It doesn’t get simpler than this. Here’s the ultimate list of headline hacks that will boost your traffic by shooting your click-through rates (CTR) through the roof:
The List of Absolute Headline Writing Musts
The headline uses keywords
Now, you might think that this is only for SEO purposes but you’ll be wrong. As Orbit Media Studios advise, your headlines should ideally be optimized for SEO and user friendliness in the same time – and this is what keywords are for. Not only search engines but internet users as well look for their search term in your titles – and the closer you place them is to the beginning of the line, the better. By placing your most important keywords (researched and optimized according to your target group’s preferences) prominently in the beginning of your headlines you convey that this is indeed the focus of your content – and you rank better in search. This helps CTR dramatically.
Exclusive tip: Use long tail keywords. By optimizing your titles for long tail keywords you achieve a twofold result: your titles rank better for the right search queries and appeal to the right internet users. As SEO Analytics reports, the more impressions a keyword gets, the less CTR is observed for this keyword. This is because your headlines will also rank for irrelevant queries. When applying a long tail keyword strategy, you avoid that. At the end you’ll get fewer impressions but higher CTR and conversion.
The headline uses numbers
This might seem a bit odd but using numbers in your headlines has a great effect on the CTR. In fact, a study reported by MOZ found that the largest group, 36 % of readers, prefer a title with a number, where only 21% preferred the second best option, reader addressing titles.
To maximize the outcome of this headline hack you should use the actual number instead of writing it. You are also advised to choose odd numbers as they resonate more with readers and are easier to remembe
Exclusive tip: Use “magic numbers”: 3, 7, 9, 21, etc. as they are even more powerful than other odd numbers and lead to better CTR. Also, try to make shorter lists. People tend to look for simplicity so they’re likely to choose 3 tips for writing great blog posts instead of 21 tips for writing great blog posts.
The headline makes a promise
This is an important point. You must convey the value of your content. What is the potential reader going to get out of engaging with your content?
I’ve stumbled upon a lot of suggestions about specific promise-words that are supposed to perform better than the rest, such as improve, win, get, free, etc. but you should take this with a grain of salt.
What’s important is to make the right promise: that is relevant to your target group and truly describes your content. You can, for example, also promise an extra, such as freebies, revelations, ultimate solutions, etc.
Exclusive tip: Whatever you promise, you must keep. Besides, you must make sure that your promises – and headlines in general – are aligned with your brand and established tone of voice.
The headline uses power words (triggers)
There are a lot of web pages fighting for the attention of the same target groups and this makes it a must to stand out and try grabbing people’s attention, sometimes in a bit unconventional way. You can do that by using the so-called power words or triggers.
Such can be slang words, adjectives as free, exclusive, best, great, insane, easy, fast, etc., and strong words as success, failure, improvement, money, drama, chok, scandal, secret, etc.
Their purpose is to grab the attention of the reader and make them take action. As with everything else, you should be careful to only use triggers that fit your content.
Exclusive tip: Be careful when using triggers! Email filters have now long been labeling as spam mails with headlines that include words as win, only chance, now, free, etc. Try to “hide” your trigger word in a sentence that makes it sound more natural and less spam-like.
The healine uses a colon
There’s a simple reason why this tactic leads to higher CTR: when used after a keyword to further define your topic it makes it easier for internet users to undersand your intent.
For example, if the initial headline “How to cook a turkey” gets extended with “How to cook a turkey: Roasted turkey with oranges for Thanks Giving”, you give potential readers more of a reason to click: they know what kind of a recipe you’re offering them and what they can use the ready meal for.
In addition, using a colon gives the impression of professionalism as you demonstrate that you’ve gone into detail (Example: Headlines that work: The how’s and why’s of great headlines).
Exclusive tip: Use the colon after the keyword and not before. Doing otherwise might devalue the importance of your keyword and lead to lower CTR as a result.
The headline triggers curiosity
Curiosity can be triggered by using one of the following headline strategies that have all proved to perform very well:
- Ask a question – and make people wonder about the answer
- Present a list – and leave readers wondering what’s on it
- Reveal a secret
- Promise a ultimate solution
Exclusive tip: When playing with people’s curiosity, you must deliver on your promise for something worthwhile. Disappointing site visitors is the surest way to fail as a publisher as you’ll end up with 0 % percent returning traffic.
The headline reveals the form and type of content
Stating in your titles the type of content site visitors can expect leads to higher CTR and it’s easy to understand why: by promoting both the form and type of content you help people see the value in it.
Under form is understood whether it’s a video, post, interview, gallery, infographic, etc. Under type is understood whether it’s a list, an answer to a question, a revelation, research, stats, etc.
Exclusive tip: Choose form and type of content that is preferred by your target group – and promote it in your headlines – for best results.
The headline’s length fits it’s purpose
This one might be a bit tricky as sometimes it’s a good idea with a long title where the end gets cut off and leaves you wondering what got cut off. However, best practice is to follow the guidelines for maximum characters on different platforms and compose headlines that fit the provided space. Both for email and in search you should try to keep your titles under 60 characters, including spaces.
In addition, Hubspot cites research showing that headlines optimally should consist of between 8 and 14 words to achieve maximal number of shares.
Exclusive tip: Longer titles giving you a mix of action triggers, such as keywords, power words, promise, etc. work better than short titles as they give you more of a reason to click. There’s however only a limited correlation between headlines and sharing. Fact is that people most often react to the content itself, not the headline.
The headline is brand-compliant
It’s important that your whole content strategy is aligned and coherent. This includes your headlines as well. Make sure that they communicate the core of your brand every time. Thus, if you’re a blogger specializing in cooking, it’s only logical that your headlines will always be about cooking – and all its aspects.
Besides helping people understand what your content is about and remember your site as relevant to a specific topic, it’ll boost your site’s topical authority for even better performance in search and improved trustworthiness.
Exclusive tip: Always follow the tone of voice that you’ve established. You must decide the general frame of your headlines and not mix incompatible strategies, such as, for example, informational and emotional. It should be either or.
The List of Controversial Advice
There’s some more advice that is available online (by Hubspot, CopyBlogger, Neil Patel, Jeff Goins, MOZ, and Search Engine Land among others) and to keep my promise of giving you the ultimate list of headline hacks, I’ve included those as well. The pros and cons of each of them are listed to help you navigate through them.
- Start with a working title. That’s a good advice as a working title will help you stay focused on your topic without taking away the opportunity to optimize post-writing.
- Don’t forget accuracy. It’s important – as mentioned above to keep relevant and precise and to not mislead your readers. You should, however, incorporate accuracy into your methods instead of using it as a method on its own.
- Use alliteration and strong language. Yes, this works often but you should be careful to not undermine your brand or trustworthiness by using them carelessly. For example, if you’re a scientific writer or high-tech company, you should definitely avoid alliterations and sensation-screaming words.
- Use All Caps. It seems that many don’t mind and even tend to prefer All Caps titles. Those are, however, only suitable for certain types of content focusing on chok, surprise, and emotions.
- Use emotions. Emotional headlines are without a doubt very strong and trigger high CTR. The problem is only that not all content is emotional by nature. Remember that your titles should fit your content.
- Be unique. This advice I have difficulties with. I can see that it might be a downside if your healines are completely the same as 100 others but there’s a good reason why 100 others publishers have optimized for precisely these words. A simple keyword research with for example Google’s Keyword Planner can guide you to choose less used but still popular keywords you can optimize for. Uniqueness in itself shouldn’t be your goal though.
- Convey a sense of urgency. It’s true that making your headlines sound as if it’s now or never, only chance or something like that, does achieve results in terms of CTR. It’s, however, most often misleading – and this is one of the big NOs of headline writing.
- Use what, why, when, where or how. It’s always good to ask questions. However, using one of the question words is not a must to make a good question. Besides, when implementing other tactics, such as using a list, a question is not necessary.
- Use a formula. Online you can find formulas for writing headlines as this one: Keyword – Colon – Number or Trigger Word – Promise. While it might make a good title, it would be beyond boring if you always use the same structure for your headlines. Instead, try to construct each title individually by taking into account the rules for writing great healines.