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The Dos and Don’ts of Attention-grabbing Headlines

Avatar of Erin Oftelie

The Internet is a constant flow of content vying for readers’ attention. An average of 2 million blog posts, 294 billion emails, 864 thousand hours of video, and 400 million tweets are uploaded every single day.

To put that into perspective, enough data is uploaded to the Internet each day to fill 168 million DVDs. So how will you ever get your content to stand out among all that hullabaloo?

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The first step is to write an effective, attention-grabbing headline. Since only two out of ten readers who see a headline actually go on to read the body of the article, writing a bombtastic headline is the best way to put yourself ahead of the rest of the buzz out there.

Before going any further, it’s important to note that there are five typical formats for headlines:

  1. Normal (Ways to Decorate Your Living Room)
  2. Question (What’s the Best Way to Decorate Your Living Room?)
  3. How to (How to Decorate Your Living Room)
  4. Number (10 Ways to Decorate Your Living Room)
  5. Reader-Addressing (Ways You Should Decorate Your Living Room)

Keeping these headline types in mind, here are some dos and don’ts to remember the next time you’re writing a headline for a blog post or online article.

Headline Dos

Do Use Numbers Whenever You Can

Moz.com shared findings from a Conductor survey that showed that readers prefer number headlines over all other types:

  • 36% prefer number headlines
  • 21% prefer reader-addressing headlines
  • 17% prefer how to headlines
  • 15% prefer normal headlines
  • 11% prefer question headlines

One notable site that has been using this tactic is BuzzFeed. It primarily uses lists of interesting facts or ideas to grab the reader’s attention. The content is typically very entertaining and sharable.

This isn’t to say that you should throw numbers into every headline you write; it won’t be applicable in every situation. Just be mindful of what you’re writing, and use numbers when it feels appropriate.

Do Use Superlatives — A Lot or A Little

The same Moz post revealed that readers either really like or really hate superlatives in headlines.

The survey said that 51% of readers preferred a title with one or no superlatives. These reader like titles like “How to Write a Headline” or “How to Write an Attnetion-Grabbing Headline.”

On the flip side, 25% of readers preferred a title with four or more superlatives. These readers give their attention to inflated titles like “Short, Simple Tricks for Writing Amazing, Attention-Grabbing Headlines.”

So if you are going to use superlatives, either commit and use four or more, or hold back and keep it short with one or none.

Do Be Concise and Accurate

Considering only two out of every ten readers get beyond the headline, it’s important to keep their interest throughout the article. For this reason, most successful online copy is written for ease of scanability, and the headline should be included in that.

A reader should be able to glance at your headline and have a clear, accurate idea of what the post is about. That way they can quickly decide whether they are interested in reading it.

Headline Don’ts

Don’t Reinvent the Wheel

When newspaper reporters and copy editors write headlines, they often try to come up with puns and quips for their headlines. That doesn’t work so well for blog headlines.

A concise, clear message in your title helps the reader know exactly what they are getting. Don’t put so much thought into it that your headline ends up being more complicated than it needs to be. A clever title that doesn’t tell the reader what the article is about is more detrimental than beneficial.

Don’t Use Tired, Obvious, and Weightless Modifiers 

Avoid tired words like good, very, best, and better. Readers are jaded and they see these words in far too many headlines. You aren’t going to attract any new readers by adding overused modifiers so just leave them out.

Go for more spirited add-ons like heartily, beautifully, expertly, or captivating that are far more likely to draw attention.

Don’t Get Carried Away Writing a Headline That’s Entirely Too Long That Readers Can’t Read Aloud in One Breath, or Bleeds Onto A Second Line

Again, not many people will read your headline to begin with, so don’t lose them right off the bat by making your headline too long. Keep it short and sweet, and your readers will be more likely to stick around.

There are so many factors to consider when it comes to headline writing. It’s true that a headline can make or break the success of a post. But don’t let that part freak you out. A bad post can also ruin it. Just put all you’ve got into writing the best post you can, and write a headline that reflects that, that follows these tips, and you’ll be fielding comments and likes in no time.

Avatar of Erin Oftelie About Erin Oftelie

Comments

  1. I knew people liked numbers in headlines but I didn’t know that it was the majority. Good stat Erin!

  2. I love that last headline example. Too funny! :) Great post!!

  3. Yeah, you right, Erin. When I post articles on FB, SU or Tumblr, these articles with numbers in headlines are more popular.
    I have to say, the headline of articles plays an important role.
    Good job, Erin!

  4. Great reminders of why headlines matter so much! I have heard some bloggers say they spend as much, if not more, time coming up with a headline as they do writing the actual post.

  5. Great advice, Erin. I see too many people with great content and poor headlines.

  6. This is awesome!!!

  7. My favorite parts were where you used the words “hullabaloo” and “bombtastic,” haha. Good post, Erin.

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