November 25, 2014 - Comments Off on How to write irresistible headlines that get serious clicks

How to write irresistible headlines that get serious clicks

That headline is some statement. In the constant battle to stand out, brands have tried a number of tactics in an effort to bring people to them. I’ve done it, just there, with that headline. And when you know that 8 out of 10 people read headlines, but only 2 out of 10 read on, you can understand why they’re so crucial.

For what is regarded a creative environment, there are plenty of people who argue that there are rules to writing the perfect headline. As I’m open minded, I wouldn’t like to disagree. In fact, after a bit of investigating, it’s fairly clear that rules do in fact exist, and brands (naming no BuzzFeeds – er, I mean names) stick to them rigidly.

What’s more, there even appears to be a formula to writing them, which I used to write the headline of this blog. And it goes like this:


The trigger words in our headline are ‘How to write’. This by its very nature appeals to our sense of curiosity. As humans we’re programmed to learn. We’re nosey. ‘How to’ suggests we’ll get step-by-step instructions – and, more crucially, answers – so we’ll be able to do whatever it is we don’t already know how to do. Sounds like a good deal.

The adjective is ‘irresistible’. It could’ve been many other things, such as ‘perfect’, ‘successful’, ‘attention-grabbing’ or even ‘killer’. The point here is that it could be anything, as long as it excites.

The keyword is, of course, ‘headlines’. That’s the subject of the article. It’s the centre from which we’re building the rest. If you’ve ever been stuck on writing a headline, it’s always practical to recognise the keyword(s) and start from there. Sounds a bit obvious to say but, honestly, we’ve all overlooked it from time to time. Including yours truly.

And finally we have the promise, which is ‘that get serious clicks’. Just make sure it’s a promise you can deliver on, and not something someone will hold you to. People can get quite prickly about that sort of thing.

There are a lot more theories and thoughts into this subject. Six words is the perfect headline length, apparently. Numbers hold great appeal. Negative words like ‘don’t’ and ‘risk’ lead to more shares. It’s difficult to bring all these together to work in harmony, so you’ll see bits and pieces working independently.

Headlines are down the side of articles, and along the bottom of our screens, jostling for position (and our attention). Each one screaming ‘Read me!’ using some of the rules above. Here are just some of the headlines I’ve seen on the internet today that caught my eye:

“14 Things Only People Who Love To Snack Understand”

“A University Hockey Team Got Naked In A Stand Against Homophobia”

“If You Don’t Have Health Insurance You Need To Know This”

“1 Weird Trick To KILL Teeth Stains”

I could write about each one all day. The number 14 is a bit precise, don’t you think? Not 13, or 15, but definitely 14. They must have thought about that topic very carefully. The second one is so concise that you barely need to read the rest, so I’m left to believe the strength of that article is in the pictures and not the writing. The third headline is a massive tease, while the fourth plays heavy on our sense of curiosity.

I’m not entirely sure that each word needs to start with a capital letter, but there’s a reason for that. We only tend to capitalise proper nouns – names, or the really important words. Here they’re claiming each word is important. Break these headlines in two and you’ll see ‘YOU MUST READ THIS’ written through it like a stick of rock.

So if you want people to read the content – content that you’ve laboured over for hours, tweaking and perfecting until it’s in a position you’re happy with – then the headline demands just as much time. Because, without a compelling one, no one will read what you have to say.