7 secrets to writing wildly successful blog headlines

7 secrets to writing wildly successful blog headlines

Here’s an eye-opening fact: 80% of people will read your headline, but only 20% will read the actual post. But don’t be discouraged – we’re going to share seven of the best-kept headline secrets that top content marketers use to get people clicking – and reading – their articles and posts.

But first…It’s important to know what not to say

A joint study by HubSpot and Outbrain revealed that using words like “easy,” how to,” “credit,” “cure,” magic,” and “free” decrease CTR.

Free? Really? Sadly, yes. Here’s a breakdown of words to avoid in headlines:

Keywords that have a negative effect on the CTR. Data Source: https://offers.hubspot.com/datadriven-strategies-titles-headlines
Keywords that have a negative effect on the CTR. Data Source: https://offers.hubspot.com/datadriven-strategies-titles-headlines

Now for those seven secrets…

1. Using the word “photos” in your headline gets people’s attention.

Successful blog headlines - Tip 1: Using the word photos in your headline gets people's attention
Successful blog headlines – Tip 1: Using the word “photos” in your headline gets people’s attention

In the HubSpot/Outbrain study, headlines featuring the word “photos” performed 59% better than those without. Here are some examples of stellar headlines that use “photo” or “photos”:

  • This one incredible photo shows how to be a good neighbor during a blizzard
  • All the photos from Fashion Week 2018 that you need to see
  • These 19 sweet photos will get you into the holiday spirit this season

2. Use the phrase “will make you” in your headlines to get a great response.

Successful blog headlines - Tip 2: Use the phrase 'will make you' in your headlines
Successful blog headlines – Tip 2: Use the phrase ‘will make you’ in your headlines

A 2017 BuzzSumo study of over 100 million headlines revealed that the most popular phrase (based on Facebook shares) was “will make you” because it’s so persuasive. This phrase is action-oriented and manages to convey urgency without being too pushy. Here are some effective examples of how this phrase is used in several headlines:

  • This magician will make you question your perceptions
  • 3 essential life hacks that will make you better at everything
  • This incredible ebook will make you a winner at work

3. Go ahead, get emotional.

Successful blog headlines - Tip 3: Go ahead, get emotional
Successful blog headlines – Tip 3: Go ahead, get emotional

The BuzzSumo study also revealed that more than half of the top headlines used emotional language that got people clicking. Some examples include:

  • [Photos] This worldly weiner dog is too cute (this headline gets a bonus for also using the word “photos”)
  • This precious Mrs. Doubtfire reunion will melt your heart
  • Six pharma industry practices that will make your blood boil

4. Now is the time for all good headlines to be brief and to the point (but not too brief).

The HubSpot/Outbrain study found that headlines that had the highest engagement fell between 81 and 100 characters. That’s roughly 18-25 words. There is no “best” headline length, so it’s important to test different headlines with different outlets (email vs. blog posts vs. page titles). Here are examples of headlines that fall (roughly) within this character length.

  • 10 Strategies to Promote Positive Customer Reviews For Your Business, Product or Service (88 characters)
  • How You Can Lower Cost Per Lead By Over 70% With Exceptional Landing Pages (73 characters)
  • She’d given up hope of finding her schizophrenic son. Then came a call from an unknown number. (94 characters)

5. Use bracketed clarifications to boost clicks.

Successful blog headlines - Tip 5: Use bracketed clarifications to boost clicks
Successful blog headlines – Tip 5: Use bracketed clarifications to boost clicks

The HubSpot/Outbrain study found that headlines with bracketed clarifications performed 38% better than those without. Clarifications tended to be visual, for example (photos) (videos) (slideshow). Pairing clarifications with words like “amazing” and “photo” increased page views per session. Remember, though, that the term “amazing” can reduce CTR even though it tends to increase post-click engagement. Here are some [amazing] examples of headlines that use bracketed clarifications.

  • Looking for a new iPhone? Here’s what you should – and shouldn’t – buy (slideshow)
  • The 21 easiest pumpkin recipes ever – you’ll want to try them all (photos)
  • 15 brilliant Halloween costumes you can make for under $20 (video)

6. Use odd-numbered lists.

Successful blog headlines - Tip 6: Use odd-numbered lists
Successful blog headlines – Tip 6: Use odd-numbered lists

Odd-numbered headlines are attractive to people for a number of psychological reasons. For example, grouping information in segments of three or five can help people absorb the information. In fact, blog posts that start with an odd number perform 20% better than those with even numbers.  Here are some examples of compelling headlines that use odd numbers.

[pro tip: using LARGE numbers tends to get users to respond more than small numbers – at least for blog post headlines.]

[pro tip #2: Numbers should be in number form as opposed to written out (e.g., 5 instead of “five”) – people click on these more.]

  • 5 habits that will make your child’s studying time more effective
  • 9 Frightening mistakes that make web copywriters cringe
  • 33 Surprising ghost hunting tips from a top celebrity psychic

7. Don’t be passive.

Headlines that use more adverbs and verbs and fewer nouns and adjectives have higher CTR. People respond to a definitive call-to-action, so it makes sense that using active words in headlines tends to get them clicking. Combine this tip with some of the others, above, and you’ll find you’re motivating people to click on your post, email, tweet, update, article, etc. etc. (you get the picture). Here are some examples:

  • Spice up supper by whipping up this deliciously easy shrimp and chipotle pasta dish
  • Take a peek behind the scenes at Google to learn how our super secret algorithm works
  • Learn how to have a spectacular staycation with advice from these top travel experts

Our point is this: you don’t have to reinvent the wheel

The art of writing a well-crafted headline isn’t new. Experts know this which is why the most engaging headlines tend to employ strategies you’ve likely seen over and over again. The proliferation of ad messaging at just about every consumer touchpoint makes writing attention-grabbing headlines essential.

Remember, writing headlines is just one element of a comprehensive content marketing strategy and should tie into every single facet of your overall messaging – from brand awareness to thought leadership to native advertising. Still, no matter how sound your overall strategy is, you’ll have better results if you can grab your customer’s attention.

Now that we’ve armed you with these seven hot secrets to headline-writing success, you are well on your way to writing successful headlines that get people clicking!

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Ryan Gould
Vice President of Strategy and Marketing Services at Elevation Marketing
An expert search, social and content marketer, Ryan leads Elevation Marketing's digital strategy department, helping brands achieve their business goals, such as improving sales and market share, by developing integrated marketing strategies distinguished by research, storytelling, engagement and conversion.

With proven track record of energizing brands, engaging audiences and managing multidiscipline marketing teams, Ryan is a respected expert in achieving consistent results through creative design, thought-provoking narratives and innovative problem solving.
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