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How to Write Headlines That Don’t Suck

Hedley Swann

Hedley Swann

Co-Founder at Dash
Hedley Swann

Hedley Swann

Co-Founder at Dash

Headlines, titles and subtitles catch your reader’s attention and help your content rank on Google. Your headlines are the face of your content, and they’re what makes it sell. Whether it’s on social media, email, or to search engines, having an attention-getting headline or title is critical. There are a few things you can do to make sure your headlines don’t suck.

Make Your Headline Accurate

The last thing you want to do is mislead your audience. Your headlines should be a teaser or preview for your upcoming content. Headlines show your customers at a glance what you’re writing about in your article or blog post. Make sure your content follows through on what your headlines promise. It should be short, sweet, and to the point.

Keep Your Headline Concise and Punchy

Headlines are not one size fits all. The size of your headline largely depends on your goals or where you want it to show up. If you’re aiming for a headline to rank with search engines, keep it at or under 70 characters. Social sharing headlines are a bit different. Twitter users like headlines between 8 and 12 words while Facebook users like 12 to 14 words.

Write Catchy Headlines to Call Attention Instantly

Your goal with your headline is to convince your audience to keep reading past it. So, create a headline that calls for your reader’s attention. Try to make your headline unique, specific and useful. Also, it should retain a sense of urgency.

Before you publish your headline ask yourself, “I wonder if anyone in the history of the world has ever said that?” They may have, but if you’re content that your headline passes this “sniff” test then it’s likely pretty unique.

Draft and Revise Your Headline

Coming up with a headline can be daunting, so start with a rough draft. The rough draft can be broad and non-specific. From here, start narrowing your headline down and create several possibilities. Your final product should be extremely topic-specific and have a narrow focus. Your title should help you guide the rest of your content. I recommend finalising your headline last, after the rest of your content is complete.

Moderate Your Headline

It may be tempting to include a lot of powerful phrases packed into one headline. Phrases like “Things People Love” or words like “Brilliant” can wear out quickly, so if you decide to use them, use them in moderation. Use one or two in a headline at the maximum, and don’t oversell anything to your readers. It’ll be hard to make parts stand out if they all stand out.

That said, adjectives are the colours of copywriting and I encourage you to spice up your language. Here’s a few to try – in moderation.

  • Suprising
  • Best
  • Brilliant
  • Afriad
  • Fast
  • Valuable
  • Simple
  • Free

Write your headlines for SEO

Your headline should be optimised for search engines (especially if its for a blog post). If you put keywords in your headline, put them as close to the start as possible. Not only is it good for search, this will help to catch your reader’s attention and give them a clear idea about the content they’ll read. Also, optimise your headline to connect with your audience. Your audience wants to connect to your content or brand on a human level. Remember, you might optimise for search engines – but your goal is to engage a reader.

Write your headlines for people

Yes, you want to help your content rank in search engines but you also need to capture the people in your target audience. When your target audience scans your headline, it needs to speak to their need – what they’re trying to do. People also look for clues that your content will be easy to understand and follow.

How to write catchy headlines that connect with people

Try adding qualifiers to your headline (terms that help a reader identify that the content is relevant to them). Words like:

  • Reasons
  • Secrets
  • Ideas
  • Ways
  • Lessons

All give clues as to the type of value in your content. And including phrases such as:

  • …for beginners
  • …for dentists
  • …for dummies

Help the viewer identify if the content is relevant to them (think industry, experience level, location, situation, life event).

Bounce Headline Ideas off a Coworker or Friend

When you work so hard to come up with a headline, you can miss things. Bringing in a fresh set of eyes can breathe new life into your headline. Show your coworker or friend your headline ideas and ask them what they think. Ask if there is anything they would tweak, take out, add in, or fix. They’ll be able to give you feedback and help you create a great headline.

Get Some Headline Inspiration

Personally, I really like the Content Idea Generator from Protent. Plug in your topic and cycle through a few examples of weird and wonderfully whacky ways it could appear in a headline. Let this fuel your creative juices.

The folks over at Copyblogger have also published a great list of headline formulas you can try.


Creating the best headline for your content can be a tricky process. However, the more you do it, the better you’ll get at it. Make sure you optimise it for the search engines and don’t forget about your keywords. Consider bouncing ideas off of a friend or coworker and adding relevant keywords. All of these simple ideas can help you create a compelling headline for your content.

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