6 Secret formulas bloggers use to write headlines

So you need to write a blog post? You’ve done your research, you’ve checked your facts, you’ve linked to your references, you’ve dotted your i’s and you’ve crossed your t’s – but now’s the hard bit… giving your blog post a headline.

The ever-quotable adman, David Ogilvy, once said “On average, five times as many people read the headline as the body copy.” He of course was referring to print advertising at the time, but in the digital age the divide is no doubt far greater. So how do you get people to click through to your content? Is there a magic formula for writing the perfect headline?

As it turns out, there’s more than one. Here now are the Top 6 formulas for writing the ultimate headline:

#1 – Numbers + Adjective + Keyword + Rationale + Promise

Lists. It’s one of the most common techniques in modern-day content headline writing, but does it work? Lenka Istvanova of Koozai Marketing conducted an analysis of the most clicked headlines and concluded that our first formula should be considered best practise. Bu if you need more proof, just visit Cracked.com, HuffingtonPost.com or Buzzfeed.com and see how list-style headlines can drive millions of page impressions a day.

E.g. 7 Irresistible desserts you can make at home for under $5

#2 ­– [Do something] like [world-class example]

Invest your money like a banker; bake like Nigella; blog like an all-star! Associating your brand with a successful and popular equivalent is marketing 101, and any high school English teacher will tell you a simile is the simplest way to do that. This formula, then, is hardly rocket science. Although Joanna Wiebe from Copy Hackers does suggest one addition to this formula: [Do something] like [world-class example] without [something unexpected or undesirable]

E.g. Make a coffee like a barista without the expensive machine

#3 – Find out [what/how] [others] are [doing] to [solve a problem]

Social proof is the concept that people will conform to the actions of others under the assumption that those actions are reflective of the correct behaviour. You can see this technique in play when nightclubs make you line up outside, or a TV uses canned laughter. So by implying in your headline that others are already on-board with your content, you are creating instant desirability. Note: This is only one way to structure the headline – there are plenty of other ways to engage social proof, e.g. “Who else wants…”, “Join others in…” etc

E.g. Find out how thousands of others are saving hundreds on their shopping bill.

#4 – The secret of _____

“Little known ways to____”, “The insider’s guide to ____”… no matter how you frame it, the result it always the same: Intrigue. People love secrets; especially if it relates to something they are interested in, so building this into your headline creates instant clickability.

E.g. Little known ways increase your web traffic

#5 – Here’s a quick way to [solve a problem]

The benefit of this headline is clear – a solution to a problem that is quick and easy. People are time-poor, and a nice easy bit of content that will make someone’s life easier is just the ticket to drive those clicks.

E.g. Here’s a quick way to keep the kids busy these holidays

#6 – [Number] [solutions] [I/we] learned from ____

This approach is not only attention grabbing, but it also offers reassurance; it gives people the comfort of knowing that whatever the content is, it has worked for someone else. More than this, it says “we’ve done the hard yards so you don’t need to.

E.g. 10 Ways to avoid a parking ticket I learned from my years as a taxi driver.

Bonus pointers

  • [Headline] + [Subhead] – Never underestimate the power of a well-places subhead. A good subhead can do all the heavy lifting, letting your headline shine with all its simplistic brilliance.

E.g. “Blog like a Huffington: 10 invaluable tips for writing a good headline.”

  • Talking of shining, KISSmetrics recommend the SHINE five-part checklist for every good headline; S – Specificity, H – Helpfulness, I – Immediacy, N – Newsworthiness, E – Entertainment value.

E.g. “The Best Five Minutes (immediacy) You’ll Spend Today (entertainment): The Latest Tips (newsworthy) From .99 (specificity) on writing better headlines (helpfulness)”

  • [Headline] + [A hook] – Basically, this technique involves giving the reader something extra to hook them in; highlighting something in the content which the viewer will feel compelled to look at.

E.g. “7 Ways to cook Snapper you didn’t know. #5 will blow your mind!”

This is obvious not an exhaustive list. Every blogger will have his or her own top tips for getting clicks. The best advice is simply to test, test, and test again. See what works; see what doesn’t work; and then try something new!

Website Upworthy.com famously write 25 headlines for their posts, test them all, then choose the best one (although that does sound a little labour-intensive!)

At the end of the day, you are your own best friend. Simply ask yourself, ‘would I click that?’ Do you have a formula you use? Tell us in the comments:

More formulas can be found:

Blogger Peter Sandeen’s 101 headline formulas

The Daily Egg blog’s 15 headline formulas

Copyblogger’s 10 popular headline formula

The 35 headline formula of John Caples

Author: Edward Bell (Senior Creative)