Write a top headline: 5 quick and dirty steps

Five quick and dirty steps to writing a top headline

I am going to do something not possible: write a blog about writing the perfect headline in less than 1,000 words.

You see, like writing a book, painting a picture and redecorating your bathroom – there is no one way of doing it. And hundreds of blog posts have already covered this topic – all in much greater details.

So, this will be the quick and dirty version (maybe I’ll revisit it later with a looooonger post).

In the meantime, let’s jump in.

1. Keywords

A “keyword” in your headline needs to be a match to what someone types in their search bar. When you get a match (3 lemons) – that’s “organic search”. Less frequently searched, but still valuable, keywords are known as “long-tail” keywords.

The best keyword research is using Mrs. Google keyword planner. In 5 minutes you can find keywords that have the highest click-rate and lowest competition. You’ll also get some great suggestions you might not have thought about.

For this post I searched with “great headlines” and came up with “top headlines” and “how to write blogs”. Both had reasonable average monthly searches and low competition. After seeing this, I changed from “killer headlines” to “top headlines” as a long-tail keyword option.

Keyword planner tool

2. Killer words

Certain words will stop a reader – clicking-finger in the air – and then there are boring words.

Certain words will stop a reader - clicking-finger in the air - and then there are boring words. Click To Tweet

I still refer to this great post on Noah Kagen’s OkDork site with the results of a study of nearly 1M (that’s million!) headlines looking for posts with at least 100 social shares (in other words, someone clicked on that little Twitter or Facebook icon and shared the blog).

From that huge data bank, these are the top words to include in your headline.


3. Try many

The more headlines you write the better the final result – so experiment with many.

The more headlines you write the better the final result - so experiment with many. Click To Tweet

Once you have your keywords, build 5-10 versions around it. So, for this post I came up with:

  • How to write a top headline fast.
  • How to write a killer headline explained in less than 500 words.
  • The quick and dirty on how to write a killer headline.
  • Why you need to write a killer headline.
  • 5 ways to write a top headline fast.
  • How to write a killer headline in 5 easy steps.
  • How to write a top headline the quick and dirty way.
  • Five quick and dirty steps to writing a top headline.

I often use www.buzzsumo.com to get ideas for headlines. You simply type in the keywords (in this case, I only entered “writing a killer headline”) and you’ll get the most shared (on social media) headlines.


According to research compiled by Buffer’s Kevan Lee, the optimal length for a blog headline is 6 words. He goes further by suggesting that our eyes tend to pick up the first 3 words of a headline and the last 3 words.


4. Quick check

Once you have a good handful of headlines it’s time to check them out. The easiest check is Mr. Google. Slap your headline in your favourite search engine and see what search phrases are suggested (the phrases that pop up when you type/paste in your headline). Tip: To narrow your search to only other bloggers, include “blog:” before your search phrase.

This isn’t definitive, but will give you an idea of who is using that same headline or maybe better versions you can use. When I did it with “The quick and dirty 5 steps to writing a killer headline” I don’t see an exact match with other bloggers.

Search engine results

5. Clever tricks

Okay smarty – you’ve checked keywords, written multiple versions, even made sure to insert “you” and a number. Now it’s time for big boy tricks.

The objective is to get the scanner to become a reader – that means we have to get them to click on our headline. The following hacks are guaranteed to work…some of the time 🙂

bracketsYou ARE an expert (now act like one)

ask a questionShould you share your best stuff on the Internet?

prove authorityHow I got rich (and 6 ways you can as well)

be a contrarianDo nothing – five fast ways to turn work off so you can have a life

be boldStop! You’ve Been Primed – why doing dumb stuff might not actually be your fault.

Writing great headlines is an imperfect science. It seems every week I read more advice, often contradicting other advice I’ve read.

Regardless, here’s one think that’s always been true: without a great headline your readers will pass you by.

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.”

Article Author

Hugh Culver

Founder of BlogWorks. Hugh co-created the world’s most expensive tours (to the South Pole), has presented to over 1,200 audiences as a professional speaker and loves to explore new ways to show up like it's the day before vacation.

4 thoughts on “Five quick and dirty steps to writing a top headline”

    • 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.

  1. 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.


Leave a Comment