Hook your reader: The formula for writing great headlines

When it comes to writing a headline, do you sit and stare blankly at your screen? That darn cursor just blinks away at you, doesn’t it?

Writing a killer headline is critical to the success of your content or blog. The headline provides a tiny window of opportunity to capture your reader’s attention. If you don’t get their attention here, you’ll lose them.

So, let’s jump in and talk about how to write great headlines.

Hook your reader

What are your readers telling you they want? What challenges do they face? Most likely you’re writing a blog or copy that will help them answer those questions in some way. Appeal to the reader’s self-interest in your headline to hook them.

Create curiosity in your reader to entice them to keep reading. But, don’t satisfy their curiosity in the headline—do it in your content.

Be careful not to get too clever or overuse wordplay. Just get the hook.

The headline must sell something

For a headline to be truly effective at hooking your reader, it has to sell. You must convince the reader to dive into your content.

A good headline will use words that persuade. A few examples of words that sell your content are:

  • Free
  • Easy
  • How to
  • Prosper
  • Succeed

If selling makes you uncomfortable, think of the headline as a promise—a promise to deliver something the reader wants.

Answer the question: What’s in it for me?

Whether you’re selling an idea, a product or a service, make the headline promise, then deliver on your promise in your content. They might want a problem solved, new information to make their life better, or a deal they can’t refuse. Give them a taste of the benefit they’ll get by continuing into your content.

Incorporate the power of keyword phrases

Think about how a potential reader might search for your content. Now see if you can incorporate that into your headline. Try to use keyword phrases instead of just keywords. Most people search by using phrases or even full sentences rather than just words.

This is a proven way to help Google and other search engines move you to the top of searches. You’ll get better SEO results and have a great headline at the same time.

Write as many as it takes

If you’re writing just one headline and going with it, you may not be trying hard enough. Most people, even experienced headline writers, need to write many headline versions before coming up with a winner.

A good process begins with a blank sheet of paper (or Word doc). Just start writing headlines for your subject. Don’t worry about how bad they are. The first bunch will be bad, I assure you. You need to get all those crappy ideas out for the good ones to emerge.

I’ve seen advice that suggests you write your headline before you write the body of your story. That’s one way to go about this. I sometimes use a different process. I write a somewhat general headline to guide my subject. Once my writing is done, I go back and write a more specific, “salesy” headline, sometimes using something from the content itself.

Both approaches work. Use the method you find works best for you. The important thing here is to not settle on the first headline you write. Trust me, you have better stuff rattling around in your brain.

Headline formulas can guide your efforts

To make writing effortless, several formulas exist for the all-important headline. These formulas have stood the test of time and can help break headline-writer’s block. This list explains why each one works. You’ll also notice from the examples I use that I’m in full-blown gardening mode!

  • How to headlines: help the reader learn to solve a problem themselves (How to master container gardening)
  • List (or number) headlines: specific and make information easy to digest (7 surprising ways to grow better tomatoes)
  • Colon headlines: allow keyword placement at the beginning and your hook at the end (Straw-bale gardening: Increase your vegetable production)
  • Unexpected word headlines: create curiosity (How disheartened gardeners finally achieve weed-free rows)
  • What or why headlines: straightforward information that’s easy to understand (What experienced gardeners know that you don’t)
  • Announcement headlines: grab attention and promise to share news (Introducing raised row gardening to solve your soil problems)
  • Transformation headlines: takes reader from A to B (You too can become a master gardener, even if you’re a gardening newbie)
  • Question headlines: appeal to beginners and those needing a definitive answer (What is raised row gardening?)

You can also combine one or more of these formulas to create your own. The idea is to use these to guide your headline writing.

Make a “tickler” file

When you see headlines you like, whether on paper or online, save them. Create a tickler file for reference when you’re struggling to write a headline. There’s nothing wrong with copying the formula used in someone else’s headline, either. Just replace their words with those appropriate for your content and audience.

You can even find helpful words or phrases in other headlines. Use that tickler file for inspiration and keep building it.

Your headline assignment

Headlines need to grab attention, or you’ll lose your reader. Have you written some great headlines that drew your reader into your content? Share them in the comments below. I’d love to see the creative ways you’ve found to hook your reader.

And be sure to follow this blog so you don’t miss a thing!


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