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Skyrocket Your Headline's Success With These 7 (Small & Simple) Tricks

Don't get fooled by their size coz they make a huge impact

Photo by Ivan Diaz on Unsplash

If you have understood how to play the game of the creator economy properly, you know how crucial it is to have a headline that compels a reader to read your story.

No wonder David Ogilvy, the father of advertising, rewrote his world-famous Rolls Royce headline a whopping 104 times (!!) before he was satisfied that the headline justified the story.

Take the title above; what made you click on this story? The precise words are

Skyrocket, Success, and (Small & Simple).

Immediately your mind interpreted — Fast, Gain, and Quick! And you clicked. Am I wrong?

Understand that this was not the first, second, or even fifth headline I wrote for this story. Instead, it was a series of things I kept changing until I reached that 'aha' point.

So, what I have done is I have listed the things that I generally use to make my headlines more 'clickable'.

1. Make way for some adjectives/adverbs.

Just run through the below two headlines.

7 Habits That Cause Cancer

7 Harmless Habits That May Be Causing Cancer

The second one piques your interest more. All because of the word 'harmless'. Something that you might have been considering innocuous is harming you (crippling feeling).

Look at the word 'small in the headline of this story. It is sitting there deliberately to give you the sense that the additional work you need is very little.

Adjectives/adverbs in a headline help accentuate the subject /action — you can control your reader's line of thought with that single word.

  • Simple becomes stupidly simple,
  • Results can be jaw-dropping results, and
  • secrets change to well-guarded secrets.

See, what's happening? Emphasis - causing small ripples of sensation.

2. Catchy headlines don't run on numerology but are definitely number-friendly.

Listicles or numbered posts, I mean.

Despite many writers vilifying this writing form, listicles are a fav among readers. Statistically, your headline has a 36% more chance of being clicked if it has a number.

What exactly happens when I put a number there?

  • Imparts preciseness to the story.
  • Makes the reader feels more in control
  • Makes the article more skimmable
  • And it is a hit because of its predictable layout — Intro, List, Conclusion.

Little Known Ways To Build Your Instagram Community

How many ways are we talking here? 5, 10, or 50? How long? But what if I write —

11 Little Known Ways To Build Your Instagram Community

Now there's a number, a structure, and a boundary that conveys comfort in contrast to the earlier uncertainty.

Interested in writing a great listicle? Check this out:

3. Avoid 'things' like the plague.

The word 'things' is really passe.

Maybe because of overuse. It does not exude precision, sounds vague, lacks originality, and (excuse me for using the term) — down market.

Just like freezing is a way better word than very cold or extremely cold, there are a lot of alternatives you may use to replace 'things'.

You can make out the difference in the feel by comparing the below two headlines:

Things Writers Do But Rarely Talk About

Tools & Practices of Writers That They Rarely Talk About

The second headline has a lot of clarity; hence, the story has a greater chance of being read.

Things (oops!)…ahem…Alternatives to replace the t-word:

Secrets, ways, reasons, facts, symbols, tricks, guidelines, pointers, manners, signs.

4. Marry 'How to' to 'without'.

How to grow a garden on your balcony without getting it mucky?

How to do makeup like a pro without lightening your wallet?

How to become a millionaire without leaving the house?

Do you see how it does the magic? A win-win situation. Who doesn't like it!?

In fact, any topic can be molded into this format. Just follow this formula.

How to [do something] without the [unwanted parts]?

Always a deadly combination.

5. Make the brackets speak (louder)

I use a lot of this technique in my headlines. I am in absolute love with the brackets.

It imparts a visual variety to the headline, bringing about a pleasant twist.

Adding brackets or parenthesis is common among many renowned writers/copywriters, who use it to stress facts, boost credibility, or add an exciting variation to the title.

Take, for example, the below title.

Absolute brilliance, I must say. The moment you read this headline, you are already in the reading room. Though the phrase 'but not quite' doesn't add any information to the headline, it surely sprinkles that zing to the whole facade.

Some instances where I have used brackets (and they have worked great):

9.8/10 Writers I Meet Make This (Terrible) Mistake

Learn To Write (Exactly) What Your Readers Want To Read

6. Multiply the result, magnify the outcome.

Theoretically, this should go under the use of numbers in the headlines.

The psychology of using terms like 'double', 10X, and 2X is to play with the second most innate human emotion, which is greed (the first being fear). It is like giving a shape or quantifying your reader's greed.

Just take a look at the two headlines below:

How To Use Your Email Effectively & Drive Home More Sales

Social Media? Doing It All Wrong. Your Email Can Get You 10X Better Result!

While the first headline is promising, the second has the winning combination of both fear and greed. Note how the mention of 10X better results immediately makes the brain go for it.

I have also used this to gain readership. (If you note, I have used multiple techniques in the below headline.)

10 Sexy Practices That Will Make You 10x Better Writer (Immediately)

7. Use the dash & colons.

An interesting attribute of the language to use in a headline. Data also suggests that using a dash or a colon in a headline increases the CTR (click-through rate) by 9%!

A dash is a pause that brings a tonal effect to the headline, while a colon can be used for audience referencing as well as segregating two subject lines.

See how to use the same in headlines:

A way to announce the main topic. (And by the way, the headline is not true.)

Just In: You Can Buy As Much Land As You Wish In Antarctica

Bringing attention to a particular segment of the audience.

New Writers: You Can Benefit From These Mistakes Of Mine

To use it as a pausing effect (or a dramatic one).

FCuK — I Didn’t Know I Was a Top Writer!

Or for a simple twist.

The First 3 Things That Decide The Fate Of a Story — Content Isn’t One of Them

Bonus tips.

A bit of many things go into this section, so I have made them into a bullet list.

  • Profanity: If and only if you are comfortable about using them. You may tone down the effect or be blatant about it. But it does have an impact on the headlines, which is what my personal experience is. (I use it moderately.)
  • Multi-sentence: Don't shy away from using multiple sentences in a headline. It might sound conversational/ casual, but there's no harm in it. Writer Henneke does that a lot.

Negative Self-Talk? Here’s How I Made Peace With My Inner Critic

  • Choose the negative over the positive: I know it doesn't sound right, but a study says so. Again, because it feeds the most powerful emotion — fear. So, instead of:

10 Things To Avoid In Order To Have a Good Night’s Sleep

might perform better than 10 Effective Ways To Sleep Better.


I hope that wasn't a bit much of do-this and do-that. Well, you see, writing a headline is an entirely different part of writing.

Despite this elaborate (but not exhaustive) list of tweaks that can improve a headline, I need to emphasize that writing a headline is a series of mix and match.

There is no perfect formula.

Start from there and work your way up as you keep experimenting with things because THAT'S the best route.

This was me on Medium. And this is me on LinkedIn. Meet me there.

And I have a bunch of stuff that can help you get started with writing and up your game. Check them out here.



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