Headlines are the first look (and sometimes, the only look) people give your content. Think of all the times you've scanned title after title before clicking on the one that stopped your scroll.
You're not the only one who whisks by without reading. We found that 73% of people admit to skimming blog posts, while only 27% consume them thoroughly. Without a compelling headline, your content will never get the eyes it deserves.
But what exactly are headline grabbers? And how do you write one that stands out among the black-and-white sea of copy monotony? Most importantly, how do you make sure it works for your audience?
Fortunately, we understand the ups and downs of crafting catchy headlines. It takes time, thought, and a few simple tricks. So settle into your favorite note-taking mode, because it's time to learn how to create headlines that reel in readers.
While most compelling headlines do pull from a similar bag of tricks, what works for one person may not work for someone else. That's because your audience, brand, voice, and content strategy differs from the companies popping up next to you in search results.
How to Write an Attention Grabbing Headline
Here's how to make sure your headlines spark interest and work for your brand.
1. Write a working title.
Remember when you were required to turn in a rough draft of your work? Well, thank your high school teachers, because this is a great first step to finding the perfect headline grabbers.
A headline draft is called a “working title.” It's a specific statement that clearly indicates what your post will be about. Let's say you write a blog about topics like “getting outdoors” and “staying active.”
You can write hundreds of posts about either of those topics. But with a working title, you narrow in on a specific headline. For instance, you could create the following working titles from the above topics:
- “Why Getting Outdoors Boosts Happiness and Long-Term Memory“
- “Anti-Aging Activity: 7 Science-Backed Reasons to Get Off the Couch“
Each headline clearly states what your post will be about, but they still need to go through a writing workshop. They're called “working titles” because it will take time to make them perfect. But it's the right start to create an attention-grabbing headline.
2. Steer clear of clickbait.
We've all fallen into this marketing trap. You can't help but tap on headlines like these:
- “You Won’t Believe This Dog’s Dance Moves!“
- “Someone Gave This Kid Scissors. Here’s What Happened Next“
- “When You Read These 19 Shocking Food Facts, You'll Never Want To Eat Again“
Oftentimes, the article you wind up reading is completely off-course from what the headline promised. Of course, carrot cake has a lot of sugar. So you get frustrated, leave the site, and vow never to return.
While clickbait can be effective for getting views, it can also annoy readers by exploiting emotional triggers like anger, anxiety, humor, inspiration, and surprise.
People won't stick around long if you consistently overpromise and underdeliver through over-the-top headlines. But there is something to learn from the effectiveness of clickbait.
Using emotive language can resonate on a personal level and stir readers' interest. For instance, these headlines nod to people's emotional tendencies without being overly sensational:
- “Why You Shouldn't Always Reach Your Goals“
- “Merriam-Webster Reveals What New Words Appeared the Year You Were Born“
- “12 Ways to Give and Get Customer Love“
If you find yourself overpromising on what's behind your headline, pause. Reevaluate the benefit to your audience, and reel in the bait.
3. Stay on brand.
Maybe clickbait is part of your brand strategy. If so, bring on the outrageous headlines. The point is: your brand is the starting point of your content strategy. So you absolutely need to consider it when writing headline grabbers.
(To create a brand that attracts and inspires your audience, check out The Ultimate Guide to Branding in 2020).
Let's take a look at how two major players in the outdoor industry — Patagonia and Outdoor Research — use their distinct brands to write attention grabbing headlines.
- Patagonia: “Will You Vote for Winter?“
- Outdoor Research: “How To Stay Warm While Moving Fast In The Cold“
Both headlines would personally make me click, but the difference between the two is clear. Patagonia is known for their environmental activism, which comes across through the use of “vote” and asking readers to take a stance. While Outdoor Research solves a pain point through its tried-and-true gear to help customers “stay warm…in the cold.“
As you brainstorm headline ideas, revisit your target market to consider what type of messaging will resonate with your audience.
4. Turn heads.
You know that person whose look is so on-point you can't help but do a double-take? You can make that happen with a headline grabber — if you use these writing style tips.
- Build anticipation — This is all about creating intrigue so people need to find out what happened. Psychology professor George Lowenstein summed it up in the information gap theory, which states that a “curious individual is motivated to obtain the missing information to reduce or eliminate the feeling of deprivation.” Buzzfeed is known for reeling people in with headlines like “33 Amazingly Useful Websites You Never Knew Existed.” Click.
- Add numbers — Studies have shown that numbers ease the stressful paradox of choice, stand out when odd, and help our brains spatially sort information. Researchers have even found that people with a number-free language are able to count. So next time you're typing up a headline grabber, try something like “27 Data-Backed Reasons to Personalize Your Marketing.” Humans can't resist.
- Solve a problem — When we run into a problem, our brains work overtime to find a solution. Which is why headlines that offer answers are great attention grabbers. Feeling overwhelmed at work? “Quick & Easy Ways to Get Organized At Work” would immediately draw you in because it promises simple ways to solve your problem. Bonus points if you offer actionable, inventive advice.
5. Optimize for SEO.
Learning how to write an attention-grabbing headline and optimizing it for search doesn't have to be a painful process. The key? Do your research, and sound like what you are — a human.
To find the right balance, dive into keyword research to discover what topics interest your audience. Once you have a list of relevant keywords, look at the search volume for each one to see how often it's typed into a search engine. (If you're new to SEO, or need to create a solid strategy, you can find helpful tips in our Ultimate Guide to SEO).
When you've chosen a keyword that interests your audience and has solid search volume, it's time to incorporate it into your headline. We recommend putting your keyword as close to the beginning of your headline as possible so it's recognized by the finicky search engine spiders. But remember to keep your headline under 70 characters so it doesn't get chopped off in the SERPs.
Let's say you're putting together a blog post on branding, and your goal is to rank for the keyword “brand voice examples.” Your working title may look something like this:
“Get Inspired by These 9 Creative Brand Voice Examples“
While the sentiment is there, the keyword is at the end — and it's lacking pizzazz. A few simple switches can turn it into a headline grabber.
“9 Brand Voice Examples to Break Out of Writer's Block“
Moving the keyword to the front of the headline boosts SEO, and including “writer's block” helps solve a problem that plagues every brand writer. Plus, the headline is 53 characters, so readers will see your complete headline handiwork.
While people will scroll past a perfectly optimized headline, a poorly optimized one will send you right to the bottom of search results. Try to strike a balance that works for your brand. And above all, be human. If you're unsure whether or not your headline is strong enough to grab peoples' attention, think: Would you click?