How To Write Killer Headlines for Online Articles and Blog Posts
You need to quickly capture a reader's attention
Many people have mentioned to me that they wish they were better at crafting headlines for their stories. I’ve discovered that while I don’t always nail my headline, there are a number of folks who struggle with headlines much more than I do.
I’ve put together some tips to help you write better headlines.
1. You Need to Understand What Headlines Do
Headlines exist to tell your reader what your story is about. But they also exist to draw a reader in.
There is so much content online, and so many different stories on any given platform. A good headline can give you a real edge so that more readers click to read your story.
2. Realize That Headlines Are Not Book Titles
For most bloggers and online writers, this is not the place to be too creative or heady. Sometimes, puns or innuendo work in a headline, but only if it’s still catchy, easy to read, and accurate to the story content.
Often, you can’t afford to be too clever in your headline unless the platform you’re writing and publishing on is going to promote and distribute your piece.
If not, and you’re mostly on your own, I wouldn’t do anything too creative or clever because such titles don’t actually tell readers what your story is about.
3. Quit Overthinking Your Headlines
A good headline is easy to read and direct. The best headlines make potential readers curious without losing their simplicity.
You have to quit overthinking your headlines if you want them to be effective. Overthinking often squashes your best instincts, and you’re relying on the instincts of fellow readers to decide whether or not your story might be worth reading.
4. Try Writing Your Headlines First
This is something I do at least 90% of the time. Whenever I’m in idea generation mode, I make a list of potential headlines rather than a list of topics.
Every day, I look at a batch of those headline ideas and choose one that inspires me.
Since the headline is there to inform the reader what your story is about, if you write the headline first, it can help focus and inform your writing process.
Yes, there will be occasions where your story morphs as you work on it. When that happens, you’ll need to adjust your headline. But most writers will find great value in at least thinking of their story in terms of the “headline first.”
5. Often, You’ll Need to Straddle the Line of Obvious, aka Boring, and Clickbaity
Remember, your headline’s mission is to draw the reader in. You want to grab their attention, and that’s why something that sounds kinda clickbaity works.
This often means asking a question that a reader wants to know the answer to, or revealing some sort of information that sounds at least a little bit juicy.
That said, you don’t want complete clickbait for your headline. Use capital letters, exclamation marks, and interjections like wow at a bare minimum. These things often come across as desperate or simply trying too hard.
Never forget the mission to inform your reader. This is why you need to straddle the line of boring and clickbaity. If your headline doesn’t match up and deliver with your story, most readers will be disgusted or feel let down.
Some of my best clickbaity yet obvious titles include:
- I Had A Threesome And It Was Awkward AF
- I Wish I’d Known My Mother Couldn’t Be Trusted When I Was Young
- What To Do If You Ever Feel Like You’ve Wasted Your Life
- Moby and The Fragile Male Ego Strikes Back
- Women Are Not Prudes If They Don’t Enjoy Anal Sex
- Who’s Afraid of Their Big Bad O?
- How Can a Fat Mom Raise a Healthy Kid?
- I Went On Vacation And Now I Want A Different Life
- It Takes Grit to Be Positive
- Too Fat for Uber
- I Made a Facebook Post That Had the Police Knocking on My Door
All of these headlines tell the reader, at least to some extent, what the story is about. But they also leave the reader with questions. Those questions are what makes a reader want to read your stories.
6. Use a Subtitle to Your Advantage
I use subtitles beneath my story 99% of the time. Subtitles serve many purposes. You can use them to further hook a reader and explain what the story is about. I often like to use a subtitle to continue the headline.
You can also use a subtitle to get more creative than any headline would normally allow. Sometimes, I use my subtitles to be a little sarcastic or snarky.
Here are a few examples from my portfolio. The subtitles are listed in bold letters.
- “Why Do You Hate Yourself So Much?” And here you thought there were no stupid questions.
- I Made a Facebook Post That Had the Police Knocking on My Door Ever wonder what happens when somebody reports depressed content on Facebook? I do.
- I Had A Threesome And It Was Awkward AF But I’m so glad I went through with it anyway.
- Twenty, Married, and Still a Virgin
Growing up an evangelical kept me chaste well into my marriage
- A Diary of Unsolicited Advice From Men Things men tell women but would never say to each other.
- What To Do If You Ever Feel Like You’ve Wasted Your Life
5 things that helped me get back on track.
7. Don’t Rely on Headline Analyzers or Generators
Notice I say don’t rely upon those tools. If you find such writing tools help you write better, of course, do your thing and ignore me. Personally though, I find these tools to be stifling and I think they often encourage you to focus on the wrong things.
For instance, most of those tools push for emotional headlines without regard for the duty to inform readers of the story topic. Or they don’t really say much of anything at all.
When you’re competing for a reader’s attention online, one of the worst things you can do is say nothing. Your writing needs to make a statement. And that statement starts with your headline.
8. Understand That the Headline Is Just One Part of the Whole
Headlines are a lot of fun for me, but I don’t always get them right. And you’re not doomed if you never get them right. You just need to approach the process differently.
These tips should help you do that.
Keep in mind that the headline is how you catch a reader’s attention (along with a great image), but your story is what gets them to stay and read the whole thing.
People complain a lot about “lazy writing,” or people who just “write for clicks.” But readers aren’t stupid. If your headline gets them to click, but the rest of your writing is bland or difficult to read, people won’t stay to read the whole thing.
Headlines are all about grabbing attention while setting the tone of your piece. But it will always be the way you tell your story that makes your readers stay.