And why do headlines matter so much anyway?

When was the last time you searched for something on Google? What made you click on a particular result and take a closer look at the web page? It was the headline. And when composing a blog or online article you should spend just as much time writing the headlines as you do writing the rest of the copy. Okay maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, but I can tell you that as a professional copywriter I spend an inordinate amount of time writing, re-writing and fussing over headlines.

Why? You can increase the traffic to your blog by 500% based only on the headline. Headlines are the first thing people see. Clickable headlines are your best chance of grabbing someone’s attention and letting them know that you have something unique and useful to say. They set the tone and make it obvious what the article is about (unlike “Clickbait” headlines that do the opposite!).

BUT on average, although 8 out of 10 people will read a headline, only 2 out of 10 will read the rest. Those are not good odds so you must get your headline spot-on to have any chance of grabbing your audience’s attention and compelling them to read the whole story.

When we read we use headlines and sub-headings as a means of scanning a page and deciding what to focus on – or even whether to read it at all. This is especially important when reading text on a screen since our brains behave differently from reading on paper. We’re less likely to scan lines of text in the order they were written, instead looking for “anchor points” to help us make sense of the content. Elements like headings and images help us do that.

Why spend time working on a headline?

Woman working on a laptop writing a good headline for her blog

Copywriters often turn to the late British advertising tycoon David Ogilvy when we need inspiration. He knew long before anyone else that headlines are the most important element of copy. He is famously quoted as saying:

“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 a good headline is crucial for getting your content read. It’s what encourages people to click through to your website and learn more. It gives your reader a good idea about the content in the post. Without a great headline that hooks people in you risk sending your words out into the world with no-one to read them.

The better your headline, the better your odds of beating the averages and getting what you have to say read by a larger percentage of people.

How to write headlines people want to click

So you’ve got your idea for your blog or article and want to start playing around with headlines. There’s no rule about when to compose them: some people start with a headline, some leave it to the final edit, some get inspired to start composing half way through the writing process. It doesn’t matter – it’s whatever works for you.

One of the main reasons for spending time composing a headline is to create something that people will want to click. Clicks mean traffic to your website, which means search engines like Google will pay attention to you. And the more attention you get from Google, the more likely they are to keep listing your site in search engine results. (That’s a massive oversimplification of how search engines work but you get the gist.)

Remember the odds are against you: on average only 20% of people read the content once they’ve read the headline, possibly because they weren’t inspired enough to sacrifice any more of their time. So your job when composing a blog headline is to get 100% of readers to click through to your website like mad in their enthusiasm to read your wonderful and inspiring words.

How can you maximise your chances of that happening?

How to write a great headline

Manual typewriter with paper loaded and the word “News” typed on it. Photo courtesy of Markus Winkler, Unsplash

The best headlines are unique, useful, specific, identify a problem and deliver a promise of the solution. They use simple but powerful and unambiguous language that creates intrigue and interest.

The ideal headline length is 6 to 10 words, though you could use up to 20 words if necessary. If you’re not sure about the length try saying it aloud. If you run out of breath before you get to the end then it’s probably too long!

The headline should be a mix between adverbs and adjectives. It should either:

  • Promise something your readers can do quickly, e.g. using words like easy, quick, simple, straightforward, etc
  • Promise to teach readers something they won’t already know e.g. secret, little-known, surprise, etc
  • Promise a useful resource e.g. definitive, ultimate, only (as in “The Only Copywriting Guide You’ll Ever Need”), etc
  • Warn them about things to avoid e.g. mistakes, red flags, warning, etc
  • Numbered lists (sometimes called “Listicles”) are very clickable e.g. “7 Ways to Tidy Your Wardrobe”, as are “How To’s” e.g. “How to Avoid Mistakes With Your Website”.

BUT if you’re blogging to support your business you should avoid such headlines becoming too spammy.

If you’re stuck there are a number of free tools available that will generate headline ideas for you and give you a few options to play around with. One of my favourite FREE tools is The Hoth Headline Generator. With this tool you answer a few questions about what you’re trying to achieve and it gives you up to 10 different headlines to play with.

Give it a try now!

How to check if you have a good enough headline

So now you’ve got your headline (or a few variations on one) your next step is to check how compelling it is. Another favourite free tool is Coschedule’s Headline Analyzer. This is a great interactive tool that scores your headline for the overall structure, grammar, and readability and lets you play around with the wording to your heart’s content.

Simply type your headline into this box and hit “Analyze”. Your score on a scale of 1 to 100 is presented as a graphic and provides a breakdown of the various elements. I usually always aim for a score over 70, and in the interests of full disclosure here’s how this blog’s headline “The Importance of a Really Good Headline” fared:

screen shot of the result of Coschedule headline analysis with a score of 75

I wanted a headline that was clickable without being spammy, and business-like without being boring. It took me several goes to get to a score of 75 but I was happy with the result and so went with it.

Never, ever underestimate just how much of a difference a great clickable headline will make to your website traffic, your visibility and your authority. Crafting a great headline doesn’t have to be complicated and there are plenty of sources of inspiration and ideas in our blog.

My best advice is to take your time, experiment and have fun!

If you need any help with copywriting, blogging, or finding the right tools to support your own blogging journey, then get in touch.

About the author: Helen Say is the copywriting half of CBL Copywriting and SEO, a marketing agency based in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire. She takes the composition and crafting of headlines very seriously and really does spend as much time writing headlines as the main blog copy. Plus she’s on a mission to beat her best headline score (86).