Your headline is the first part of your articles your readers see.
And it may very well be the last part they see.
That’s why a catchy headline is not nice to have, it’s essential.
Without it your article may as well not exist because nobody will read it.
But how do you write a headline that’ll capture your readers’ attention and bring thousands of visitors to your blog?
Hint: headline analyzers are definitely not the answer.
To find out, I analyzed hundreds of headlines from the world’s most popular blogs.
Here are the headline formulas popular blogs use and why they work.
Why you should use headline formulas (and why you shouldn’t)
Headline formulas are like the mold you use to bake a delicious chocolate cake.
They give you the shape and structure you need to succeed.
But they won’t work if you don’t have the right ingredients and don’t understand what you are doing.
Headlines work when they make a promise your reader can’t resist.
So the first question to ask isn’t: what’s the best headline formula?
But what does your reader want?
That’s why I recommend figuring out the following before picking a headline template:
- Who is your reader? What does he expect? How familiar is he with the topic?
- What makes your article unique? How does it stand out?
- What headlines do competing articles use?
- What are some emotions you could tap into?
- What headline ingredients can you use?
Once you have answered all these questions, go through this article and pick a few formulas you could use.
Want to find out the exact process I use to create catchy headlines for my articles? Download the free headline checklist!
“How to” headlines
This is the perfect headline template for articles that offer a clear benefit and promise to solve a problem.
To come up with a “how to” blog title, ask yourself:
- What problem does my article solve?
- What benefit does it offer?
- What will the reader know how to do after reading it?
“How to” headline examples:
- How to Get Big and Strong Like A Superhero -- Nerd Fitness
- How To Make Creamy Ice Cream with Just One Ingredient! -- The Kitchn
- How to Make Raclette At Home Without Special Equipment ❤️ -- Garlic Delight
- How to Make Perfect Hard Boiled Eggs -- SimplyRecipes.com
- How to win friend and influence people -- Dale Carnegie
“How to” headline formulas:
- How to [benefit]
- How to [benefit] even if [problem]
- How to [benefit] in [time period]
- How to stop [something bad] and [benefit] instead
- How to [result] without [problem]
- How to [do something] like [well-known person/group]
- Here’s how to [benefit]
- This is how to [benefit]
- How to [benefit][adjective]
The case study or reverse how to
The case study headline often borrows the “how to” headline structure but it tends to be more inspirational.
The idea is to show your reader that if someone did something, they can too.
The benefit is still there but it’s communicated through the lens of a person’s experience.
To come up with a catchy case study headline, ask yourself:
- Does my article showcase someone’s success or experience?
- What’s something difficult or impressive the person mentioned in the article did?
- What’s something the person did that my readers wish they could do?
Case study headline examples:
- How I Built a Startup While Traveling to 20 Countries -- Entrepreneur
- How I Built a $2 Billion Company by Thinking Small -- HBR
- What it feels like to recover from a c-section | BabyCenter
Case study headline formulas:
- From [something bad] to [something good] (or how I achieved [transformation])
- How [someone] went from [failure] to [success]
- What if feels like to [do/experience] something
Despite its association with viral news websites and spammy content, the list headline is not a headline you should dismiss.
It works great because it offers a clear promise combined with an easy-to-digest format.
This is the ideal headline for articles that contain actionable tips and offer a clear benefit.
To use it, ask yourself:
- Does my article contain a list of items or steps to follow?
- What will my article help the reader achieve?
List headline examples:
- 5 Things Psychopaths Say To Make You Feel Crazy -- Mind Body Green
- 25 Habits Of People Who Are Happy, Healthy & Successful -- Mind Body Green
- 10 Easy Ways to Eat More Vegetables Every Day -- The Kitchn
- 7 Habits Of Highly Experienced Travelers -- The Points Guy
- Gym Etiquette 101: Don’t Break These 29 Unwritten Rules | Nerd Fitness
- 15 hilarious parenting comics that are almost too real -- Upworthy
- Here Are 10 Pictures of Your Daily Recommended Servings of Fruits & Vegetables -- The Kitchn
- 10 Ideas for Coping with Loneliness During Social Distancing -- Psychology Today
List headline formulas:
- 10 [things] [everyone/every member of a group] should [know/action verb]
- 10 [things] for [specific group of people]
- 12 [tips/ideas] to go from [failure/undesirable outcome] to [result/success]
- 10 [something] that will help you [desired outcome]
- 10 [something] that will turn [something negative] into [something positive]
- 10 [something] that will make you a better [desired transformation] in [time period]
- 10 [tips/ideas/items] you probably didn’t know about
- Top 10 [something] to [desirable result]
- 10 [adjective] ways to [do something]
- 10 [things] I wish I knew when [event]
Humans are wired to pay more attention to problems than solutions which makes mistake headlines a powerful tool in your headline-writing arsenal.
This is the ideal headline template for articles that highlight common mistakes your readers make and offer a better alternative.
To use it, ask yourself:
- What mistakes does my article highlight?
- What’s the negative consequence of this mistake? What’s the risk?
- Is there one key lesson readers should take away from the article?
Mistake headline examples:
- 7 Shocking Online Dating Mistakes You Must Never Commit -- Just Viral news
- The dangerous summer stroller mistake most parents make | BabyCenter -- BabyCenter
- 9 Mistakes You’re Making With Your iPhone -- Fashionbeans
- Do You Make These 7 Mistakes When You Write? -- Copyblogger
Mistake headlines formulas:
- 10 [adjective] mistakes [target audience] make
- The [adjective] mistake most [target audience] make
- Do you make these [topic] mistakes?
- Are these [topic] mistakes hurting you?
- Watch out for this [adjective] [target audience] make
Controversial headlines are headlines whose main goal is to generate strong emotions such as anger or sadness.
They work by making a controversial statement, calling someone out or using emotional language and don’t necessarily follow a headline template.
These are great headlines for articles that make a controversial point and whose goal is to create a discussion around a topic.
Controversial headline examples:
- If This Video Makes You Uncomfortable, Then You Make Me Uncomfortable -- Upworthy
- The Case for Bad Coffee -- Serious Eats
- Why I Stopped Selling SEO Services and You Should, Too -- Moz
Controversial headlines templates:
- The truth behind/about [controversial topic]
- [Something popular] is dead
- Everything you know about [topic] is wrong
- Don’t [action] unless you want to [negative consequence]
- Ask a question lots of people are afraid to ask
- The great/popular [product/service] scam/swindle
- Why you should stop [action] and [other action] instead
- Why/how [something considered bad] can [benefit]
- Why [something typically considered good] is actually [something bad]
“Best” headlines are among the most popular blog titles on the internet.
You can use them for articles that offer a clear solution to a problem or contain a ranking.
The downside is that “best” headlines are so common, they may cause your article to sound exactly the same as your competitors’ articles in Google.
So before you use this headline formula, make sure it’s not the exact same all other articles on the topic use.
“Best” headline examples:
- The 25 Best Fashion Schools in the World in 2016 -- Fashionista
- The Top 10 Museums in the World, According to TripAdvisor -- The Points Guy
- The Best Way to Store Fresh Herbs -- Serious Eats
- The Best Ways to Make a Carved Halloween Pumpkin Last Longer -- The Kitchn
- 10 best places to visit in Europe in 2019 -- Lonely Planet
“Best” headlines formulas:
- The best way to [something desirable]
- The best [method/resources] for [target audience]
- The best [something] to [eat/drink/action verb] in/during [time period]
- The 100 best [something] ever/of all time
- [Famous person/group]’s best [tips/recipes/looks]
- The world’s best [something]
- Here is the best way to [do something difficult or desirable]
- 10 of the best [something] for [result]
- The best [something] according to [authority figure]
As humans, we have a deep-rooted desire to understand the cause of things.
That’s why kids bombard their parents with questions.
And that’s why we can’t help but click when we see a headline containing the word “why.”
We just can’t resist the urge to find out why something is happening.
This makes it the perfect headline formula for articles that answer burning questions or explain a phenomenon/event that puzzles people.
You can also use it for articles whose goal is to convince the reader to do something controversial/unusual.
“Why” headline examples:
- Coronavirus: Ten reasons why you ought not to panic -- The Conversation
- Why my kids have an insanely early bedtime even in the summer _ BabyCenter
- Why ‘Vogue”s Blogger Takedown Is Embarrassingly Out of Touch -- Fashionista
- Why does female armpit hair provoke such outrage and disgust? -- The Guardian
- Why I Was Fired by Google -- WSJ
“Why” headlines templates:
- Why you should [do something) even if [objection/problem]
- Why [person] did [something unexpected/unusual]
- Why [person] no longer [does something]
- Here is why you should not [do something]
- 5 reasons why [something]
- This is why [something]
Guide headlines are the perfect fit for in-depth articles that help your reader learn everything they need to know about a topic.
They convey an air of authority and work particularly well for serious topics although they can also be used for lighter topics.
Guide headline examples:
- A 30-Second Guide to How the Gay Marriage Ruling Affects You -- Cracked
- Hilarious Guide To Dog Breeds That Will Help You Choose Your Next Dog -- Bored Panda
- The Godiva Guide to Mouth-Watering Blog Post Titles -- Enchanting Marketing
- The New Dad’s Guide to Surviving Your Wife -- Scary Mommy
- A comprehensive guide to the new science of treating lower back pain -- Vox
- An Adult’s Guide to Social Skills, for Those Who Were Never Taught -- New York Times
Guide headline templates:
- The beginner’s guide to [topic]
- The ultimate/complete/definitive guide to [topic]
- This [adjective] guide/tutorial will make you [benefit]
- A complete [topic] guide for [target audience]
- The [bad/embarrassing/difficult situation] survival guide
- The [target audience]’s guide to surviving [something difficult/scary]
- The [something funny]’s guide to surviving [something difficult/scary]
Prediction headlines are curiosity headlines that try to convince the reader to click by either making a controversial/unexpected prediction or by being purposedly vague so people want to find out more.
They are regularly used by agencies and coaches who want to show they know their industry so well they can predict its future.
Prediction headline examples:
- Move Over McDonald’s, The Future Of Fast Food Is Vegan -- Forbes
- Liberal Arts Majors Are the Future of the Tech Industry -- HBR
- How SEO Will Change in 2020…and You’re Not Going to Like It -- Single Grain
Prediction headlines templates:
- The future of [topic]
- How [topic] will change in [year]
Secret headlines are a staple of copywriting and have been used for decades.
They work by promising to reveal a secret people can’t wait to know.
This is the kind of catchy headline you will find on viral news websites like Buzzfeed or Viral Nova.
And while they tend to work great, they also have a dark side:
They can hurt your reputation by making you sound like a cheap entertainment website.
The key to using them well is to actually reveal a secret in your article and make sure you are not exaggerating the importance of said secret.
The secret can’t be something everybody knows, it has to be something most of your readers never heard about.
“Secret” headline examples:
- 5 Terrifying Food Secrets Supermarkets Will Never Tell You -- Cracked
- Right Before Dying From A Rare Lifelong Disease, Sam Revealed His Three Secrets To Happiness -- Upworthy
- 11 Secrets the Beauty Industry Doesn’t Want You to Know -- Brightside.me
“Secret” headline template:
- The [topic] secrets [group/person] doesn’t’t want you to know
- 5 [topic] secrets [group] will never tell you
- What [group/person] doesn’t’t want you to know about [topic]
The question headline
Question headlines are as simple as they are powerful.
They work by simply asking a question your target audience is asking.
This can be a controversial question or simply a question your readers want to know the answer to.
To create question headlines, ask yourself:
- What question does my article answer?
- What’s a question my readers are asking?
Question headline examples:
- How did Melania Trump get an ‘Einstein visa’? -- BBC
- Is Sugar Actually Bad for You? (The Case For and Against Sugar)
- What Is Depression? Let This Animation With A Dog Shed Light On It -- Upworthy
Question headlines templates:
- What is [topic]?
- Who is [person lots of people are talking about?]
- How did [something puzzling/surprising] happen?
- Take a common assumption and reverse it
- Is [product] any good/worth it?
The statement headline
Statement headlines are deceptively simple.
All you need to do is find an interesting statement and use it as a headline.
But these headlines can be tough to write because you need a statement that makes people both fascinated and curious.
After reading a statement headline, your reader should think “tell me more!”
To create a statement headline, ask yourself:
- Does my article communicate a surprising fact?
- Does it announce something interesting?
- Will the statement make the reader want to click to find out more?
Statement headline examples:
- People Who Constantly Point Out Grammatical Mistakes Are Jerks, Study Suggests -- Truth Theory
- Patagonia’s CEO is donating company’s entire $10M Trump tax cut to fight climate change -- Upworthy
- Black women are now America’s most educated group. -- Upworthy
- These cities are considered the safest in the world -- Lonely Planet
- It’s Easy and Delicious to Veganize Your Favorite Egg Dishes! -- Free From Harm
- You Are Flawed. And So Are Your Heroes. | Nerd Fitness
- Flip Your Steaks Multiple Times for Better Results -- Serious Eats
Statement headline templates:
- Interesting or surprising fact
- Interesting or surprising news
- News people have been anticipating
The “one more thing” headline
If you have ever watched an Apple keynote, you know that Steve Jobs used to always keep the best announcement for the last few minutes of the presentation.
And that’s exactly what “one more thing” headlines do as well.
They take a descriptive and dare I say bland headlines such as “Spanish Chickpeas and Rice.”
And spice it up by adding a key differentiator such as:
- With audio
- With video
- With step-by-step instructions
- in 5 minutes
- Without fancy equipment
This makes the “one more thing” headline formula an amazing choice for food blogs and blogs that often use descriptive headlines.
To create a “one more thing” headline, ask yourself:
What’s one key advantage my article offers?
What’s one thing my article offers that other articles don’t offer?
What’s one thing readers care about that others don’t mention in their headline?
“One more thing” headline examples:
- Vegan West African Peanut Stew -- Step by Step Photos -- Budget Bytes
- Spanish Chickpeas and Rice -- with VIDEO -- Budget Bytes
- 15-Minute Spicy Dragon Noodles Recipe -- Budget Bytes
“One more thing” headline templates:
- Descriptive headline -- [one thing that makes the article special]
This is the headline equivalent of a friend or parent giving you advice about something you are about to do.
The key to success is to frame the advice as indispensable to success and to clearly communicate the FOMO.
To create FOMO headlines, ask yourself:
- Will the reader miss out by not following the advice given in the article?
- What guidance does the article offer?
FOMO Headline examples:
- What you need to know before traveling during the coronavirus outbreak -- Lonely Planet
- 8 things everybody should know about measles -- Vox
- What Everybody Ought to Know About Vacations » Never Productive
- One American Tells His Grandkids “A Few Things Everybody Should Know” -- Zero Hedge
- What parents need to know about the recent measles outbreaks | BabyCenter
- You Need to Read This Before Getting a Tattoo -- Cosmopolitan
FOMO headline formulas:
- What you need to know about [topic]
- What you need to know before [action]
- What [group] needs to know about [topic]
- What [group] needs to know before [action]
- Read this before [action]
It’s your turn!
I know looking at all these headline formulas can be a bit overwhelming.
Luckily, I have got you covered!
Download my free headline checklist to find out how to use these headline templates to create catchy headlines for your articles.
Oh and if you several headlines and don’t know which one to choose, why not A/B test them?