4 Techniques for Writing Compelling Headlines
Sure, you can’t judge a book by its cover, but you can certainly judge an article by its headline. We do it all the time. Think back to the news stories you skimmed over the last time you wanted to catch up with current events. Some of them you read because you were interested in the topic. Others you skipped over entirely. And there were a few where you just couldn’t help yourself— you just had to click on. Why? What made them stand out? If a writer could bottle whatever it is and sell it, he or she would be rich indeed.
While no headline is a guaranteed blockbuster, there are some tricks to make your headlines more compelling.
Use numbers. You don’t have to be an accountant to love numbers. Everyone else does too, especially when it comes to headlines. “4 Ways to Reduce Your Lower Back Pain,” “10 Strategies to Get a Better Tax Refund” or “3 Steps to Better Hair.” These types of headlines are far more likely to generate clicks than other, duller headlines. The reason they work is because they directly answer someone’s need. They promise something specific. They’re easy to follow, easy to understand and they offer our brains a sense of order.
Use adjectives. There are tons of wonderful adjectives out there. Why let them go to waste, especially when they can be put to work making your headline more dramatic? Would you be more likely to click on a headline about a government report or a ‘bombshell’ government report? Will an article about a ‘dramatic’ rescue pique your curiosity more than one about an ordinary rescue? Adjectives call attention to what we write and promise something more than the everyday humdrum.
Ask a Question. Don’t we all love a headline that gets us thinking? And, of course, once we start thinking about something, the next logical step is to click on a headline about that very topic. Question headlines can be very effective when used properly. The best ones promise an answer to a deep question we may have never asked ourselves before. In order to be effective though, you’ll need to avoid asking obvious questions that can be answered with a simple ‘no’, as well as questions that are obvious to all. Instead ask questions that inspire curiosity and dare to be provocative.
Be concise. When you’re writing copy, you’re already suffering under an economy of words. With extremely limited space, you need to get to the point. Every word counts and should add to the whole. Don’t use two words when one will do. Use well-chosen adjectives to give your headlines the exact feel you want. Try to make them as specific as possible.
When you write a piece of copy, your headline is the shortest part, but it might be the most important words you put down. The reason is simple. It doesn’t matter how good your article is if no one reads it. Your headline makes that happen, so give it the attention it deserves.