Content Strategy

Writing Effective Headlines: 8 Tips for Success

October 17, 2022
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“Father of Advertising” David Ogilvy famously said:

On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent 80 cents out of your dollar.

Put simply, this means that up to 80% of people will read your headline, but only 20% will bother to read the rest of your content.

It’s no surprise – headlines are what invite users to click on your page. A good headline will catch people’s attention and attract traffic to your site, while a bad headline will result in lost readers and a lower ROI for your content.

So, what are the rules for writing a headline that stands out and entices people to keep reading?

In this post, we’ll share some dos and don'ts to help you write headlines that will get users to click through to your content.

The Dos of Headline Writing

Bennett Tobias on Unsplash

When it comes to headlines, your primary aim is to draw attention.

You also want to make sure they convey value in a way that people will want to find out more. Think about the questions a reader might have and how your article will respond to these.

A few basic tricks for writing effective headlines are:

  1. Use catchy phrases or questions that connect to your reader’s needs.
  2. Evoke your reader’s curiosity or appeal to their emotions.
  3. Include SEO keywords—but don’t flood the headline with them. 1-2 will do.

Hypotenuse AI can also help you brainstorm title ideas. Each title generation gives you 6 unique options to choose from. Simply input your topic, keywords, and target audience, and let our AI generate compelling, SEO-friendly headlines for your posts.

So, how do you know which is the best headline to use? Here are some in-depth tips for choosing headlines that make an impact.

1. Do Make Them Clear & Concise

Take a look at some of the headlines below. Which one would you be more likely to click on?

Option #1: 5 Affordable Ways to Refurbish Your Home

Option #2: Make Your Home Nicer

Option #3: Five Simple but Successful Tips & Tricks to Upgrade Your Home Without Spending a Fortune on Renovation

The first headline is specific and to-the-point. It succinctly tells the reader what they can expect from the article. The second headline is vague in its meaning, and the third is just unnecessarily verbose. Headlines should keep to a maximum of 71 characters in order to be fully displayed on SERPs without trailing off into ellipses.

In an online world that values knowledge and efficiency, people don't have time to waste on reading vague, lengthy headlines. The average user’s attention is selective, so you want to keep your headlines short, sweet, and precise—around 6-8 words.

Vague and generic headlines will get lost in the sea of other content, but a well-crafted, specific headline will grab attention and encourage people to read on.

2. Do Use Benefit-Oriented Headlines

When it comes to headlines, always think about what’s in it for the reader.

Benefit-oriented headlines focus on the value a user will get from reading your article. It should highlight why, of all the other articles written on a similar or even the same topic, yours should be the one that they prioritize clicking on.

Consider these two headlines:

Option #1: How to Improve Your Skincare Routine

Option #2: Skincare Methods to Achieve Dewy Skin

The first headline is informative, but the second is aspirational and sets your article apart by narrowing in on a specific goal.

When you write with your reader in mind, it’s hard to go wrong.

3. Do Incorporate Numbers

There are two ways you can incorporate numbers into your headlines: lists and statistics.

People love lists. In fact, listicles (a portmanteau of "list" and "article") are one of the most popular types of articles on the web. And they’re easy to title.

Headlines such as “X ways to…” are not only more readable, but also effectively summarize the content of your article. Readers also like to have an idea of what to expect in terms of length and structure of content, and such headlines achieve that.

Statistics also convey a sense of importance and quantify the benefits of reading your article.

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Of course, make sure the numbers are accurate and not just a false marketing tactic.

4. Do Use Active & Passive Verbs Appropriately

Writing advice often strongly advocates for the use of active verbs, while passive verbs are shunned and labelled as the weaker species.

However, there’s a place for both, and this is apparent when it comes to writing headlines.

Passive: New Planet Discovered by Young Scientist

Active: Young Scientist Discovers New Planet

For this example, if the article is focused on describing the object (the new planet), it would favor the passive. However, if it’s, say, an interview with the subject (the young scientist), it should use the active instead.

So next time you're writing a headline, consider the focus you wish to highlight and employ the appropriate grammar to achieve your purpose.

The Don'ts of Writing Headlines

Markus Winkler on Unsplash

1. Don’t Abuse Jargon

Excessive jargon is overwhelming for anyone, even industry experts. Such headlines may look something like this:

Scaling Crawlability and Indexability With White-Hat SEO

Even if you’re going to explain all the terms in your article, a user isn’t likely to click on your article if they don’t even understand what it’s about.

True experts are able to explain complicated concepts to the general reader, so using more layman terms will not reflect poorly on your credibility. So unless it’s relevant and targeted, remove any niche terminology. Don’t keep them in for the sake of sounding fancy.

The above headline can be rewritten as:

How to Boost SEO: Search Engine-Approved Practices

See how much difference it makes?

“SEO” is an industry-specific term, but one that would be known by a vast majority of my target audience (in this case, businesses and content creators) regardless of their experience level.

An effective headline should strike a good balance of simplicity and specificity.

2. Don’t Use Clickbait

We’ve all seen headlines with gimmicky phrases like “You’ll Never Believe What Happens Next...” By the end of the article, the only thing you can’t believe is how much time you’ve just wasted.

Clickbait headlines are designed to get you to click on them. They are often misleadingly frustrating and, not to mention, overly verbose.

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Clickbait is not synonymous with a good, catchy headline. So unless you truly have a groundbreaking revolution lying in wait, this type of headline isn’t likely to go down well with your readers.

Although clickbait does achieve the main goal of headlines, which is to draw attention, if you don’t deliver on content, it’s only going to keep readers away in the future. It shatters the main foundation of readership, which is trust.

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Clickbait will only lead to disappointment and wasted time, so focus instead on writing articles that adds value for your reader and let your content speak for itself.

3. Don’t Set Unrealistic Expectations

Here we have clickbait’s more subtle cousin: headlines that overpromise, on articles that underdeliver in content.

Based on what your headline tells them, readers will hold certain preconceived notions of the quality and content of your article before they even start reading.

Even if your article does hold value, if it doesn’t live up to the expectations set by your headline, it will only end up underwhelming your reader and leaving them feeling shortchanged.

Remember that headlines and articles come as a package deal, not separate products. Always consider what your article achieves specifically and couple it with a relevant headline that reflects the content.

4. Don’t Overemphasize

Don’t use ALL CAPS, unnecessary font styles, or multiple exclamation marks!!!

Overuse can come across as clickbaity and juvenile. Whether you’re writing a formal or casual piece, it’s important to convey a level of professionalism in order to establish trust with your readers.

Use these tools sparingly and only where relevant. In fact, effective writing can often deliver an impact simply through word choice, phrasing, and sentence structure, without the need for such tonal indicators.

So instead of:

How Journalling Everyday can CHANGE YOUR LIFE for the Better!!!

We can write something like:

Discover the Life-Changing Power of Daily Journalling

They convey the same message, but the second is easier on the eyes and less overwhelming for the reader. While you want your headline to have an impact, make sure it is achieved in an articulate way.


Headlines are one of the most important pieces of your blog post, as they are the first thing that people see. A good headline will entice people to read more, while a bad headline will cause people to skip over your post.

Think about what your article is about and try to sum it up in one or two sentences. That's your headline. Keep it short, sweet, and to-the-point. Most importantly, make sure your article delivers on what it promises. For a start though, you can always try Hypotenuse's very own ad headline generator.

Join 1,000+ marketers writing with Hypotenuse AI

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