15 Ways To Crack Captivating Headlines

Marie Ennis-O'Connor
5 min readJun 1, 2017

Updated December 2018

“The purpose of a title is to get potential readers to read the first line of your content.” David Ogilvy

Did you know that on average, 8 out of 10 people will read headline copy, but only 2 out of 10 will read the rest? Your headline is the first impression you make on a prospective reader and its purpose is to capture your reader’s attention so that they want to read your content.

I’ve examined research from several leading sources to determine headline characteristics which increase the click-through rate. Here’s what I discovered.

1. Length Matters

According to research conducted by Content Marketing Institute, the length of your headline matters. A title with eight words received a 21% higher click-through rate than average. It’s worth remembering when the length of your headline exceeds 62 characters, search engines ignore the remainder of the headline, which may decrease the click-through rate.

2. Numbers Count

People love list-style articles. Interestingly, the research showed that headlines that contained odd numbers had a 20% higher click-through rate than headlines with even numbers. When adding numbers to your title, use the numeral, not the word. The top 5 numbers to use to generate Facebook engagement are: 10, 5, 15, 7 and 20.

3. Add Punctuation

Adding a colon or hyphen in the title — indicating a subtitle — performed 9% better than headlines without either.

4. Ask A Question

Titles that ended with a question mark had a higher click-through rate according to the research.

5. Make It Personal

Personalize your headline by adding a “You” or “Yours” to the title. For example: Increase Your Blog Readership With These Tips.

6. Add Keywords

It’s important to include keywords in your titles if you want to rank higher for particular search terms. Adding them at the start of your title can have more impact with SEO than if you include them at the end of a title. However, avoid key-word stuffing.

7. Broadcast A Benefit

Advertising guru David Ogilvy, wrote that the headlines which work best are those that promise the reader a benefit. Does your article solve a problem for your reader? Will they be wiser for having read your tips? Then clearly communicate the benefit to your reader up-front in the title.

When Buzzsumo analyzed the best performing headlines, “Will Make You” was the top phrase on Facebook. So, something will make you more productive, more informed, happier, whatever it may be — there’s a clear promise in the headline.

Pro-Tip: Tell the reader was to expect. What is the content? Is it images? Facts? Charts? Quotes? Video? Include words like tips, ways, strategies, in your headline.

8. Create Controversy

Do you have a strong opinion on a current issue? A controversial title can attract a lot of interest from readers. However be prepared to back up your claims and know that when you create controversy you’ll attract strong reactions in people.

9. Make It Actionable

Avoid the passive voice in your titles. Use strong action-oriented words and verbs, like create, make, build, instead.

10. Harness Emotion

Studies have found that content that elicits an emotional response typically gets shared twice as much as that which contains little emotional value. By adding more power words — words that cause the reader to relate to an emotion — you can increase the chance your audience will click through to read your copy.

11. Add Power Words

Add power words like smart, critical, surprising, best, outstanding, perfect to your title. For example, How To Write The Perfect Headline For Your Article.

Download a list of 90 headline power words here.

12. Leverage Curiosity

How many times have you clicked on a headline only to find that the content doesn’t live up to its promise? By nature we are curious beings; leverage that curiosity in your titles, but never resort to click-baiting. Clickbait headlines typically aim to exploit the “curiosity gap”, providing just enough information to make the reader curious, but not enough to satisfy their curiosity without clicking through to the linked content. Always craft a headline that links to authentic and relevant content.

13. Try A Trigram

Trigrams, or three-word phrases are effective in capturing your audience’s attention. The following charts represent the top most popular phrases that start and end headlines based on the number of Facebook interactions.

14. Try a Headline Analyzer Tool

There are several free tools available to help you analyse your headlines. Try this one from CoSchedule which analyses your title and produces a score based on character length, emotional resonance, and keyword strength.

15. A/B Test Your Headlines

Finally, write multiple versions of your headline. Then A/B test them by changing some keywords, playing with the structure, etc. to determine which works best for your specific audience.

Check out the results of Buzzsumo’s most shared headlines study for more suggestions for winning headline formulas.

Further Reading

How To Write Awesome Social Media Headlines That Your Audience Will Love

Here Are The 101 Catchy Blog Title Formulas That Will Boost Traffic By 438%

This New Data Will Make You Rethink How You Write Headlines

19 Tips to Write Catchy Email Subject Lines