How to Write Killer Headlines

How can you make your blog posts and articles stand out from vanilla SEO fodder? Well, a good start is by writing a headline that grabs people by the danglies and refuses to let go until they have read every…last…word.

By Jamie Hutchinson

Thu June 13th 2024

How to Write Killer Headlines

We’re awash with mediocre content. So how can you make your finely crafted articles and blog posts stand out from the humdrum SEO fodder that has become the scourge of the Internet? Well, a good start is by writing a headline that grabs people by the danglies and refuses to let go until they have read every…last…word.

Your headline is your salesman. Your headline should make people stop in their tracks. Your headline should be irresistible. Your headline should scream: ‘C’mon in and read me baby!’ Yet very often, after going to great lengths creating a piece of content, we treat the headline as a throwaway afterthought. It’s a common and costly mistake. David Ogilvy sums it up best:

“On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.”

So how do you write headlines that resonate?

1. Keep it simple

Get to the point – quickly. Rambling headlines suggest rambling content. Your headline needs to concisely tell the reader what to expect. If you try to sound too clever, make a pun or fail to get to the heart of the matter instantly, you lose.

Take a look at the title of this article. It gets straight to the point, it promises to solve a problem, and you know exactly what to expect.

2. Start with a working title, then improve it

If you’re struggling to come up with a headline, start with the most basic title you can think of. For this article, I started with ‘How To Write Headlines’.

Now look at ways you can improve specific words in the title. Think about who it’s aimed at and try to tailor it specifically to their needs. Come up with different ways you can phrase the headline, and always aim to be as specific as possible. So instead of ‘How To Write Headlines’, you might end up with, ‘6 Ways To Write Killer Headlines That Convert’.

3. Use 'Death by Chocolate' vocabulary

You’ll have noticed that in the last example, we added the word ‘Killer’ to our title. If you’ve taken a look at our other article, ‘21 Words That Sell’, you’ll already be well aware of some of the most powerful words you can use in headlines – here are just a few that put a spark into any sentence:

  • You
  • Secrets
  • Proven
  • Results
  • Free
  • Easy
  • Never
  • Value
  • New

You get the idea. When it comes to choosing words, steer clear of vanilla, aim for death by chocolate.

4. Vulnerability

There's nothing more powerful than telling it like it is, especially if the story contains an element of jeopardy. We're naturally drawn to negative news (hence the news media focusing soley on the bad stuff.) Think: 'How I Lost £7million in 12 Months' or the most infamous ad headline of all time: 'They Laughed When I Sat Down At The Piano - But When I Started to Play!' This masterful headline, written by John Caples almost a century ago, has vulnerability and redemption all in one sentence, and sold thousands of courses to learn the piano at home as a result.

5. Try to optimise – but don’t compromise

When writing headlines, you’ll often have one eye on optimising for search. However, this shouldn’t be at the expense of clarity or creativity. Titles written purely for SEO purposes often make headlines sound strange and forced. The main takeaway here is that if you can optimise for search without compromising your messaging, then great. But don’t force it. We're writing for humans, not search algorithms.

6. Measure your results

Using analytics, it's easy to track which headlines attract the most attention online, (and be sure to check the bounce rates too as a high bounce rate might suggest that your users felt misled by certain titles and didn’t find the content they were looking for). It's also very simple to A/B split test different headlines, which gives you a very firm steer on the words and phrases appeal to your audience. Of course, a headline that works well online, is very likley to work just as well in print, so you can use your web based content as a yardstick for your printed material.

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