How to Write Magnetic Headlines – 4 Headline Writing Rules
So, you've written an article, and you are wondering what is the best headline that will attract your audience, or...
You are planning to write your content, and you intend to create the headlines first.
Whichever your intention is, we can agree that a good headline is what gets people to read your content.
Because, without a headline that stops people in their tracks and grabs their attention, who will pay attention to what you have to say, right?
The late John Caples, a well-known copywriter, once wrote: "If you can come up with a good headline, you are almost sure to have a good advertisement".
And, according to CopyBlogger, 80% of the people will read your headlines (and sub-headlines) and only 20% will read the actual content.
So, doesn't it make sense to have sexy headlines in your content to make it "scan-able"?
Why Headlines are Crazy Important Now than Ever?
Technology changes, but human behavior stays the same.
In the past, the mediums of communication are newspapers, printed posters, and radio.
Now, we have an increasing number of social media platforms, search engines, podcast, etc... you get I mean.
And, it is almost zero cost for people to get their message across as compared to the past.
Which means that there is practically zero barriers to entry!
As a result of that, an average person today sees about 5,000 ads a day.
And, the attention span of a person is about 8 seconds. That was down from 20 minutes back in the day.
If you compare the stats, a person will spend only about 0.0016 seconds for every ad they see. Isn't it crazy?
But, human behavior never changes. People will spend their time on things that capture their attention. But now, it is more competitive than ever for that attention.
The attention span is the new currency to marketing.
Which is why you need a captivating headline to stand above the 5,000 ads people see every day.
What Exactly is the Purpose of a Headline?
A headline serves more than just grabbing attention.
And, your Headline must be in-sync with the rest of your copy (your content).
In today's world, it is all about relevancy. You can't have a header that says "Crazy Cheap Deals", but the content sells a thousand dollar product.
Or, you can't have a headline that says "Food for Super Dogs", while your content is about cats.
It just doesn't make sense, right?
There is a term for this, "Bait and Switch". Don't fall into this category.
So, the Headline plays a significant role in the successfulness of your content; it serves 3 purposes:
- Grab Attention
- Select Your Audience
- Draws the reader to the body content
1. Grabbing the Attention
No matter how great or persuasive your body content is if your Headline doesn't draw people to read it...
What's the point of having that content in the first place?
As I've said, grabbing the attention of people in this century has become harder than ever.
When you enter a bookstore, there are thousands of books on its shelves, what would you do first?
I am sure you wouldn't go through thousands of books one by one to find one that interests you.
You would first go to the section of your interest like "Self-Help, Fiction, Non-Fiction, etc.". This way, you have already narrowed down your search to a few hundred books.
Then, you will go through the shelves to find books that appeal to you.
You will first look at the design, the Headline, then to the content page to see if it is appealing.
If the "First Impression" of the book does not appeal to you, you will ignore it almost immediately.
You see, the way books are sold almost relates to any form of advertisement.
Within that small little space on the spine of the book, it contains the title and a subtitle of the book that will supposedly grab your attention.
Similarly, with advertisements on social media networks or articles on search engines, you are given a limited number of words to convey the purpose of your content.
So, it makes perfect sense to have a headline that is short, concise, and to the point.
How to know if the Headline is Attention-Grabbing
If your Headline is boring or irrelevant, your target audience will not react to it.
People will often react to Headlines if it offers (1) news, (2) helpful information, or (3) rewards.
So, to write a compelling headline, you have first to understand the needs and wants of your target audience.
Then, you can write a headline that communicates the benefits of the content most concisely and effectively possible.
In the book "The Copywriter's Handbook" by Robert W. Bly, he explains that a compelling headline tells the reader:
"Hey, stop a minute! This is something that you'll want"
"The best headlines appeal to people's self-interest, or give news."
To gauge whether your Headline is attention grabbing, there are 3 methods:
- Ask Yourself - Imagine yourself as one of your target audience. Would the Headline entice you?
- Ask the People Around You - find a few people who may be interested in your content, and show the Headline to them. You'll get a feel of how compelling your Headline is from their expressions or actions.
- Test it out - Spend some money to buy ad space (e.g. Facebook Ads. Google Adsense, Bing Ads, etc.). Have a couple of headlines ready, and do A/B Testing. Your target audience will give you the answer.
2. Selecting the Audience
Let's go back to the "Bookstore" scenario I've mentioned above.
When you enter a bookstore filled with thousands of books, you probably already know what kind of books you are looking for.
You will go to the relevant section to look for the books that appeal to you.
Similarly, in the social media space, your target audiences are generally looking for things that interest them.
Or, when someone types a keyword in the search engines, that person typically knows what they are looking for.
So, your Headline must speak to those people who may be searching for what you can offer.
Let me give you an example.
A couple of days ago...
I saw a headline on Facebook "Prepare for the cost of raising a child in Singapore".
Given that I am a Singaporean, and my wife and I are expecting our little boy, I would be interested to know what is the cost of raising my child in Singapore.
Now, the same Headline will not appeal to someone who:
- is planning for retirement;
- do not plan to have a child;
- lives in other countries.
Conversely, it will attract:
- Young Singaporean parents;
- People who plan to deliver a baby in Singapore;
- Married couple who are planning for a child in Singapore.
So, it is super important to know who your target audience is, so that you can write a headline that attracts (selects) the right audience. I hope you get my point.
3. Drawing the Reader to the Body Content
The curiosity element invoked in your Headline is the key to attracting your target audience to read the body Content.
What do you think about the headline "Prepare for the cost of raising a child in Singapore"?
Would you be curious about what the author has to say (given that you are one of the target audience)?
I bet you would, right?
Now, getting someone's attention to "click-through" to read an article or an ad copy isn't the end.
What matters most is if that person stays to read or consume the content entirely.
If your content is 1,000 words or longer, you will need lots of attractive sub-headlines to get people to consume different sections of your content.
At the same time, if your sub-headlines are not as attractive as the main Headline, you will lose your audience's attention.
All of your sub-headlines and content MUST answer the "promise" you make on your main Headline.
In this case of "the cost raising a child in Singapore", once I click-though, I would expect to read something related to:
- The Cost of Early Childhood - Nanny Fees, extra-curriculum cost, milk powder cost, diaper cost, etc
- Pregnancy and Delivery Fees
- Monthly cost to parents at different stages of a child
- Financial preparation for a child
- What the government is doing to help - grants, tax relief, bonuses, subsidies
So, as long as the author writes sub-headlines that address any of the above topics, it will continue reading.
10 Guidelines to Write Awesome Headlines
1. Keep it Short and Crisp
You can't write long Headlines with these mediums anyway:
- Google Meta Title: 50 - 60 charaters
- Bing Meta Title: 65 characters
- Facebook Title: 25 - 45 characters
- Twitter: 70 characters
- Linkedin: 40 - 49 charaters
- Email: 40 characters (mobile); 100 characters (desktop)
However, there is no limitation to the length of the Headlines and Sub-Headlines in your article.
The truth is, there is no one-size-fits-all length for your Headlines...
But, it needs to be communicate the gist of what the article or the sub-sections are in the shortest and concise manner.
If you can summarize the block of content in lesser than 10 words, that will be optimal.
2. Dummy-Proof It
After you've written your Headline, read it in your target audience's perspective.
Is it difficult to understand? Does it require some thoughts or pondering? Do you "get it" immediately?
Some authors often forget that there is someone on the other end who is not as technical or educated reading their article.
It really depends on who the target audience is, but my guess is that we are always trying to educate someone through an article.
So, do not assume that the person will understand you if you use (1) Jargon, (2) insider words, or (3) clever word play in your Headlines.
Go straight to the point with simple English please 🙂
3. Make it Intriguing
Although it is "quite tough" to write a boring Headline when your topic is helpful to your audience...
But, don't forget, there are many other similar articles competing for the attention. Remember 5,000 ads per day?
if you are piquing the interest...
4. Use Powerful Words
Words that Invoke Emotions
Words that Implies a Benefit
Words that Creates a Sense of Urgency
Words that Offers an Opportunity
5. Make a Bold Statement
6. Make it Scannable
7. Communicate a Benefit for Reading Your Content
8. Start with a Keyword (For Search Engines Only)
9. Use Strong Adjectives
10. Offer a Solution Implicitly
11. Invoke Emotions
Magnetic Headlines Formulas
Disclaimer: There are already so many headline examples that are freely available on the internet, I shan't create my own. Instead, I will cite the source of the Headline Example.
How to [Painful Task] Without [Painful Method of Completing Task]
How to Lose Weight Without Exercising
How to Get
How to [Mundane Task] That [Rewarding Benefit]
Formula: You're Running Out of [ ]! Here's how to Fix It!
How to + Action (do something) + unique benefit
Formula (Just How): How [I/We/Company][Specific Achievements] in [Time Frame]
- How I Built an Online T-Shirt Business and Made $1,248.90 in 3 Weeks (Shopify)
- How We Increased Our Facebook Traffic by 332% in 2015 (Syed Balkhi)
- How I Paid off $46,500 of Student Loans in 2 years (Budgets Are Sexy)
- How Zapier Went From Zero to 600,000+ Users in Just Three Years (Groove)
Formula (Social Proof): Who Else Wants [blank]
Who Else wants a Great WordPress Theme
Who Else Wants a Higher Pauing Job
Who Else Wants more fun and less Stress when on vacation
The Secret of [Blank]
The secret of successful podcasting
The secret of Getting Your Home Loan Approved
Formula: Here is a Method that is Helping [Blank] to [Blank]
Here is a Method that is helping homeowners save hundreds on insurance
Here is a method that is helping children learn to read sooner
Here is a method that is helping bloggers writer better post titles
Formula: Little Known Ways to [blank]
Lottle known ways to save on your heating bill
Little known ways to hack Google's Gmail
Formula: Get Rid of [problem] once and for all
Get rid of your unproductive work habits once and for all
Get rid of that carpet stain once and for all
Formula: Now You can Have [Something desirable] and [great circumstance]
Formula: [Do something] like [World-Class example]
Speak like obama
Formula: [Action] You Can be Proud Of
Build a body you can be proud of
Formula: The Lazy [Blank's] Way to [Blank]
Formula: See how Easily You Can [desirable result]
Formula: You don't have to be [something challenging] to be [desired result]
Formula: Give Me [Short time period] and I'll Give you [desired outcome]
Formula: Why [x] trumps [y]
- Why Content Marketing Trumps Advertising (Heidi Cohen)
- Why Strong Customer Relationships Trump Powerful Brands (Harvard Business Review)
- Why You Should Be Building Trust, Not Traffic (Convince and Convert)
- Why Exercising Is a Higher Priority Than My Business (Entrepreneur)
Formula: The [Adjective] Guide to [Specific Topic]
- The Compact Guide to Grammar for Busy People (Boost Blog Traffic)
- A Brief Guide to Fixing Your Old, Neglected, and Broken Content (Copyblogger)
- A Data-Driven Guide to Creating Viral Content (Backlinko)
- The Noob Guide to Understanding Pay-Per-Click Marketing (Unbounce)
- A Scientific Guide to Saying “No”: How to Avoid Temptation and Distraction (Buffer)
Formula: How to [Achieve Something Specific]
Formula: [Number] [Topic] Goofs/Mistakes/Errors that [Lead to Damage]
- 9 Landing Page Goofs That Make You Lose Business (Copyblogger)
- 5 Common Mental Errors That Sway You From Making Good Decisions (James Clear)
- 7 Deadly Car Seat Mistakes Even Experienced Parents Make (Babycenter)
Formula: [Number] [Adjective] Ways/Methods/Tips/Rules/Secrets to [A Specific Benefit/Achievement]
Formula: [Number] Reasons Why [Surprising Fact / Implied Benefit]
Formula: How to [Specific Achievement]: [Number] Ways/Methods/Tips/Rules/Secrets
You can use a combination
X ways to get rich without - number + Without
Another headline that I saw recently that grabs my attention…
“3 Disturbing Observations About Singaporeans’ Attitude Towards Planing for Retirement”
Have any thoughts on that?
For me, the first 3 words of the headline already arouse curiosity. I would say that the headline is great as it serves the 3 purposes of a headline.
If you realize, all the above I’ve mentioned leads to one simple word “Relevancy”. If your headline is well relevant to your prospect, then you have done a good job with your advertisement.
Some Good Examples…
Good examples of great headline which serves the 3 purposes of a headline:
- A little mistake that cost a farmer $3,000 a year
- How a New Discovery made a plain girl beautiful
- How to win friends and influence people
- Prepare for the cost of raising a child in Singapore
Check List for Writing an Awesome Headline
My Check List for writing a headline:
- Who are my Audiences?
- What are…
- their needs and wants?
- the benefits that they are looking for?
- the specific details they are looking for in a product?
>Check out the scientific method to justify the effectiveness of your headline here.
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Thanks for reading thus far!