusion

Whether you're writing a blog post, webinar title, eBook title, or email subject line, you need a phrase that will catch people's attention and make them curious about your article. It needs to be irresistible to your target audience and aligned with SEO best practices. Your headline can make or break your article. 

After all, according to advertising tycoon David Ogilvy, "On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar." Make those 80 cents count!

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