If getting people to read your blogpost were a game of Jenga, your headline is the bottom block on which everything else rests. It’s been found that 80% of people never read anything past your headline, and that a good or bad headline can affect web traffic by up to 500%. When they say you should spend half of your time writing an article just on the headline, it’s not an exaggeration.
So how do you write a headline that gets clicks? Well, you have to figure out what makes readers tic. In fact, learning to write a headline is probably the single most effective way to understand the mind of the web. If writing a headline is a science, that science is psychology.
Here are 6 insights that will forever change how you reach out to readers with your headlines.
1. Numbers Are #1
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A now famous study by Conductor proved that the worst kept secret on the internet is absolutely true. When it comes to getting clicks, headlines with numbers are miles ahead of everything else. But why?
Numbers set a clear expectation of a quick list of solutions based on a focused theme. We know what it’s going to be about, what it’s going to look like, and that it’s going to be scannable. The specific numbers tells us how far away the end is, so there is never any “How much longer is this?” anxiety.
In other words, with a list we know we can find the information fast, but we don’t know what that specific information is. There is all of the curiosity, and none of the stress.
2. Writing in Second Person is 2nd
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The same study found that referring to you directly in the second person is the second most effective way to make you click (see what we did there?). That’s because when you speak directly to people with words like “you” and “your”, your headline suddenly feels much more personal and relatable. The headline is literally calling out to the reader to make a connection.
3. Is Asking a Question Effective?
You bet. Reading a question almost instantly evokes a reader’s personal curiosity for the answer. More importantly, you can use questions to really speak to the personal experiences of users..
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Questions can empathize better than almost any other headline. It’s like putting a hand on the reader’s shoulder and feeling his or her pain. A question alone though can be too vague, and if there is one unbreakable rule to getting clicks, it’s making sure that the readers knows what to expect. You don’t have to answer the whole question, but hinting at your solution is crucial.
4. Don’t Avoid Negativity
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Headlines that use negative language outperform neutral headlines by 30%. By negative language, we mean words like “stop”, “don’t”, and “avoid”. The psychology behind negative headlines is a bit dark, because the reason it works is that a negative headline taps into your insecurities.
Spam articles often turn this up to eleven to sensationalize articles, and those are dangerous waters to tread. Headlines are about getting people in the front door, but you also don’t want people to feel like you made much ado about nothing. When used responsibly, however, readers will get all of the intrigue, without the feeling of being jipped.
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5. Know Your Limits
Headlines should be short and eye-catching. How short? Search engines cut off headlines at 65 characters, and that’s a pretty good number to cap your headline at anyway.
Think about how long it takes for your brain to process a sentence. A headline that you need to stop and decipher is going to get less attention than one that is instantly recognizable. Generally, staying between six and ten words is a good range where headlines can still make an impact at a glance.
6. Get Specific
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Superlatives and adjectives are a great way to give a headline panache, but they also make a headline feel more specific and targeted. Again and again, clarity and setting precise expectations are key, and adjectives put a finer point on defining the goal of your article. They also help heighten its emotional impact and stand apart from the rest.
You can also get more specific by promising specific results. Like this:
“5 Tips that will Double Your Guitar Strumming Speed”
This is another high wire act like negative headlines. If you sensationalize an article to the point where the expectation doesn’t match the reality, your article will be a let down. If you can stand by your promise, however, don’t hesitate to use it as a selling point.
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