Headline Writing: The Only Formula You'll Ever Need

Headline formulas don't work unless you understand why they work. Learn how to create a magnetic headline by asking 9 questions to your first working title.

Winning a click depends on a headline more than on anything else. On average, eight out of ten people will read your headline copy, but only two out of ten will read the rest. The internet is full of rules and formulas for writing headlines that you can play around with. But creating a great headline isn't just about what structure to choose and what words to pick out. Before trying to use formulas, you must understand why they work. I wrote this blog post to help you figure this out so that you could get better at writing irresistible headlines. 

No matter if you're an experienced writer or just a beginner trying to learn the craft, always begin with a working title. This first headline certainly won't be your last. But you need to start somewhere to see what you can do better.

For this article, I've analyzed the most popular posts on our clients' blogs and headline formulas from some of the best sources for writers. I came up with nine questions that you should ask to your headline before you hit publish. Once your working title is ready, start asking these questions to your headline. I divided these questions into four groups: reader, promise, hype, and SEO. Hm...you can actually think about these groups as a headline formula!

Reader + Promise + Hype + SEO = Effective Headline

Anyway, the first group of questions is about the reader.


Reader

It's really hard to come up with a great headline, especially if you haven't spent enough time getting to know your readers.

Headline formulas can help you stumble on a great idea and you can keep drilling in these formulas until you know them off by heart. But no formula or template will take the heavy lifting out of creating a headline that speaks to your reader. 

Here is the first reader-related question that you want to ask your headline about.

Question 1: Does my headline address the reader?

One of the ways to create an effective headline is to make it stand out to the right people. Here are some ideas of headlines that label their target audience:

  • 10 Steam Games All Mario Fans Will Love 
  • How to Entertain Your Toddler Without Using a Smartphone 
  • The Founder's Guide to Venture Capital Finance

Question 2: Does my headline know the issues that keep my audience up at night?

One of the sure-fire ways to connect with the audience is by talking about their problems. Here are some examples of headlines that answer the most burning questions:

  • No, You Don’t Have to Count Calories to Lose Weight
  • 7 Ways To Get Featured on Forbes, TechCrunch, and Entrepreneur for FREE
  • Blog Like an All-Star – Without Bankrupting Your Free Time
  • Blue Ocean Strategy: Grow Your Business Without Having to Compete 

Promise

The purpose of a good headline is to snag the reader's interest. You need to write something that will make people curious. Let's compare these two headlines:

  1. Ransomware Can Infect and Encrypt Your Files
  2. You Won’t Believe What Ransomware Might Do to Your Files

The first headline simply delivers facts. It doesn't make a promise. Why would we click on it if we already know the whole story?

The second headline teases our interest. It doesn’t give it all away at the start. If you want people to keep reading, then you need to promise them something in return. That's why the next question you want to ask is:

Question 3: Does my headline give a promise?

The rule of writing compelling copy is to get people to read the next sentence. If your headline is boring, it will tell the readers that the rest of your content is just as lifeless, so they won't be tempted to read what's to come.

Here are some examples of headlines that give a promise:

  • 20+ Best Mobile App Ideas That the Market Is Missing
  • I Did Yoga Every Day for 6 Months. Here’s What Happened
  • Why You Should Be Building Trust, Not Traffic

Question 4: Does my headline give it all away?

A good headline should be intriguing. Like these ones:

  • Is This the Airport of the Future?
  • I Got Rid of Sugar and Here Is What Happened Next
  • Imagine Becoming a Millionaire

Hype

I decided to call this group of questions hype because hype – according to Urban Dictionary – is when someone gets excited about something. We want readers to get excited about our headline. Because when readers are excited, they will feel like they need to consume our content.

Here are a few questions you should ask to your headline to make sure it excites your readers.

Question 5: Does my headline stand out among other headlines?

The trap that many copywriters fall into is doing the same thing that other writers do. Because the internet is full of the most effective formulas and best practices, everyone starts doing things one way. 

Where should a reader click if all 10 headlines on the first page of Google say: The Ultimate Guide to Writing Killer Headlines? My advice is to move beyond the common phrases you see over and over — and bring some new blood to the mix. For example, instead of writing the Ultimate Guide, write No-Bulls&#! Guide or Definitive Guide, or Last Guide to Writing Headlines You’ll Ever Need. You can skip the word Guide at all and say something like:

  • The Secret of Getting Your Headlines Irresistible
  • Here Is a Method That Is Helping Copywriters Write Better Titles
  • The Fine Art of Writing Headlines: How to Solve the Most Difficult Copywriting Problem

You get the point. 

Question 6: Does my headline include numbers?

One thing that every guide on headline writing agrees on is that numbers work. But some numbers work better than others. For example, which title do think gets more clicks? 

17 Ways to Grow a Beard? Or 10 Ways to Grow a Beard?

Odd numbers work better than even numbers. That's research that proves that.

Question 7: Does my headline have a time-stamp?

To be honest, I don't really like headlines with a timestamp because it's another thing that people overuse. The reason I decided to add it here was to remind you that time-sensitive posts must be updated. If people see your headline the following year, they will think your content is not relevant anymore and won't click on it. 

Question 8: Does my headline evoke emotions?

When you’re writing your headline, it's a good idea to think about how your target audience will react when they see it. Surprised? Sad? Angry? Happy? Depending on what emotion you want to create in the reader, choose words that trigger that emotion. 

I have videos about sensory and power words which I'll link to at the end of this video. Plus, there is a page on my website that lists sensory words by sight, sound, touch, motion, taste, and smell; and power words that trigger positive and negative emotions. All the links are in the description of this video.

Here are a few examples of emotional headlines:

  • Little-Known Ways to Make the Most of Your Thank You Page
  • 9 Sneaky Ways To Save Money During the Week
  • 7 Creative Methods to Turn Learning into Entertainment
  • 30 Legitimate Ways to Make Money From Home Part-Time

SEO

We don't just need to catch the eye, but also take keywords into consideration. That's why my last question is:

Question 9: Does my headline take SEO keywords into account?

For content to get read, it needs to rank well. And to rank well, it needs to include keywords. Your title tag should display the primary keyword for the page. For example:

  • Node.js vs Golang [Quick Answer: It Depends]
  • 13 Hot SaaS Ideas to Improve Remote Work
  • Product Designer's Toolbox: Which of These Tools Suit Your Workflow?


There you have it. 9 questions for your headline:

  1. Does my headline address the reader?
  2. Does my headline know the issues that keep my audience up at night?
  3. Does my headline give a promise?
  4. Does my headline give it all away?
  5. Does my headline stand out among other headlines?
  6. Does my headline include numbers?
  7. Does my headline have a time-stamp?
  8. Does my headline evoke emotions?
  9. Does my headline take SEO keywords into account?

Before you go, there is one more thing I want you to remember:

While trying to make people click is important, the best headlines are the ones that don't only promise great stories, but those that fulfill that promise.

Watch it on YouTube:

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