The first headlines I wrote as a blogger were purely descriptive.
If my article was about ways to say hello in French, I would write “ways to say hello in French.”
If my article was about “French numbers”, I would write “French numbers.”
Then, as I learned more about headlines, I realized that writing great headlines doesn’t have to be complicated.
All you need to do is sprinkle a few magic ingredients and voila! You turned an ordinary blog post title into an extraordinary one that will attract more clicks, backlinks and social shares.
Magic headline ingredient #1: problems
Turn on your TV and you are likely to see plane crashes, floods, economic crisis…Not a single happy event in sight.
It’s not because nothing good happens in the world.
It’s because our brain has a negativity bias which means that negative events have much more room in our head than positive events.
If newspapers and TV channels focus on problems, it’s because problems have an extraordinary ability to catch our attention and get us to stop doing whatever we are doing as demonstrated by Tversky and Kahneman’s 1981 Asian disease problem.
And that’s exactly what you want your headlines to do. You want to write headlines so good that the reader will notice them in a sea of headlines and immediately click to read your articles.
When writing a blog post title, ask yourself the following questions: is this article solving a particular problem? Is there a way I could highlight it in the headline? Is there a negative consequence to not following the advice given in the article?
If the answer to any of those questions is yes, you should be able to mention a problem in your headline in order to make it more remarkable.
Here are a few examples of headlines featuring problems for inspiration:
- Can’t Do a Pull-up Yet? Here’s How to Get it Done – Nerd Fitness
- The Bitcoin bubble could be about to burst – The Motley Fool UK
Magic headline ingredient #2: curiosity
We have all read spammy blog post titles that promise to make us fluent in a new language in a week or to show us how to earn thousands of dollars in 48 hours.
Every time I see such a headline, I’m torn because I know the article will be a let-down but also really want to click in case it’s not and actually contains a useful piece of information.
That’s the power of curiosity in a headline.
Curiosity drives lots of human behaviors and these headlines work because they create an open loop we absolutely need to close. We need to see what’s hiding behind the curtain.
To add curiosity to my blog titles, I like to ask myself the following question: What’s the most intriguing part of the article? What’s one aspect that will surprise people? What’s one thing that surprised me when I wrote the article?
Beware though, curiosity can easily make your site look like a British tabloid so make sure you avoid overused phrases such as “you will never guess what happened…”
If you need inspiration, here a few great curiosity headlines I found:
- I went paleo and now I hate everything – Everywhereist
- What a revolutionary Ramen restaurant can teach us about designing better websites – Wholegrain Digital
- 50 Cent accidentally made $8 million in bitcoin – The Verge
Magic headline ingredient #3: FOMO
If there is one fear that goes hand in hand with curiosity, it’s the fear of missing out (FOMO.)
We click on curiosity headlines because we want to know what’s behind the curtain while we click on FOMO headlines because we are afraid we may miss out on some key information if we don’t.
This makes the fear of missing out a powerful headline ingredient.
If you know that people would genuinely miss out by not reading your article, you can add a dash of FOMO to your blog post title to compel readers to click.
To write FOMO headlines, ask yourself the following questions: is there anything I reveal in the article that would give the person knowing it an advantage over others? Is there any deadline associated with the content of the article? Will the reader miss out by not reading the article now?
Here are a few FOMO headlines for inspiration:
- 17 Underrated Shows On Netflix You’re Totally Missing Out On – Buzzfeed
- Compress images now or forever push site visitors away – Appsumo
Imagine you just arrived in the lovely Italian city of Florence. You are hungry and decide to look for a nice restaurant.
You don’t know anything about the place and don’t speak Italian.
In front of you are 2 restaurants. One is full of people talking and eating pizza while there is only one person in the other one.
Which one do you choose?
If you are like most people, you choose the restaurant that is full. Not because it’s inherently better but because you assume it’s popular for a reason and there must be something wrong with the empty restaurant.
That’s social proof in action and you can use for all kinds of purposes, from nudging hotel guests to reuse towels to writing better headlines.
To write social proof headlines, ask yourself the following questions: Is the information you reveal in the article used by lots of people? Would your reader be an outlier by not reading it?
Here are a few examples of blog post titles using social proof:
- 1 In 4 Facebook Users Delete Facebook App As Millennial Exodus Continues – ZeroHedge
Authority tends to work similarly to social proof. We are more likely to eat in a restaurant a famous chef recommended than in an unknown restaurant.
That’s why TV commercials regularly feature celebrities and authority figures. If dentists say that this toothpaste is the best, then it must really be the best because they are expert and know what they are talking about.
Quoting an expert in a headline makes it sound more important and trustworthy. If people regularly see an expert mentioned on a website, they will associate you with this expert.
To harness the power of authority in your blog post titles, ask yourself the following questions: did you mention a well-known person or group in the article? Is what you recommend in the article something a respected group (doctors, lawyers…) does or recommend?
Examples of headlines using authority include:
- What toothpaste do YOU use? Dentist reveals what to look for – Daily Mail
- 3 Warren Buffett ratios that could help you retire a millionaire – The Motley Fool UK
- How Tony Robbins Generates 1,000,000 Website Visitors Per Month – Sumo
- Facebook will lose 80% of users by 2017, say Princeton researchers – The Guardian
Magic headline ingredient #6: numbers and data
Headlines containing numbers and data have been proven to attract more backlinks and clicks than others with 10 being the highest performing headline number based on average social media share.
That’s because numbers have the power to increase credibility and make your article look more trustworthy.
Which blog post title would you trust the most:
- How I made a ton of money
- How I made 3,546,265 USD in 2018
To harness the power of numbers and data in your headlines, ask yourself the following questions: did I mention specific numbers and data points in the article? Can I mention a specific timeframe? Can I turn this article into a list post?
Here are a few examples of headlines using numbers and data:
- Fall Asleep Fast — In 2 Minutes or Less – Art of Manliness
- T Shirt Marketing (How I got $5,000 worth of Copywriting Clients from a $22 T-Shirt) – KopywritingKourse
Now that you know the 6 ingredients that help you write better headlines, it’s time to get to work and write a few headlines based on these ingredients.
Look at blog post titles you already wrote and see if using one or several of these ingredients can help you improve it.