A Guide To Writing Headlines For Not-So-Great Writers: 5 Tips For More Clicks

Posted in Content, PR

Writers and non-writers alike can agree, headlines are pretty dang important. With endless stories exploding across news sites and sauntering into our inboxes, headlines are our filters for deciding what we will and will not give our highly coveted attention to.

The thing is, both writers and non-writers will also agree that creating click-through worthy headlines is kind of hard (but it’s EXTRA hard for non-writers, duh). There’s no magic formula, there are thousands of words in the dictionary to choose from (plus new words like, “earworm” to keep up on), and there’s pressure to make the headline both original and relevant. Oof, right?

So what happens if you’re one of these writing-challenged non-writers AND you happen to be in charge of creating these ever-so-important headlines? You read this article, absorb these tips, and go out into the world and crush the headline scene.

Let’s get on with the crushing then. Here are five tips for writing shiny headlines that demand your audience keep reading.

Tip 1: Get to Know Your Audience
From small children and bartenders to manufacturers and your mom, all audiences have different desires, concerns, likes, and dislikes – and you should get to know them! Knowing that your audience prefers high heels over high tops and Mickey Mouse over Mickey Rourke, will lead you to the words and phrases that resonate most. But don’t stop there, the best headlines are created using keyword research tools. For example, say you want to use the word “sofa” in your headline. A little keyword research might reveal that your audience actually prefers the word “couch,” and will more likely search for (and click on) that word.

Tip 2: Make an Offer They Can’t Refuse
Once you know what your audience wants, make sure your headline shows that your article has a solution your readers can’t live without. For example, let’s pretend your audience is full of fashion-conscious college students. A headline like, “Purchasing Articles of Clothing Whilst in Academia,” probably isn’t the most irresistible way to garner attention. But, “How to Cut Costs Without Cramping Your Style,” might be the ticket to click-city, as it offers the audience a solution to something they likely want: fashion on a budget.

Tip 3: Keep it Simple
“How to Clean Your Kitchen by Sweeping, Mopping, Wiping, Scratching, Scrubbing and Rubbing.” Ok, even the most cleaning-enthused person wouldn’t want to read that article. It’s too much, too confusing, too…everything. A good headline is simple. It should cover the juiciest, most important idea of your article, not every single point, factoid and tactic explored.

Tip 4: But Don’t Be Boring, Either
While keeping to the point is clutch, it’s also important to not bore would-be readers. The best headlines are easy to understand and pumped full of clever. The simplest way to punch up your headlines is to reconsider your adjectives and verbs. Then, reconsider them again, and then twice more until they’re so jazzy that you need to reconsider them one more time and bring them back down to earth. Hint: The thesaurus is your new best friend.

Tip 5: Steal from Your Peers 
This isn’t a trick. You should really be stealing headlines from others. This is how you do it without going to prison, though. Create a word document just for “headline swiping.” Whenever you see a headline, phrase or word that catches your attention, add it to the document for later days. On those later days when you’re lacking inspiration, read through your “stolen” headlines. Pick out words you like, phrases that pop, alliterations that make you sing, and mold them into a new headline that aligns with your topic. The best part is, by becoming more conscious of the headlines you love, the more likely it is you’ll get better at creating new bolts of brilliance on your own.

Five Headline Formulas I Think You Should Steal
Now that you’ve got the basics down, it’s time to embody tip five and start stealing. Here are five formulas for plug-n-play headline making, along with examples from this here aimClear blog.

1. How To: How To [do something desirable]

Example: How To Rock Pinterest: Tips For Less Than Sexy Industries

2. Lists: [Number] Ways To [get desired result]

Example: 4 Ways Web Developers Can Successfully Avoid Premature Balding

3. Why statements: Why [something is important]

Example: Why #SESNY Is A Big Deal To Me

4. Insider Looks: An Insider’s Guide To [Blank]

Example: A Guide To Writing Headlines For Not-So-Great Writers: 5 Tips For More Clicks

5. Questions: [Industry term/product/service]: What Is It And How Do I Use It?

Example: Google+: What Is It, REALLY…And How Do I Dominate Social & Search With It?

Post image credit: © termis1983 – Fotolia.com

  • John

    Good post Anna. Sometimes when I write content, I find that the title can be added once the text is complete. In some cases, the title comes to you when you start to check and read through the article again. I like the examples that you’ve used though, it’s never worth overdoing it. If it’s short and sweet, then this is much better than using a long title. I also find that the steps one is good, 4 steps to ….for example. Thanks for the advice.

  • Anna

    @John – I’m glad you enjoyed the post! And great point about when it is best to write the headline. I think it’s always a good idea to revisit headlines once the text is complete – so often the main point changes and grows as the article is revised.

  • Vanessa

    Thank you for these tips!

    I love the tip about “stealing” headlines and am going to start making a list for my blog.

    I also tend to give my posts a title after I write the content. I don’t like to be boxed in by a title I may not like. I write with a topic in mind and then once the content is edited, I think up a title.

    Thanks again!

  • Anna

    @Vanessa – So glad you found the tips helpful. “Stealing” is my favorite too, and it really applies to more than headlines – consciously looking for inspiration everywhere you go (and remembering to write it down if you have a bad memory like me) is helpful for any creative endeavor.