Headline Hacks: Five Types of Headlines that People Want to Read

by Monica Bhandarkar

Headlines, once synonymous with traditional newspapers, are reinventing themselves as a powerful tool for driving views and clicks in today’s mobile-first, technology-driven world.

This digital revival is visible in your email inbox—think emoji-filled, pithy subject lines from your favorite retailers and brands begging you to click—and your social media feeds [Twitter built itself on the power of short, baiting headlines].

But it’s not easy being a headline in today’s crowded media landscape.

In fact, eight out of 10 people will read headline copy—but only two out of 10 will read the rest.

So, what’s a marketer to do?

Before we dig into how to write a headline that makes people want to read more, let’s talk about what your content needs to accomplish. For me, as a marketing consultant, my goal is to help brands grow. This means my content needs to:

  • Speak to a brand’s target audience
  • Offer this audience something that matters to them

The “who” and “what” that drives your writing may differ, so take a moment to identify who you’re writing for—that is, who will read your content—and what they care about.

With this in mind, it’s time to get started on the headline: Here are five types that compel consumers to read on.

1.     The “Number + Adjective + Keyword + Promise” headline

Think of this as your go-to simple headline-writing formula. [It was created by best-selling author Jeff Goins.] The inclusion of a keyword makes this formula super SEO-friendly, and it’s a fool-proof way to ensure you make a promise to your reader. [The key is making sure this promise actually matters to your audience.]

Let’s test it using “summer grilling recipes” as our topic. We could write something like:

7 Healthy Summer Grilling Recipes the Whole Family Will Love

2.    The “Best of” headline

This headline is another SEO powerhouse because it’s an exact match to how people search for things online. Want to know how to plant a tree? Teach a child to swim? People will often start these searches with “best way to…”

Your headline could look like this:

Best Way to Teach Your Toddler to Swim in a Pool

Keep this headline type in mind if you’re writing online content like blog posts that you want your audience to find organically while researching a topic.

3.    The “Why X People Do X” headline

It’s a fact: People care about and are influenced by what others do. If your audience looks up to or trusts a particular person or professional, tell them how these people do something.

For example, if a peanut butter brand wants to educate moms on how to introduce peanut butter to babies, they could share tips from trusted sources such as pediatricians, nutritionists or dietitians like this:

How These 5 Pediatricians Introduced Peanut Butter to Their Babies

This formula works for B2B organizations, too. Influential sources could be successful business professionals, C-suite executives or other inspirational thinkers and decision-makers. No matter your business, think about who your audience seeks advice from, then identify how you could include this kind of source in your content.

4.    The “Proven by Science” headline

People are much more likely to accept a statement as true if they trust the source. And when that source is scientific research, you’ve hit the jackpot. This type of headline is especially effective if you want people to change a behavior. 

Take for example a financial services company that wants to educate young people about the benefits of saving for retirement. If the company can build its case around research, it’s more likely a reader will be compelled to take action.

A headline could read:

The Science of Saving: Why Putting Money Away for Retirement in Your 20s Will Make You Happier at 65

5.    The “Listicle” headline

Lists are perfectly designed for our brains because they tap into how we prefer to receive and organize information—that is, in neat little packages that make it easier to recall the information. This is why BuzzFeed, Upworthy and other online media companies fill our social feeds with lists that we just can’t resist clicking and sharing.

I mean, who doesn’t want to be reminded of 38 Things You Did In Elementary School That You’ve Completely Forgotten About? (You know you want to click.)

But, seriously, listicles are an effective way for organizations and brands to share tips, hacks and advice in a fun and conversational way.

If you’ve read this far, congratulations. You’ve given this article more attention than most, so I’ll leave you with this…

Fifty-nine percent of all the links shared on social networks were never clicked on at all. This means the majority of articles shared were never actually read—people just shared them because the headline sounded interesting.

Now, that is the power of a good headline