The Blogger’s Guide To Writing Better Headlines (Without Becoming A Copywriting Pro)

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Getting people’s attention is hard work. 

And it’s only going to get harder. Sorry, but it’s true.

Simply firing out long-form articles isn’t going to be enough to get you the traffic you deserve.

So, what’s the answer?

It all starts with writing headlines that people will actually click.

After all, more people will see your headline than your article. You’ve got to make them count.

For example, here’s the headline from an article Adam wrote for ProfitBlitz.com:

‘4 Examples Of Linkable Assets That Generated 1000s Of Links (And How To Create Your Own)’

Pretty enticing, right?

Here’s the truth about content marketing:

If you’re not writing eye-catching headlines, you are shooting yourself in the foot.

At best, your progress will be slow. At worst, your efforts will be a complete waste of time.

But, when you get it right: Traffic increases, more people subscribe, people link out to your content naturally, and you get more followers. The result? Your business grows faster.

In this post, you will learn everything you need to know about writing headlines that drive engagement and clicks. 

This includes important do’s and don’ts, effective headline formulas, how to split-test headlines, headline idea generators, and more.

Ready? Let’s get started.

Why do headlines matter?

Imagine this:

You walk past 4 shops; each of them has boarded up windows and a sign saying ‘Sweets’.

Would you go inside any of these shops?

Probably not. I definitely wouldn’t.

Now imagine this:

You walk past another shop; vases filled with candy can be viewed from the windows and the shop’s name is ‘Mr Smith’s Sweet & Candy Shop’ with a tagline below “We have every single type of candy on the planet!”

Would you go inside?

Most likely. If I was looking to buy some sweets, this would be the shop I’d choose.

Headlines work in a similar way; only on a much larger scale. 

Instead of a few store owners vying for attention, there are thousands of content creators all competing for the attention of the same group of people.

Your headline is what gets people through the door. It’s the sign post that grabs people’s attention. 

It creates intrigue, offers value and makes a promise that your content has to deliver on.

And like Copyblogger says:

On average, 8 out of 10 people will read headline copy, but only 2 out of 10 will read the rest.

What does this statistic tell us? People aren’t utilizing headlines effectively.

Long before the Internet took over our lives, copywriters and journalists of the print industry would spend hours crafting the most compelling headlines for newspapers because they knew of their importance.

How else would they attract readers and sell their newspapers?

On average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy.

David Ogilvy

His most famous headline came from an article he wrote for Rolls-Royce, advertising their latest car:

“At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock.”

He rewrote this headline 104 times until it was perfect.

David Ogilvy Headline Rewrite Rolls Royce

Today, this headline would be a little long winded, but back in the 1950s it was all about compelling statements.

So this begs the question, are you spending long enough working on your headlines?

Bonus: Download a copy of our free headline swipe file with 150+ headline formulas you can use to write better headlines. Click here to grab it.

5 things you need to know (so you can write better headlines)

What you SHOULDN’T do with your headline

You’ve invested a lot of time in content creation, hoping it will be read and loved by many. The first thing potential readers will see is your headline, and if it’s ‘wrong’ your content will gather dust in some far off corner of the internet.

But, your content deserves better.

Improve your headlines by avoiding the following:

1. Exaggerated to the point of annoyance

Exaggerations can work in conversation. For example, a metaphor such as: 

‘ she was so mad I thought she was going to explode…’ 

But in a headline it can be irritating.

I’m sure you’ve been a victim of these types of ‘suggested content’ at the bottom of some websites.

Taboola Example

I have fallen prey to these types of content, and I am always disappointed.

You would not believe what she did when he came home…

A boyfriend proposes to his girlfriend, she cries and says yes, that’s it. Literally. No catch. No drama. The problem is I would believe this, therefore the headline doesn’t deliver.

Plus the fact that I had to go through 20 pages to complete the story was annoying.

Your headline has to deliver.

Don’t say ‘Shocking Tips…’ or ‘Tips Marketers Aren’t Telling You’ if they’re just the most basic bog standard tips everyone is sharing and talking about.

I had this recently with a YouTube video and the second part of the headline was ‘Tips YouTubers Don’t Want You To Know!

It definitely peaked my interest because I want to know these tips that YouTubers are keeping to themselves. However, it turned out that these tips were basically:

  • Have a headline
  • Create a thumbnail
  • Write a detailed description
  • Be interesting and have great content
  • Look at your watch time to find which videos are more popular

I had wasted 15+ minutes on a video with basic beginner knowledge that made out it had industry secrets on growing your YouTube channel.

*sighs*

2. Clickbaity to the point of irrelevance

We are all familiar with clickbait headlines, and although this type of headline can get you your clicks, it doesn’t get you loyal readers or earn trust.

However, for those of you who are oblivious here are some example headlines:

I just couldn’t do it today…

I made a HUGE mistake and I’m sorry…

It broke and I don’t know why…

These are random statements that explain nothing about the content and leave you completely confused yet slightly curious. Which is great if someone is familiar with you and your brand, or a loyal fan of your content because they’ll want to know what you couldn’t do, or a mistake you made, etc.

But let’s say you’re writing an article on easy, simple recipes that involve avocados. Having the headline: ‘I didn’t know this could be so easy’ would be clickbait.

Why? Because the person clicking on that headline has no idea that you’re referring to the fact that it is easy to add avocados into meals.

So what do you get in return? 100% bounce rate. Ouch!

Curiosity didn’t kill the cat, it killed your readers average view time on your site.

3. Over promising to the point of disappointment

If you order a 12” pepperoni pizza, you expect a 12” pepperoni pizza. You expect it as described on the menu, which is completely understandable, right?

So, if you’re given a 12” pepperoni pizza with ham, pineapple and mushrooms instead; would you be disappointed?

Yes, that’s not how the pizza was advertised.

Your headline is a promise that you’re advertising, and you have to deliver.

If your headline says: The Ultimate Guide To Knitting Like A Professional In Less Than A Week, but it’s only 500 words with no depth, no explanations and lacking anything that would enable you to learn how to knit; then this headline hasn’t delivered on it’s promise of being an Ultimate Guide, turns out it’s an ultimate guide to nothing.

Example: Adam wrote an in-depth article (over 3,500 words) and as a result got an outreach email from another website. They asked him to link to their article because it was useful and in-depth. They labelled their post as an ‘Ultimate Guide’. Their article was 500 words. 

The same principle applies when you use numbers in your headlines. If you state ‘6 Tools’ in your heading, show 6 tools in your content. If you can read and write, surely you can count…

If you state ‘Free Tools That Do [insert action]’ but turns out they don’t unless you cough up some money – you’ll just annoy people who could otherwise become loyal fans.

If it’s a guide for beginners, make sure the content is beginner friendly.

I’ve written a blog post called: Basic Music Theory: The Complete Beginner’s Guide. Now, what I wouldn’t do is talk about complex chord formulas and advanced theories because this post is aimed at those at a beginner level.

Instead, I go through the basics slowly along with imagery for additional learning support. My content delivers on the title, nothing more and nothing less.

Your Creative Aura - Beginner Friendly Content

Don’t over promise value in your headline if your content can’t deliver on that promise.

What you SHOULD do with your headline

Well I suppose the answer would be the opposite to those above; don’t exaggerate, don’t be clickbaity and don’t over promise; but that’s not all.

What you should do with your headline, or how you should present your headline depends on your target audience and the best way to attract their attention.

But the goal should always be to deliver on the promise of the headline, that is non-negotiable.

So what exactly are we promising?

1. Something of value

So your headline needs to offer something of value to the reader. But, what exactly does value look like?

Well it depends on what your target audience wants.

Hopefully, before you’ve written your content you’ve done your research into your target audience in terms of their demographics and their pain points, etc.

This information will show you what your target audience wants or needs, and you cater your content around fulfilling those wants and needs.

If you have yet to research your target audience these two posts are an excellent starting point:

Here at Blogging Wizard, we specialize in delivering proven blogging advice for entrepreneurs and content creators, so they can stop guessing and start growing.

We publish content that matches this statement, because this is what our target audience wants to learn about.

Here’s an example: 40 Different Types Of Content You Can Create For Your Blog.

We understand that coming up with content on a continuous basis can be exhausting especially when your time is spread thinly and you don’t have the budget to outsource the writing process.

This post provides value because it tells the reader 40 different types of content they could create for their blog. That’s a lot of inspirational content ideas all in one place – you wouldn’t need to read any other post on this topic.

When constructing your headline, make it clear what sort of value you’re offering in your content. Whether it is a bunch of tips to solve a problem, or a cheatsheet to improve productivity, your headline needs to reflect this so the reader can auto-select themselves as a perfect reader. Or de-select themselves if they aren’t a good fit.

2. Something that is persona-driven

Let’s take this example from Ash Read: 53 Graphic Design Terms and Definitions for Non-Designers. This was the original headline for his post, however, not as good as the final headline:

Why Every Marketer in 2018 Needs to Be a (Part-Time) Designer: 52 Design Terms and Tips to Level-Up.’. 

Why is it better? Well it goes the extra mile by defining:

  • The target reader – marketers
  • A time stamp – 2018

Labelling your target audience in your headline is a great way to cut through the noise and reach the right people.

And it gets better:

Adding a timestamp in the headline has a greater impact on the relevance of the content. A year shows that the information is up to date, and a time-related word such as ‘now’ or ‘today’ could represent ease, simplicity or urgency.

By crafting headlines around your target audience, your content will stand out to the right people.

Want to learn more about persona-driven content? Check out Adam’s guide:

How To Create Persona-Driven Content (That Drives Massive Of Traffic)

It goes into depth on how to create your audience persona, and phrase your headlines in a manner to appeal to a particular group of people.

Here’s a great example from the post:

  • Generic headline: 10 Video Games Every Gamer Should Play
  • Persona-driven headline: 10 Steam Games All Mario Fans Will Love (Hint: They Cost Less Than $10)

Hopefully, you’ll see some consistency here when it comes to crafting your headlines.

It’s about crafting your headline to the point where your reader will auto-select themselves as the perfect candidate to read your content. And those that aren’t a good fit will de-select themselves.

This is achieved through:

  • Something of value in the headline that your content will deliver upon
  • Something that is persona-driven to show that your content has been written especially for them
  • A date to show reliability and that the information is up to date (optional)

And if your headline succeeds in these actions, you will reap the rewards.

So, the next step, how can we combine these elements to generate a variety of headlines?

Let’s take a look at different headline formulas you can use to craft your headline.

The building blocks of headlines and 15 copy and paste headline formulas

You don’t need a special degree in copywriting to write high-converting headlines. All you need is a headline formula that is designed to get people’s attention (without going down the clickbait route).

Headline components

These formulas are used on the basis of ‘filling in the blanks’ with words that fit with your content and target audience.

How you structure your headline will depend on the overall goal of your content, whether it is to spark curiosity, or answer a question.

Let’s go through the most common components used in headlines:

The keyword

This is usually the subject matter of the post such as: email marketing, social media, fishing etc.

Here’s an example:

Let’s say our target audience is aspiring guitarists. They haven’t picked up the instrument before and want to learn how to get started. 

We’ll start with a broad headline: How To Learn To Play Guitar.

How can we improve this boring and generic headline? We add a hook for the reader.

The hook

Your hook is essentially an adverb which adds descriptive value to the topic which prompts a particular outcome. Examples of these are:

  • Easily
  • Effectively
  • Quickly
  • Safely
  • Successfully

This could either be used to agitate the reader or provide a solution, depending on the goal of your post. For example:

How To Learn To Play Guitar Easily [hook]

You can also reverse your keyword to match a negative hook, such as:

How Not [hook] To Learn To Play The Guitar

Because no one wants to spend huge amounts of time learning an instrument the wrong way, right?

Great, our headline is looking better. Can we take this further?

Problems, solutions and comparisons

Our headline so far is still basic, and it is not engaging because it doesn’t address any of the readers’ pain points. So what we can do is make a comparison or reference the problem/solution.

So we could have:

How To Learn To Play Guitar (No Matter How Old You Are) [comparison + problem/solution]

You can change the comparison phrase for other variations such as:

  • While You Are – How To Learn To Play Guitar While You Are Travelling
  • Even If You – How To Learn To Play Guitar Even If You’re Not Musical
  • Without Having To – How To Learn To Play Guitar Without Learning Music Theory
  • Etc.

Numbers

Numbers are ideal if you’re writing a post that can be framed as a list.

Here’s our original headline:

How To Learn To Play Guitar

Now let’s alter it so a number will fit in:

10 Steps To Learning To Play Guitar

Adding a number can help people understand what they’re going to get out of the post. And in general, the higher the number, the more likely people are to click and read your article.

But, can we make this even more specific?

Personas

There’s a lot of generic content on the web and that’s fine – headlines with mass appeal do have their place. But if you find your content is getting lost in the noise – persona-driven headlines can help your content stand out.

While you will limit the appeal of your content by focusing on one audience persona, you’ll end up reaching more people because your headlines will be more relatable.

Here’s an example:

The Metalheads Guide To Learning To Play Guitar: 5 Simple Steps

Let’s break it down:

The Metalheads (persona) Guide To Learning To Play Guitar (topic): 5 Simple (hook) Steps

Note: While this type of headline is hyper specific, you also need to ensure that your content is written specifically for the persona you’re targeting.

Time-stamp

A time-stamp let’s people know that your content is relevant right now.

We use it here on Blogging Wizard:

7 Top WordPress Landing Page Plugins (2020 Comparison).

And it’s common in other niches:

A Guide To Selling Your Music In 2019: Tips From Labels + Artists

Here’s how it could look using our previous example:

How To Learn To Play Guitar Easily In 2020: 10 Simple Steps

However, there is a downside to this technique. Once people read your article the following year, they’re going to have less confidence in the advice or immediately leave your site.

So, be sure to keep these time-sensitive posts updated in the future. It’s true that in some cases, the content won’t need to change but it’s worth setting some time aside each January to go through and update this type of content.

This is what we do with posts like our landing page plugins comparison. Since the post includes products, we’ll go through and check for pricing changes, new features, etc and update accordingly. Since the post is technology based, it tends to require more maintenance than other posts. As such, we’ve rewritten it entirely from scratch several times.

Popular culture

Pop culture can make your headline more relevant to a current trend or celebrity.

Here’s our example using a famous guitarist:

How To Play Guitar Like Slash: Warm Up Routines & Style Analysis

Slash is one of the most famous names in the guitar space. This type of heading would appeal not just to beginners but intermediate players. Or you could get more niche with lesser known celebrities or pop culture references.

Your headline should be written based on your content. The idea is not that you randomly add a celebrity’s name to your headline – there has to be a connecting component within your content.

As I mentioned earlier, you need to ensure that your content delivers on the promises made in your headline.

This technique is a useful way to get additional content ideas. Going back to the example, we could do articles covering other famous guitarists such as Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Richie Kotzen, etc.

15 headline formulas

Here are some examples of formulas to help you build your headlines.

Each example can be rearranged and extended with additional components for a more specific result if you wish, but it’s a great start for coming up with ideas.

1. How To…

How To [action]

E.g. How To [Avoid] This Common [Marketing Mistake]

How To [action] In [year]

Eg. How To [Get More] [Email Subscribers] In [2020]

2. Guide…

: The [hook] [persona] Guide

E.g. [Sheet Music Notation]: The [Complete] [Beginner’s] Guide

[persona] Guide To : [action]

E.g. [Dummies] Guide To [Fishing]: [Catching Your First Fish]

An In-Depth Guide That Will Help You [action] [number]

E.g. An In-Depth [Email Marketing] Guide That Will Help You [Grow Your List] [3x Faster]

3. Branded…

[brand] Guide To In [year]

E.g. The [Blogging Wizard] Guide To [List Building] In [2020]

4. Question…

Are There Any [hook] Ways To ?

E.g. Are There Any [Effective] Ways To [Lose Weight]?

Can Make Your [action]?

E.g. Can [Running Too Fast] Make Your [Bones Break]?

5. Statement…

[statement], And Here’s Why

E.g. [Kale] Is [Helping You Live Longer], And Here’s Why

What All [persona] Need To Know About

E.g. What All [Runners] Need To Know About [Bone Health]

6. Invoking Fear…

[persona] [fear] [time]

[Athletes] Are [Wasting Their Time Exercising] [Daily]

7. Numbered…

[number] [action]

E.g. [40] Different [Types Of Content] You Can [Create For Your Blog]

8. Tip Based…

[number] Tips [result]

E.g. [11] [Songwriting] Tips To Help You [Become A Productive Powerhouse]

9. News…

The News: [news] [date]

E.g. The [WordPress Update]: WordPress 5.3 Beta And Twenty Twenty Drop In [September]

10. Explanation…

[statement]: Can [action]?

E.g. Myth Or Truth: Can Carrots Help Us See In The Dark?

11. Steps…

[number] Steps To [action]

E.g. [6] Steps To [Writing Captivating Blog Post Intros Every Time]

12. Solution…

Why [problem] [action]

E.g. Why Your [Content Marketing Strategy Isn’t Working] [(And How To Fix It)]

[group] Dealt With [problem] Too, And Here’s How [group] Solved Them

E.g. Marketers Have Dealt With SEO Problems Too, And Here’s How They Solved Them

13. Curiosity…

[persona] Wondering Why [action]

E.g. [Mother’s] Are Probably Wondering Why [They Are Tired]

[verb]: Why Are/Is [action]!

E.g. Revealed: Why [Skin Care Products] Are [So Expensive]!

14. Persona Driven…

[persona]! Are You [action]?

E.g. [Bloggers!] Are You [Spending Enough Time Refining Your Headlines]?

15. Case Study…

What I Learned From In [time]

E.g. What I Learned From Spending $100 On Facebook Ads In 30 Days

[number] Lessons From The [time] Of A

E.g. [5] Lessons From The [First 6 Months] Of A [$1 Million Business]

Later in the post, you’ll find a bunch of headline suggestion tools.

Bonus: Download a copy of our free headline swipe file with 150+ headline formulas you can use to write better headlines. Click here to grab it.

How do you know which is your best headline?

Don’t just create one headline and leave it at that. 

Crafting high-converting headlines takes time and practice. It’s rare to get it perfect on your first attempt.

Upworthy gets their writers to create at least 25 headlines for every piece of content, and the team at Buffer creates a similar amount of headlines. 

More often than not, the first 10 headlines will be scrapped. Why? Because the headline is the most important part of your content. 

Here’s the problem:

Once you’ve got a bunch of eye-catching headlines, which should you choose?

You can guess what will convert best, or use a headline analyzer but there’s only one way to know for sure…

Here’s how:

A/B test your headlines.

Remember, your target audience is not you. So let your audience make the decision.

So, how exactly can you test your headlines?

You’ll need a tool to test different headline versions against each other. 

There aren’t a lot of options on the market but there is one we’ve had success with:

Thrive Headline Optimizer – a fairly affordable WordPress plugin that’s well supported and offers the best testing methodology we’ve found so far.

It’s $67 for a license and 12 months support. You get unlimited updates, so, providing you have no issues – you won’t have to pay anything more at all. 

For a more in-depth look check out our Thrive Headline Optimizer Review.

Note: Thrive Headline Optimizer isn’t compatible with the Gutenberg editor. You’ll need the classic editor to use it.

Headline testing vs headline analyzer

In a moment I’ll show you a useful headline analyzer tool you can be used to gauge the effectiveness of your headlines. However, it’s important to note the difference between headline analyzers and headline testing tools like Thrive Headline Optimizer.

Headline analyzers consider a number of variables such as length, word types (e.g. power words), sentiment, etc. when grading your headline on how effective it will be at converting your visitors. They can be genuinely helpful but they’re ultimately an educated guess, so don’t rely on them 100%.

Headline testing tools tell us which headline actually converts the best in a real-world test. You’re getting actual data rather than an educated guess.

You can however, benefit from using both these tools when crafting your headlines.

A headline analyzer would give you suggestions on how to improve your headline, whether it needs to be more specific, or use more alert words, etc.

Then you can test these suggestions with a headline testing tool to see which one converts the best.

Let’s take a look at a headline analyzer tool..

Analyzing your headlines with Sharethrough’s Headline Analyzer

Sharethrough’s headline analyzer offers an easy way to gauge the possible effectiveness of your headlines.

Remember our imaginary headline from earlier: How To Play Guitar Easily, let’s test it out on Sharethrough Headline Analyzer:

Sharethrough Headline Analyzer Before

We got an average score of 61. Along with this it gives the strengths of the headline, and some suggestions on how we can improve our score. If you scroll down the page, it also gives you a score for ‘Engagement’ and ‘Impression’.

Let’s now use the headline involving mentioning a celebrity: How To Play Guitar Like Slash: Warm Up Routines & Style Analysis:

Sharethrough Headline Analyzer After

Just by adding a celebrity name, we have now boosted the headline quality score to 71.

***

So what if I, the content creator, is feeling rather uninspired and lacking creativity when crafting my headlines. Can I find assistance?

Yes you can, through headline suggestion tools.

4 tools that will suggest headlines for you

The following four tools operate by entering a word or phrase (usually your keyword) and then the tool will generate a few headline examples to help inspire you.

Portent Content Idea Generator

This tool can make headlines which are nonsensical, however it can help you find unique ways to phrase a headline.

Here’s an example for the topic ‘making music’:

Portent Content Idea Generator

Portent Content Idea Generator works best if you are struggling to come up with an idea for a blog post.

Kickass Headline Generator

The Kickass Headline Generator from SumoMe takes a more refined approach to headline suggestions.

At the top you have 6 different headline categories to choose from. The tool asks you to complete a few questions to help make the headline more specific and useful.

Here’s an example using the ‘Strong/Controversial‘ category with the same topic ‘making music’ however in addition you can add in; desired and undesired outcome, audience, an obstacle and something of value.

Kickass Headline Generator

Then it gives you over 6 headlines – each with a specific purpose.

Blog Post Ideas Generator

Our third headline suggestion tool, Blog Post Ideas Generator focuses more on useful and intriguing phrases which can be applicable to everyone, regardless of their niche.

All you need to do is click the button ‘Generate Blog Post Idea’ and a phrase appears in the bar above.

The Blog Post Ideas Generator

Similar to Portent Content Idea Generator, this tool works best if you are also struggling to come up with an idea for a blog post.

Answer The Public

Our last tool, Answer The Public is more of a content generator than a headline suggestion tool. However, it has the unique ability to gather information from search engines that relate to your keyword.

Here we entered the keyword ‘making music’ and it generated:

  • 50 questions that are commonly searched for, separated into sections such as what, where, why, how, etc.
  • 83 questions involving prepositions in them
  • 42 making music comparison questions
  • Then over 500 phrases involving the phrase ‘making music’ arranged alphabetically
  • Lastly, we have a related section which inserts words related to specific objects or someones demographics
Answer The Public Results

You can download the information as a CSV or scroll down the page to see all the information in a mind map diagram.

The bonus here is that these are rough headline ideas based on what people are searching for in Google. So, if you’re struggling to drive more traffic to your blog – give this tool a try.

Bonus: Download a copy of our free headline swipe file with 150+ headline formulas you can use to write better headlines. Click here to grab it.

Wrapping it up

Thanks for sticking around till the end!

Here’s a quick summary of what we’ve covered on creating better headlines:

Your headline is what gets people through the door. It’s the sign post that grabs people’s attention.

But your headline is also a promise. A promise that your content needs to deliver on. You only get one chance at a first impression, so it’s critical to make that first impression positive.

Writing great headlines isn’t rocket science and you don’t have to be a professional copywriter.

Regardless of your experience, you are capable of writing great headlines.

You now have everything you need to get started. Take what you’ve learned from this post and start practicing your headline writing skills.

The result? Your blog traffic will increase, you’ll get more subscribers and your blog will flourish.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. This means we may make a small commission if you make a purchase.

How To Write Headlines That Drive Traffic





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