“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.” – David Ogilvy
Your next headline has one very important job…
to make readers stop and read.
That’s it—stop them from clicking away and invite them to start reading.
That’s why after all the thinking, research, writing, and editing of your content is done you need to write a headline that attracts the most readers.
Let me show you how.
Writing a great headline can make the difference between a blog or social media post that doesn’t get many readers and one that’s shared thousands of times. The 5 steps to writing the perfect headline are:
- Promise a solution – describe the problem you are solving.
- Make it about them – let them know this was written for them.
- Stand out from the crowd – use power words to attract readers.
- Write lots of headlines – experiment with different formats.
- Test your ideas – use a headline analyzer.
Let’s jump into how you can write better headlines for your blog posts, videos, or social media posts.
1. Promise a solution
Imagine you’re in the grocery store and you’re on a mission. It’s the end of the day, you’re hungry and just want to pick up some groceries, get back in your car and get home.
At the end of one aisle a friendly-looking woman is offering free samples. She looks at you and calls out “Have you got a minute?”
Are you kidding, you think, and walk on by.
A few minutes later you pass another smiling person offering free samples. He looks at you and asks “Can I offer you a delicious hors d’oeuvres?”
The first person tried to get your attention, but the second one promised a solution. It’s the same with your headline. You have to tell me what I get from stopping to read your content. You need to promise a solution.
Here’s an example…
I recently wrote an article about changing from an in-person service business to online.
My headline could have been: “Why you need to change from an in-person service business to online.”
But, that’s not a solution. I wanted to attract business owners who already knew they needed to change their business. What they need is a solution.
My final headline is: How to Pivot Your Speaking or Consulting Business to Online
2. Make it about them
Now that you have people’s attention, every headline needs to speak to your target market.
Not sure about defining your target market? In this article, I describe how to quickly define your target market and how to create content your market wants to consume.
Your headline needs to compete with distractions from other search results, YouTube suggestions and news feeds on Facebook.
It has to be about the reader.
This headline from Darren Rowse’s Digital Photography School is a perfect example of a targeting headline. If you’re a new camera owner – it’s for you: 21 Settings, Techniques, and Rules All New Camera Owners Should Know.
Now for the fun part – making your headline stand out from the crowd.
3. Standout from the crowd
A great headline has a balance between describing a solution and attracting readers.
The AHA! Headline analyzer is a great place to start. Each headline you enter will be rated on:
- type of headline (like: how to),
- power words (like: create, discover, surprising), and
- virality phrases (like: now you will).
Here are simple ways to turn your headline from ho-hum headline to attention-grabbing.
An odd number – numbers work – like this article Can You Make Money With a Mailing List? 5 Ways Revealed. Including a number in your headline suggests a defined solution that might be quick to learn and apply (as opposed to a rambling opinion piece).
Viral words – viral words that always work include: you, your, free, or how to. Sometimes it’s a simple change to insert one word that makes all the difference.
Brackets, dashes, colons – dressing up your headline can be a fun way to shorten the length while adding more punch. Like Ryan Holiday’s popular post: Dear Entrepreneurs: Please Don’t Write a Book—We’re Begging You
Ask a question – Want to intrigue and attract? Try flipping your statement to a question. When I tested the topic of what’s the cost of hiring a writer, I saw an opportunity to pose the question: What does it cost to hire a blog writer?
Be a contrarian – The headline Why I Stopped Selling SEO Services and You Should, Too by Ryan Stewart is a great example of catching readers’ attention with a contrarian approach. For the workaholics (like me) I wrote this post: Do nothing – five fast ways to turn work off so you can have a life.
As the great ad man, David Ogilvy once explained, “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.”
4. Write lots of headlines
The best way to write the perfect headline is to…well, write lots of them!
My preference is to write headlines after I’ve written my article. After I’ve finished the piece – like this one – I’ve lived with it for a few hours and I don’t have to guess at what the content will be—I can move to think about how to best summarize it and make it intriguing.
For example, for this post How to Pivot Your Speaking or Consulting Business to Online I wanted to share a strategy for moving what are traditionally in-person businesses to online. The headlines I first wrote were:
- How to change from an in-person to an online business
- 5 steps to change from an in-person to an online business
- A strategy to change from an in-person to an online business
- How to move your speaking business to online
Each version had a part of what I was looking for, but I wanted to address the who, what, and how of the subject. The formula I used is:
How to ____(adjective)____ a/your ____(target keyword)____ to ____(solution)____.
That’s how I came up with: How to pivot your speaking or consulting business to online.
But, before I published I also tested my ideas…
5. Test your ideas
The final step in your headline journey is testing your ideas.
The two best methods are AHA! Headline Analyzer and Google search results.
Fortunately, AHA! Includes Google search results.
- Here’s how it works, simply enter your headline ideas in the AHA! Analyzer and in seconds you get a score based on 4 factors:
- Headline length – is your headline 8-12 words and under 70 characters?
- Headline type – did the analyzer recognize one of the most popular headline types, like a how to headline?
- Power words – did you include power words, like surprise or discover?
- Virality – did you include phrases that are proven to be more popular in headlines, like this is what, first time in, or things to know.
Once you have your score you can move to comparing your headline to top-ranked Google results. The AHA! Headline Analyzer pulls in live data from Google of top-ranking headlines similar to yours.
For this article, my first draft of a headline was: “5 quick and dirty steps to writing a top headline”
My score was only 56. The AHA! Headline Analyzer told me I was missing power words and viral phrases.
My next variation was “5 Easy Steps To Writing Great Headlines Every Time”. Now my score increased to 87 – I had power words, but still missed the viral phrases.
Once I have my score I can request the live feed data from Google so I can compare my headline to top-ranked headlines on the same topic.
Writing great headlines will always be a bit more art than science—we can never predict what will go viral and what will flop. By following this 5-step formula to better headlines you will get more winners and more confidence that your next headline could be the winner you’re looking for!
Enjoyed this article? Here are 3 more to help you write your next blog post:
36 blog topics your readers will love
7 Steps to Writing the Perfect Blog Post Faster
How to Write an Amazing Roundup Post
Photo by Jacques Bopp on Unsplash
This article was originally published in 2016, but has been updated in 2020 just for you!
I loved the tips you provided in this blog. I will be implementing them.
Thanks Sheila! Our BlogWorks blog is new and we’re trying hard to post on topics that have a wide interest. Let us know please if you have ideas for future posts.
Excellent content, straightforward and focused. Always learn something new from your short posts.
All that in less than 1,000 words?! What great content, complete with the tables, pics & quotes too. I shall definitely be putting this knowledge to good use. Thank you & respect to you, Hugh.
Thanks Melinda. I didn’t do a word count on that one!
I host the Transform your Mind podcast and most of my headlines are the topic of my guests. Thanks for the tips to convert those bland headlines to powerful headlines
Thanks Myrna – great to hear you are banishing the bland!
Love the new headline analyzer. I was unaware you had it and will use it now!
Thanks Bryan! – it’s in beta but we are loving having the Google results pulled in to check our draft ideas out.
Great tips! I love the way you shared step-by-step tips to apply headlines, test them, and get results with powerful headline ideas. These are super applicable to what I do. Thanks.
Thanks Jan – so glad it was helpful!