7 Sneaky Ways to Write Irresistible Headlines

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7 Sneaky Ways to Write Irresistible Headlines

In the advertising world, it’s commonly agreed that the headline is responsible for about 90% of an ad’s effectiveness. Same thing in the book world. The title does nearly all the heavy lifting. And, it’s no different in newspapers and social media, especially places like twitter where all you’ve to sell the click is the headline. Or digg.com, where a brief glance at the headline makes or breaks your shot at hitting the front page.

Your headlines can either launch you…or bury you.

Which makes you wonder. Why do so many bloggers spend so much time on the body of a post, then punt when it comes time to create the headline?

So, how do you write headlines that rock?

Here are 7 things that’ll help make your headlines sing, pull, lure and lull. One big picture and 6 a bit more under the radar…

First, SEO Optimize Your Headlines.

Let’s talk about SEO first, because that’s the, how do I say this, suckier part of writing headlines at least for me. In fact, it’s the part I bailed on for most of my blogging career, until I realized how critical it was in driving search engine traffic to my blog.

Simply put, search engines are looking for the most relevant answers to their search queries. How they determine relevance is a complex, ever-evolving formula, but what IS clear is that the title of your post plays a significant role.

So, if someone is searching for “clubs for balding molecular biologists,” there’s a good chance that a post with a headline that closely matches that search term will end up well ranked and send traffic (at least the 3 people and 1 cat that search for this term).

What’s the takeaway?

Use google’s free eternal keyword tool to search on a ton of different keywords and phrases to determine which ones are both relevant to your target readership and have decent search volume, but aren’t hyper-competitive (this will all be in the reports). You can also check out SEOBook’s keyword tool or the even the Scribe WordPress plugin. Then, see if you can integrate those keywords and phrases into your headlines…WITHOUT SOUNDING LIKE A BOT!

But Remember, SEO Is Just The Beginning…

Back in 1932, legendary copywriter, John Caples, wrote a book called Tested Advertising Methods. It quickly became the bible of direct response copywriters and the coolest thing is, it’s as relevant today as it was back then. Because, headlines and copy are fundamentally about appealing to human nature and, while the human condition evolves, human nature has stayed largely the same for thousands of years.

We still respond to the same basic triggers.

Caples shared three critical elements that make for high impact headlines:

  • Curiosity—Craft your headlines to create a sense of intrigue, an incomplete thought or a questions that just has to be answered.
  • NewsEither report news with your post or piggyback your topic onto breaking news that’s relevant to the interests of the reader, and
  • Self InterestSpeak to the desires, fears, needs and emotional triggers of your reader. Ask, “what’s in it for them?”

These same principles can be used to guide your quest to create compelling headlines. The ones that stop people in their tracks and get your content passed around in social media and social bookmarking/voting sites like crazy.

And, while you’re at it, why not go for the headline triple-threat—combine all three elements in one headline…and you may very well have a slam dunk.

Some examples include:

Three more considerations:

  • Numbers – One of the thing that makes a headline, copy or story memorable is how concrete it is. Copywriters have known this for years. More recently, the Heath brothers proclaimed it one of the critical elements that makes a message memorable in their bestseller, Made To Stick. And, one of the easier ways to make content more concrete is to add numbers. So, in a headline, rather than saying, “Here’s How to Get The Lead Out and Feel More Energized,” you might say, “7 Tips to Double Your Energy in 7 Minutes.” BTW – copywriting and internet marketing lore says the number 7 always converts better than any other, but I’ve never found the research to prove it or known anyone who’s actually tested it.
  • Presuppositions – This is an NLP terms that also means “assumed facts.” I love to write headlines that presuppose the reader is experiencing something, then speak to that presupposition. Doing this draws the reader in much more effectively. So, for example, the headline, “Top 10 Ways to Unbake Your Brain” assumes that your brain is already baked and that you’re looking for a way out. With a world filled with pervasive stress, this is a pretty safe assumption. Then, I build on the presupposition by providing 10 solutions to the assumed pain (self interest), and implying that this is new information (news), but holding back the strategies (curiosity).

  • Overriding Purpose of HeadlinesLet’s add one last element to Caples’ list of three compelling headline qualities. And, that’s what legendary copywriter, Joe Sugarman, defined as the essential purpose of the headline:
  • To get peoples’ attention, then
  • To get them to read the next line

Wrapping it all up…

We’re left with a pretty interesting and fun challenge—how to create headlines that are appealing to search engines while also triggering the human emotions and behaviors that make readers stop cold, read the headline, then be irresistibly compelled to dive into the post.

Meet that challenge and your life as a blogger just got a whole lot easier.

So, what do YOU think?

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48 responses

48 Responses to “7 Sneaky Ways to Write Irresistible Headlines”

  1. Karol Gajda says:

    RE: the number 7. I’ve thought about this before too. I could never find any research. But it seems someone would have had to tested this at some point, no? Or is it a case of “it must be true, so let’s do it, which will make it true”?

    As far as SEO headlines. The “how to” headline is king for this. Searchers search for solutions: How to do X. How to cure X. How to make X. They don’t search for 10 simple ways to lose weight in 10 days. :)

  2. Andy Fossett says:

    I struggle with headlines, and I do mean struggle.

    It’s probably the engineering school residue in my brain, but I have a tendency to just title things as what they are. For example, “Virtual Beer #10: Gingo Kogen,” when it would really be better to call it something like “What’s the Best Japanese Beer for Drink with Sushi? Gingo Kogen.”

    I get that headlines are important both for SEO and for drawing in readers, but I’m absolutely hopeless combining the two.

  3. I agree with Andy, I also struggle with headlines. I’ll keep this post handy so when I get lazy with my next headline, I can come back and have you poke me!

    Hey there’s a headline, “Do you let Jonathan Fields Poke You?”

  4. Tim Brownson says:

    I only read Made To Stick earlier this week and then like the lemming I am, immediately had to put “Some people laughed at Life Coaching” on my blog.

    I await a flood of new clients with interest.

    With regard to blog posts I’m too clever (stupid) for my own good and continue to attempt to rewrite the rules.

    I’ll let you know if it happens.

  5. Jodi Kaplan says:

    About the number “7″; I’ve heard that for years too. Interestingly, I just got a marketing email from Bob Bly this morning, and realized that all of his ebook prices end in a “9.” Maybe he knows something?

    Also, I think you meant Google’s EXTERNAL keyword too (not eternal). Although, an eternal keyword tool (always good, never needs adjusting), would be great!

  6. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by twittybean: 7 Sneaky Ways to Write Irresistible Headlines http://bit.ly/bgKGSy

  7. Hey Jonathan,

    Headline writing is something I still struggle with. I try to let my headlines sit for a day or two before I publish a post, because very often the headline I thought was so clever when I wrote it ends up being pretty bland when I come back to it a few days later.

    I like the points you make, especially about presupposition and the number 7. And the word irresistible in this articles headline? Of course that made me want to read it ;)

  8. Mars Dorian says:

    Good post, Jonathan,

    I’ll put a lot of emphasis on curiosity and self-interest headlines, but I don’t care about SEO at all.
    My unique style like hardcore coupled with remarkable character-stylized posts are my main armed force of total promotion.

  9. Hey Jonathan,

    Love the post – you’re really good at practical “how-to” stuff… i hope to see more of it :-)

    I’ve used keyword research to write headlines for my blog in the past. The posts always ranked well, but I generally got pretty low response (in terms of comments, subscriptions etc) from the people who were arriving via google.

    My learning was to stick to writing great stuff and hope that my existing audience finds it remarkable enough to spread the word.

    I found that headlines affected the whole focus of my writing… that trying to be SEO friendly lead to generic “how to” posts that weren’t much value to my regular readers.

    What’s your take on this? How do you keep your longtime readers happy with new, innovative stuff but also draw in strangers from google??

    - Peter
    @petershallard

  10. Daniel says:

    Oh you sneaky sneaky. Got me reading this with your headline. :)

    I actually have one copy of your Headline Tipsheet. It helped big time when applying them to practice since the beginning of this year.

  11. Dave Doolin says:

    I fired up Caples last week after giving him a break for a few months. Reads as fresh as ever. Whole chapters on headlines.

    I’m also a big fan of “The First 100 Million.”

  12. [...] ways to write irresistible headlines for your blog posts, by Jonathan Fields Share this story These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers [...]

  13. Nona says:

    Headline writing makes me crazy!!!

    I’m so glad to read I’m not alone and that there are specific ways to get better at it. Thanks so much for writing such accessible, awesome articles!

  14. Tim Sanchez says:

    I was just commenting to my wife last night about how I hate writing headlines. Like most people, I have a hard time mixing SEO with a catchy headline that fits the content of the post.

    Thanks for the info, I used it to change the headline on a post that’s going up tomorrow. I’m sure I’ll be coming back to this page.

  15. Jonathan, great post. I enjoy writing headlines, and usually feel pretty good about the results. But, it’s great to have a guide such as yours to really know for sure. Thanks!

  16. May I recommend flipping these two steps?

    Enlist the aid of curiosity, news, and self-interest to write a great headline. Now, if you still care, go do the SEO stuff.

    Mark Twain may or may not have said that any word you find in a thesaurus is the wrong one. I understand the desire to have our writing found, but I contend that if we take our perfect headline and change a word to be more SEO-friendly, that word, too, is the wrong one.

  17. The Georgia Yankee says:

    Thanks – so many online resources and articles are fluff. Yours has re3al content, and in a world where time is at such a premium, I really appreciate it.

    Dale
    The Georgia Yankee
    Woodstock, GA

  18. Once it was only by triggering the human emotions and behaviors but nowadays it requires appealing to search engines. This bit is illustrated so well … There may be lots to learn from him, not only about the headline.

  19. I was just reading the book “Why we make mistakes” by James Hallinan (oops I meant Joseph, see there I go)…and he says that people have a propensity for the number 7 and the color blue. Not sure I can say where he got that information from, but it sounds good. Lovin on your blog! XO Makenzie

  20. [...] Jonathan Fields: “7 Sneaky Ways to Write Irresistible Headlines” (also see Aliza’s video of Jonathan from SXSW here) [...]

  21. [...] Jonathan Fields: “7 Sneaky Ways to Write Irresistible Headlines” (also see Aliza’s video of Jonathan from SXSW here) [...]

  22. PErickson says:

    I don’t do well with headlines. I am going to have to hunt down your guide!

  23. [...] Jonathan Fields: 7 Sneaky Ways to Write Irresistible Headlines [...]

  24. [...] Jonathan Fields: 7 Sneaky Ways to Write Irresistible Headlines [...]

  25. [...] Headlines that rock Talking of writing, Jonathan Field has written an excellent article on how to write headlines. The special twist is that he uses NLP techniques to give headlines that extra irresistibility factor. Check out 7 Sneaky Ways to Write Irresistible Headlines [...]

  26. Absolutely right… grabbing attention by startling the reader – in a good way – should be the goal.

    I love your examples, by the way.

  27. Another thing to do is pay attention to the headlines that grab YOUR attention. Pick them apart and look for the elements of attraction. How do they speak to your needs and desires, or fears and anxieties?

    We all came to Jonathan’s article because we want another 7 tips to writing irresistible headlines. Clearly that speaks to our needs and desires.

    Thanks, Jonathan.

  28. [...] of the things I’ve written about in the past is something I call the headline “persuasion trifecta.” Three elements that when integrated into a headline serve as such a powerful tease, you simply [...]

  29. All I have ever read about regarding writing headlines is to consider the readers perspective as in “what is in it for me” or to tie a mundane task with a benefit.

    I really appreciate learning about self interest, news, and curiosity along with what Brain mentioned about paying attention to headlines that get my attention and analyzing them.

    Will definitely utilize these strategies in my headlines.

  30. Great Article.

    I’m always looking for simple guidelines for developing powerful marketing, and powerful attention getting headlines.

    Thanks

  31. [...] forget how important titles are. See 7 Sneaky Ways to Write Irresistible Headlines byJonathan Fields, itself an excellent example of attention grabbing. Other perfect examples of [...]

  32. [...] 7 Sneaky Ways to Write Irresistible Headlines [awake@thewheel] [...]

  33. Vikram says:

    This is a very good post, titles/deadlines tell you whats in.

  34. [...] forget how important titles are. See 7 Sneaky Ways to Write Irresistible Headlines byJonathan Fields, itself an excellent example of attention grabbing. Other perfect examples of [...]

  35. [...] Irresistible Headlines – Jonathan Fields – I confess, a few of my “ingredient” ideas for titles came from this post, and although Jonathan’s SEO tips are pretty basic, there’s some fantastic idea in this post. One interesting suggestion he makes is that the use of numbers, specifically the number ’7′ has shown highest success. [...]

  36. [...] Irresistible Headlines – Jonathan Fields – I confess, a few of my "ingredient" ideas for titles came from this post, and although Jonathan's SEO tips are pretty basic, there's some fantastic idea in this post. One interesting suggestion he makes is that the use of numbers, specifically the number '7' has shown highest success. [...]

  37. [...] Irresistible Headlines – Jonathan Fields – I confess, a few of my "ingredient" ideas for titles came from this post, and although Jonathan's SEO tips are pretty basic, there's some fantastic idea in this post. One interesting suggestion he makes is that the use of numbers, specifically the number '7' has shown highest success. [...]

  38. [...] Irresistible Headlines – Jonathan Fields – I confess, a few of my “ingredient” ideas for titles came from this post, and although Jonathan’s SEO tips are pretty basic, there’s some fantastic idea in this post. One interesting suggestion he makes is that the use of numbers, specifically the number ’7′ has shown highest success. [...]

  39. [...] Irresistible Headlines – Jonathan Fields – I confess, a few of my "ingredient" ideas for titles came from this post, and although Jonathan's SEO tips are pretty basic, there's some fantastic idea in this post. One interesting suggestion he makes is that the use of numbers, specifically the number '7' has shown highest success. [...]

  40. [...] Irresistible Headlines – Jonathan Fields – I confess, a few of my "ingredient" ideas for titles came from this post, and although Jonathan's SEO tips are pretty basic, there's some fantastic idea in this post. One interesting suggestion he makes is that the use of numbers, specifically the number '7' has shown highest success. [...]

  41. [...] Irresistible Headlines – Jonathan Fields – I confess, a few of my "ingredient" ideas for titles came from this post, and although Jonathan's SEO tips are pretty basic, there's some fantastic idea in this post. One interesting suggestion he makes is that the use of numbers, specifically the number '7' has shown highest success. [...]

  42. [...] Irresistible Headlines – Jonathan Fields – I confess, a few of my "ingredient" ideas for titles came from this post, and although Jonathan's SEO tips are pretty basic, there's some fantastic idea in this post. One interesting suggestion he makes is that the use of numbers, specifically the number '7' has shown highest success. [...]

  43. [...] Irresistible Headlines – Jonathan Fields – I confess, a few of my "ingredient" ideas for titles came from this post, and although Jonathan's SEO tips are pretty basic, there's some fantastic idea in this post. One interesting suggestion he makes is that the use of numbers, specifically the number '7' has shown highest success. [...]

  44. [...] Irresistible Headlines – Jonathan Fields – I confess, a few of my "ingredient" ideas for titles came from this post, and although Jonathan's SEO tips are pretty basic, there's some fantastic idea in this post. One interesting suggestion he makes is that the use of numbers, specifically the number '7' has shown highest success. [...]

  45. [...] Irresistible Headlines – Jonathan Fields – I confess, a few of my “ingredient” ideas for titles came from this post, and although Jonathan’s SEO tips are pretty basic, there’s some fantastic idea in this post. One interesting suggestion he makes is that the use of numbers, specifically the number ’7′ has shown highest success. [...]

  46. [...] Irresistible Headlines – Jonathan Fields – I confess, a few of my “ingredient” ideas for titles came from this post, and although Jonathan’s SEO tips are pretty basic, there’s some fantastic idea in this post. One interesting suggestion he makes is that the use of numbers, specifically the number ’7′ has shown highest success. [...]