What Was The Worst Headline You Wrote Recently?

According to A Day in the Internet infographic by MBA Online, 2 million new blog posts are uploaded to the Internet every single day. How do you get noticed in this ocean of information? To set us thinking in the right direction, let’s first have a look at some facts.

According to Copyblogger, 8 out of 10 people will read a headline. However, only two out of 10 tend to proceed to read the rest of your content.

A study by Outbrain showed that headlines featuring negative superlatives performed 30% better than those with positive superlatives.

A Kissmetrics study shows that readers tend to absorb only the first three words and the last three words of a headline. Keeping a headline no longer than six words will help readers easily process it and reduce the interaction cost involved in grasping its meaning.

A study from Moz shows that readers like content that is either understated and features up to one superlative word or goes overboard with superlatives to show why the content is worth reading. If you want your content to go viral, your headline must be located at one of those two extremes; otherwise it won’t catch anyone’s attention.

And finally, HubSpot’s social media scientist Dan Zarrella’s review of 2.7 million Tweets with links showed these unbelievable results:

  • There’s no relation between ReTweets and blog views.
  • 14.64% of blogs are shared and never clicked on.
  • 16.12% of blogs are shared more often than read.

Overwhelmed by the evidence? There are good news, too. It is possible to master the the art or science of composing inspiring and clickable blog tiltes. Here is what I’ve discovered — 35 headline formulas in 5 easy-to-remember groups.

Surprise (and any emotion you can envoke)

Surprise is stimulating for us and will get our attention much more easily than things we already know. It works through the curiosity gap, a gap in our knowledge, which produces a feeling of deprivation and drives us to seek that piece of missing information.

  1. Leave out just enough detail to get readers interested (without falling into the clickbait trap).
  2. Is there a commonly accepted “truth” you want to challenge? Write a headline that clearly contradicts it.
  3. Reference familiar emotions to make a headline extremely effective. Adding a celebrity name doesn’t hurt, either.
  4. Scare tactics can contribute to effective headlines as long as you don’t try to manipulate the reader.
  5. Triggering a milder emotion can also encourage clicks, especially if you present a familiar situation for the reader.
  6. Sensational headlines work well if you don’t oversell them — or venture into crass territory.
  7. Turn around the common listicle approach to headlines by offering X reasons the reader can create an undesirable outcome.
  8. Encourage people to click to find out if they’re part of a group you mention in the headline. Both positive and negative associations can prove effective.
  9. On twitter, it pays to load your titles with tweetable words: you, twitter, please, retweet, post, blog, social, free, media, help, please retweet, great, social media, follow, how to, top, blog post, check out, new blog post.

Overstate or Understate, Never Go Neutral

This works because exageration creates a reaction. Given the huge competition for the attention of the reader, this is always a winning formula.

  1. Use positive superlatives for a strong, emotional effect: best, always, fastest, easiest, most, greatest, largest, funniest, hottest, strongest, biggest, ever, perfect, top.
  2. Try negative superlatives to draw on fear and doubt: never, worst, nothing, no one, no way, by no means, none. Featuring words like stop, avoid, or don’t in your headline is a good idea, too.
  3. Make sure that your superlative — whether it’s positive or negative — is always at the front of your headline.
  4. If you’re struggling to create the perfect title, consider integrating words like no, without, terrible, stop. Words like kill, die and dead are dark and negative, and also effective if your aim is to gain readers.
  5. You might anger a few folks, but confrontational headlines can encourage conversation and lead to clicks.
  6. If your content includes something strange but true, use that to your advantage.

Actionable and Specific

Specific, quantifiable concrete facts — particularly ones that form pictures in our minds — are intensely interesting. Figures imply research, which adds to your legitimacy.

  1. Make a specific promise with your headlines. Unusual adjectives can help add interest.
  2. Show clearly what’s the point of this content and what is the most important point this content makes.
  3. Include words that reference additional content. If you include a template or infographic, put that in the headline.
  4. Make sure you know who your real audience is, and understand what their interests are. Create alternative headlines. Make sure each headline includes a different variable (for example, one could be negative, and the other positive) and see what works best. Try alternative headlines accross various social channels to see what resonates most with your audience.

Questions & Problem-Solution Pairs

Just seeing a question mark starts to stimulate our brains. And a problem — solution pair gets attention because of the way our brains are fixated on solving problems.

  1. Instead of persuading your readers to do something, show them why it’s worth the time to do it.
  2. Questions are effective in headlines, especially if you can engage the reader’s curiosity.
  3. Ask something that the reader can empathize with or relate to or would like to see answered.
  4. Look at common searches and address what your audience is looking for. Offer the most effective strategies for solving their problem.
  5. Set up the headline with a familiar problem, then offer a specific number of ways to complete a goal or task.
  6. Writing a list? Include how many items it includes right away.
  7. Open-ended questions are great for encouraging discussion (e.g. When Are The Absolute Best Times To Send Email?). Closed-ended questions, meanwhile, are effective for inspiring curiosity (e.g. Do You Send Email At The Absolute Best Times?).
  8. “What I learned” is another great headline strategy.
  9. Address your reader as you. This grabs your readers’ attention and helps them relate the headline to their personal experience.
  10. Make it easy for searchers to identify key differences between your content and the stuff other people publish, create your voice and style.
  11. Use verbs in your blog titles. Verbs don’t just describe motion, they inspire it.


Numbers work well in headlines because humans like predictability and dislike uncertainty.

  1. Statistics adds authority to your headlines and attract attention. This is especially true when they seem difficult to believe.
  2. There’s nothing more powerful than the “backed by science” claim.
  3. Digits in numeral form perform better.
  4. The bigger the number, the farther the post spreads.
  5. Use an odd number. Turns out, blog posts that start with an odd number perform 20% better than their even-numbered peers.