How To Write Killer Headlines For Your Ads, Press Releases & Blogs

How To Write Killer Headlines For Your Ads, Press Releases & Blogs

Headlines are a nasty piece of work to writers.

You’ve probably heard of this aphorism, “if I had had more time, I’d have written a shorter letter.”

As far as good writing goes, it takes more time to condense your thoughts in shorter proses. It’s the same thing with writing headlines, that one liner that sort of summarises Everything you’ve just written while also working to grab the reader’s attention.

Unfortunately, when it comes to writing those simple, punchy titles or headlines, most writers don’t seem to have the time. It’s not surprising that most of them treat it as an afterthought or would rather whip up something random in just a few seconds.

Yet, most of these writers spend days or even weeks pouring over the longer body of their text, editing and polishing it through to within an inch of its life.

Why?

Because they’re creatives who derive so much pleasure in the generative process. But when it comes to headlines, not so much.

The fact is, writers should start caring about headlines. That’s because a good copy doesn’t sell itself, the headline does.

It’s your first impression with readers. Not writing one is akin to building a beautiful home but forgetting to construct a door or constructing a whacky door.

With a good headline, what you’re doing is inviting people in to come and find you. You’re giving them the first impression that will hook their attention, and get them curious enough to want to dig through your content and find out what it is about.

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First things first,

What’s a Headline?

A headline is the text demonstrating the nature of the article below it. It’s considered catchy when it’s able to bring readers to view the article or ad.

It’s includes words that are meant to capture the attention of the reader or viewer, and get them interested enough to want to read the article or view the ad that follows it.

It’s to quickly and briefly bring attention to your article, story or ad.

The Difference Between a Headline and Title

Both are important, just not the same.

A headline describes the inner ecosystem of an article, often tied to something much bigger – like a blog or magazine.

Titles, on the other hand, envelope the whole idea of the project, magazine, or blog.

Successful bloggers, freelancers, and copywriters spent hours choosing headlines. It takes an even greater deal of time (usually days or months) to come up with a fitting title.

The Four Basic Types of Title Categories

There are four basic categories of titles: straight info, name, double entendre, and twee.

Straight Info

This title is as it sounds. It’s about being real and straightforward. It’s meant to inform you the way things are without getting cute with you. Examples of straight info titles: “Singapore History,” “Dance Magazine,” Celebrity Gossips,” and so on.

Name

This title category is self-explanatory. It simply gives the name of what’s being discussed. Examples include, Media One, Google, Facebook, Amazon, Carousell, and so on. Names make a great title, intriguing enough to grab your readers’ attention.

Twee

This is where a title is over-the-top cutesy. It’s enjoyable, yes. But also exasperating in the sense that it’s not straightforward with you. It reveals what’s inside or what to expect but without delving into too much detail.

Examples: “City of Angels,” “Breakfast Served Anytime,” “A Lifetime Memory.”

Double Entendre

This is where a title has a dual meaning. It makes you go, “hmm – ahham – oh!” Such titles exploit ambiguity.

Examples: “Goldfinger,” Little Danish.”

Different Types of Headline Categories

The primary purpose of using a headline is to attract readers’ attention. In a newspaper cover, a headline can even occupy a full page, which goes on to confirm that they’re all about attracting attention.

The term headline and titles are used interchangeably in journalism, but in reality, they represent two entirely different things.

Crafting the perfect headline is both an art and science.

It’s an art in the sense that it piques interest. Viral headlines fall in this category. They’ll describe enough to make you understand the article that they represent. But don’t expect them to tell the whole story.

Headlines can be grouped into so many categories. We cannot even cover them all in a single article, so we’ll try to stick with relevant ones:

How to Headlines

These headlines are so prevalent in the world of blogging. They basically aim to provide a solution to a common problem. They grab the reader’s attention by offering a solution to a problem they have.

Examples

“How to Make Money Online.”

“How to Design a Simple Website With WordPress.”

The Headlines

This is another category of headlines.

They’re the real definition of headlines, a bit simple and straightforward.

In most cases, they’ follow this format “the + explanation.”

Examples

“The Effect of Taking Drugs in High School.”

“The Productivity Triangle.”

“The Choice Effect.”

“The Challenge of Publishing Every day.”

Listicles

Listicle refers to all the articles that are written in the form of a list. There are plenty of listicles filling up the web, way too many of them, in fact.

Examples

“5 Types of Women You’ll Date Before Settling Down.”

“10 Tips to Rank High for a Particular List of Keywords.”

“20 Top Places to Visit in Singapore.”

“10 Ways to Craft a Catchy Headline.”

Difference Between X and Y

This headline tries to distinguish between two related or connect items. If you can remember, we used this format of a headline to differentiate between a headline and title.

Examples

“The Difference Between a Headline and Title.”

“The Difference Between a free WordPress blog and a Self-hosted One.”

“The Difference Between Web Design and Web Development.”

Questions

Some headlines are simply framed as questions. They’re meant to ask a reader something that piques the interest, and then proceed answer it in the content that follows.

Examples

“Why is it important to track your website’s traffic?”

“Why Is Your Website Still Struggling With Conversion?”

“How Long Should You Date Someone Before You Decide to Propose to Them?”

Overly Descriptive Headlines

This is a new trend of headlines that are seemingly doing well.

Typically, such headlines are framed as long, complex sentences, almost to the length of a paragraph.

Examples

“You Seldom Hear Keanu Reaves Talk About Money – but When He Does, You Can Bet It’s Life-Changing.”

“It’s Been a While Since Google Made Any Major Algorithmic Update to Their Search Engine. Does That Mean That They Finally Attained Perfection, or Are They Working on Something That Will Surely Shake the Web?”

WTF Headlines

These are the headlines that get you saying the words “WTF.”  They’ll leave you either confused or shocked.

They usually sport the element of surprise or shock.

Examples

 “A curvy dildo that will make you question why you even married your husband in the first place.”

“A Woman Aborts a Live Baby.”

“A Man Discovers the Women She’s Been Married to For Five Years Was Actually a Man.”

Double Entendre Headlines

As with double entendre titles, these headlines carry dual meaning. There’s a hidden meaning on top of what everyone is interpreting.

Examples

“Kids Make Nutritious Snacks.”

“Panda Mating Fail, the Vet Is Forced to Take Over.”

Credibility

These headlines are all about credibility. They include authority or backing facts.

Most of them tend to include words such as scientist, proof, statistics, evidence, or experts.

Examples

“Learn from the experts – what the other viruses teach us about Covid-19.”

“Scientists Warn of a Looming Climate Crisis.”

Mistakes

These headlines are all about pointing out common mistakes. So expect them to have the word mistake in them.

Examples

“Common Mistakes Women Make While Dating.”

“As a Beginner Marketer Who’s Just Starting, Here Are 3 Common Mistakes You Should at All Cost Try to Avoid.”

Trivia

These headlines call the reader to a challenge.

Examples

“One of these images doesn’t look like the rest, find out which one.”

“Can you find the missing piece of the puzzle?”

Ultimate

Ultimate headlines give the best or the final solution or answer. They’re the best of what’s out there.

Examples

“Your ultimate guide to starting your career as a freelancer.”

“Tested and proven trick to get back your ex.”

Open Letter Headlines

Open letter headlines are all about drama. They’re used when you have had enough and just want to air out your grievances or complaints.

You’ve hit the elastic limit, and just want to pour it all out for whoever will be interested in reading.

Examples

“An open letter to the man who raped me.”

“An open letter to the president who appears to have forgotten about the people who voted for him.”

“An open letter to all the girls that broke my heart.”

All the examples that we’ve given actually work. But that’s not to say that they’ll also work for you. There’s the element of timing and some little bit of luck.

More broadly, a headline can also be classified as positive or negative.

According to a recent study, people tend to react faster to negative headlines as opposed to positive ones.

Positive Headlines

Positive headlines empower, enlighten, and instil hope, humour, or pride. They’re about positivity.

Examples

“The easiest way to lose weight and lead a healthy lifestyle.”

“10 ways to meditate yourself to happiness.”

“Here’s how you can easily make money online.”

Negative Headlines

Negative headlines are alarming in nature. They’re meant to inflict worry, fear, or sadness.

“The stock market falls faster following the Covid-19 pandemic.”

“Anti-Asian sentiments flare-up in the US after the president referred to COVID-19 as the Chinese virus.”

How to Write Killer Headlines for Your Articles and Blog Posts

Your goal should be to capture your readers’ attention right from the get-go.

But the truth is even the best of the writers out there still struggle with writing headlines.

Use Simple but Powerful Language

Your choice of words will determine how many people are attracted enough to want to click on your link. The point is to avoid using words that are uninspiring, bland, and hard to comprehend.

 Instead, try to stick with words that are both simple and powerful. For example, you can turn your headline into a call to action by using simple words such as “Try” or “Click.”

At the same time, you want to make sure you’re addressing the reader directly using words such as “You.”

Figure out how to turn generic headlines around using powerful words such as “never.”

Always keep your language simple to keep your readers interested. Don’t use big words or try to populate your headlines with jargon.

Examples of Headlines with Simple but Powerful Wording

“How to Fix Insomnia With Science.”

“Microsoft Just Releases a New Operating System and Here’s Why You Should Check It Out.”

Target Keywords with High Search Volume

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SEO is still a driving factor in this. If you want your article or post to rank high in the SERPs, then perhaps you should consider including highly searched keywords into the headlines you create.

You have to make sure every headline you write features a keyword with a high search volume. That will not only help you optimise your headlines to drive organic traffic; it also proves that you’re writing about a topic that many people are interested in.

If you’re integrating a keyword that not so many people are searching, then just know you’re writing about a not-so-popular topic.

Introduce a Shock Factor

Introduce the shock factor to make a bold statement. Think of ways you can spice up your headline, and word it in such a way that a reader would be instantly drawn to it.

Try making your headline bold, controversial, and opinionated.

One publication that has perfected this art is Refinery29, an online magazine catering to a female audience.

Refinary29 excels at this because they try to make their headlines very opinionated to make the reader want more.

Examples of Headlines With a Shock Factor in Them:

“Why You Should Become a Billionaire By 30”

“There’s no such thing a Good Nazi.”

“Ain’t a Feminist, But I do think Women Should be Treated with Respect.”

Include Numbers in Your Headlines

This tip is pretty obvious and much more of a cliché.

But it’s among the few tips that we can’t go without mentioning. We’ve also experimented with it here at Media One, and we must say that we found it compelling.

Readers love reading lists, and that’s because they’re easy to process and digest.

Numbers also work because humans are more attracted to predictability and less towards uncertainty.

Confirming this statement is a recent study by Conductor, which found out that headlines with numbers tend to perform so much better than their counterparts without.

Examples of Headlines With Numbers

“100 Business Ideas for the people of Singapore.”

“10 ways to enhance your productivity as an online freelancer.”

“50 essential online marketing strategies in 2020.”

Research Your Competition

Find out if your competitors have ran ads or written articles around the same topic or idea you’re planning to cover.

Take a look at their headlines. Which of their headlines is ranking on Google? How can you come up with an even better headline for the competition?

By answering these questions, you should be able to come up with even more compelling headlines for your articles and ads.

If your headline won’t stand out from the thousands of those laid upon us, then it’s less likely you’ll be able to grab a high CTR.

A simple trick would be to try Googling every single one of the keywords you’re targeting.

Remember also to run it through Buzzsumo. The reason being, if the keyword is as great as it seems, then chances are a lot of people are sharing it online.

Ask a Funny or Strange Question

You need a controlled dose of weirdness to grab your readers’ attention. The point is to leave your readers begging for more by creating a curiosity gap.

Why is this so?

Because it’s human nature to want to uncover the answer to the question, this will leave them with no option but to click on your headline to reveal more.

Used right, and this method guarantee a high CTR.

Plus, questions appeal to human emotions. They also promote the ever-important conversational tone that you’re encouraged to embrace in your blog posts.

Examples of Headlines That Are Based on Strange or Funny Questions

“Why is anyone still using Microsoft word in 2020?”

“How Safe is Popeyes’ Chicken?”

“What would change if you were to have the highest IQ score?”

“Why Do I Even Need a Girlfriend?”

Instil the Fear of Missing Out or a Sense of Urgency

The fear of missing out is an excellent way to influence decisions. It’s a psychological trick that could work magic with your headlines as well.

This is particularly important if you’re running an ad. You want to make sure your offer has an expiry date.

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You can use words such as “hurry,” “while stock last, “ends tonight,” and so forth in the headlines you come up with.

Don’t Divulge Everything

Don’t let your headline to give spoilers and kill all the thrill that comes with reading your articles. By revealing too much, you’re robbing the reader the fun of digging through your content for more info.

The point is to hint towards something, without going into details about it.

It’s a fine line between revealing too much and revealing so little. You have to find that perfect balance.

A better approach would be to ensure that you’re giving just enough information to invoke curiosity and not so much to fully inform the reader about what you’ve covered in the article.

Examples of Headlines that Don’t Divulge Much

“10 Marketing Tips Never Mentioned Online.”

“Three Reasons Your Marketing Strategy Sucks and Here’s How to Fix it.”

 “Did you know that Our Life depends on How Many Bees are Still Alive”

Craft Multiple Headlines and Choose the Best

Don’t just settle for the first headline that pops in your mind. Instead, do a complete brain dump and exhaust all your options.

A simple trick would be to play around with the different headlines that you have to find their variations. After which you’d want to subject them to a vote and choose the top three or the best in each category.

Reaching a consensus on which headline to use when you only have three options left should be easy from there.

A Summarised Formula for Crafting a Catchy Headline

Here’s a formula that summarises almost everything we touched on in this article:

Catchy headline = number or trigger word + keyword + adjective + promise

Examples

Assuming you want to educate readers on how to wash their dogs.

You could easily come up with a headline such as this

“How to wash your dog at home.”

But we all know this headline is lazy and ineffective

Or you could say:

“How I wash my dog at home.”

Still not catchy enough.

But should you decide to use the formula, you could come up with something along these lines.

“10 unbelievable ways to wash your dog at home”

Even Better:

“10 unbelievable ways you can wash your dog at home.”

How to Avoid Writing Clickbaity Headlines

At an age when everyone is trying to attract readers by writing them clickbaity headlines, you do not want to fall into that trap, considering your integrity is on the line.

The last thing you want is to be accused of misleading your readers with cheesy headlines whose content is either irrelevant or carry no substance.

Buzzfeed is notorious for using clickbaity headlines.

The easiest way to tell if a headline is a clickbait is to look at how it’s worded. Typically, a clickbaity headline will be full of superlatives, and to be honest, they’re more enticing and attention-grabbing.

Examples

“10 Tricks to Make Yourself Irresistible to any Man.”

“A Man Wakes up in the Morning, Only to Find Himself in a Different Country.”

“A Cat That Can Actually Breakdance.”

Any link with any of the above headline is a sure ticket to disappointment. That’s because they’re wildly exaggerated.

They’re inherently fine headlines, but fragrantly dishonest. One might argue that using them waters down the collective intelligence of our society, but then again, it’s a free world, where free speech means exactly that.

You’re free to do as you will. Mislead your readers if that’s your jam – but never forget the fact that using them mortgages your reputation.

Why You Should Avoid Clickbaity Headlines

Clickbait headlines are so common nowadays. No one is ever surprised by them anymore. But using them alone shows that you don’t really care about the type of readers you attract.

It’s a fine between attracting viewers and attracting the right kind of viewers. Fundamentally, steering away from clickbaity headline means finding the perfect balance between these two.

A clickbait will drive a tremendous amount of traffic to your website or blog. However, when people come to your blog or site and find out that they’ve actually been duped, what will live to suffer for it is your brand.

There’ll be a high bounce rate, which Google will pick on and assume your content isn’t quality enough.

There are two trails for crafting a headline. The first one is the clickbaity one, where you thrive on mystery or for revealing less and evoking curiosity.

The second one is the academic trail, where you decide to be as straightforward as possible.

None of these angles is good. The best approach to coming up with the perfect headline is striking a balance between these two. If you find yourself leaning more towards the clickbait path, then take a step back and consider revealing more.

In the same vein, if you find yourself headed towards the dusty academic trail, then consider being a little bit mysterious by revealing less. Economise on what you have to reveal and create a cloud of mystery around your headlines.

Not All Clickbait Headlines Are Bad: Here Are a Few Examples That Actually Work

Clickbait headlines don’t always have to be spammy and misleading.

It’s possible to come up with highly attention-grabbing headlines without necessarily misleading anyone.

We’ve identified a few clickbait examples that could actually reinforce your brand instead of ruining it:

X Reasons Why

You’ve probably seen a headline crafted around this structure.

They’re common because they’re an effective way to drive social media clicks and engagement.

They’re considered clickbait because they create an air of mystery around the reasons that you’re planning to highlight in your article or post.

Examples

“10 Reasons Why Singapore is the Best Place to Vacation”

“10 Reasons Why Your Ex Left You and Why the Next One Is Certainly Going to”

X Things You

This example explores the benefit of a numbered list.

The “You” in the title or headline makes the subject relatable, besides enticing the reader to find out more about what’s written.

Examples

“10 Things You Should Know Before Starting Your Freelancing Career”

“10 Things You Will Only Come to Know After You Settle Down”

Piggybacking

It doesn’t matter how much recognition your brand has; you can still use piggybacking to drive clicks and build authority.

With piggybacking, all you have to do is reference a big company or authority figure in your headline.

Examples of Piggybacked Headlines

“Neil Patel Offers Shares X Solid Tips on How to …”

“Forbes Has Some Really Interesting Ideas on How…”

If you ever get the opportunity to feature someone prominent or decide to do a follow-up piece on an already existing story, then piggybacking is the perfect way to grab readers’ attention.

“This is What” or “This Is Why”

This is another clickbait example that won’t smear your company’s reputation. It evokes curiosity by creating a sense of mystery on what one is likely when they click through a page.

You, however, have to tread carefully while using this clickbait example. It’s sensitive, and can easily go awry should you decide to skimp on the information you reveal.

Examples

“This is why all your marketing effort have been futile.”

“This is what you should expect when running a Google Advert in Singapore.”

Headlines Myths to Debunk

You’ve probably come across some headlines dos and don’ts that make no sense at all. We’ve identified a few of these “headline myths” that we believe are the reasons you don’t produce great copies.

Headline Myth 1: Your Headline Must Be Short

You’ve probably come across this statement, “people don’t like reading online.”

This statement has stuck because it’s true, sort of. People rarely read web copies word by word. They just skim through it to pick the main points.

So, expect many of them to only ready about 20% of the content that you produce.

But, in as much as people don’t like digging through vast chunks of text, many of them read headlines.

As a matter of fact, you’ll be handicapping yourself by making your headlines too short, less than six words long

In one study, articles with longer headlines were found to attract more shares compared to their shorter counterparts.

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One thing about headlines is that people will still read them even when they’re most distracted.

According to Buzzsumo, fifteen-word headlines have the best engagement rate.

Myth Number 2: Headlines Don’t Need to Sell

There are four different tasks that your headline can perform:

  • Grab attention
  • Select an audience
  • Draw the reader your main content
  • Deliver a complete message

There’s a long list of other things that your headline can accomplish, but at the end of the day, it all narrows down to one thing – getting your readers to continue reading.

The best way to write a great headline is to take the pressure off it.

One of the reasons people struggle with writing headlines is that they feel like the headline has to do Everything, like:

  • Build your brand
  • Summarise your main content
  • Sell your products

These are massive goals. And while a headline can hinge you closer to achieving these goals, there are parts of your ad, web copy, brand, or company that you can still use to sell, share your message, and build your brand.

So, be easy on yourself by focusing on the main goal – and that’s, using your headlines to get people to at least read the first line of your copy.

Anything that you’re able to achieve past that is a bonus – not something you forced, but a feat that you achieve naturally.

Myth Number 3: Headlines Must Also Act as Your Tagline or Snappy Slogan

This one particular misconception has affected so many marketers. When asked to write a headline, most of them think along the lines of a snappy slogan or tagline.

The problem is slogans don’t make good headlines.

Examples

“Think different.”

“Just do it.”

“I’m loving it.”

Taglines or slogans operate as distinctive assets. They’re what brands use to make their customers remember them in a complicated buying situation.

Headlines, on the other hand, are only meant to draw attention to the content below them. You can use them to sell a product directly or to get your consumer to take a particular action.

Final Thoughts

With this guide, your headline writing game is about to reach a new click-through high, one you’ve never imaged you could achieve.

Author Bio

Tom Koh is widely recognised as a leading SEO consultant in Asia who has worked to transform the online visibility of the leading organisations such as SingTel, Capitaland, Maybank, P&G, WWF, etc. Recently he was instrumental in consulting for a New York-based US$30B fund in an US$4Bn acquisition. Tom is a Computational Science graduate of the National University of Singapore. In his free time he performs pro-bono community work and traveling.
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