How to Write Effective Headlines

How to Write Effective Headlines

How can you write effective headlines? There are many ways to write effective headlines that engage people and get them to click.

The goal of a headline is to summarize a piece of copy in as few words as possible. By keeping headlines brief, readers can quickly know the basic premise of the copy.

As a small business owner, finding the right marketing headline is critical to ensuring your message reaches potential customers. A cryptic or clever headline may cause readers to ignore your copy; if it’s too long or wordy, people may look elsewhere for the information they need.

Now, let’s get into the meat of the matter.

1. Your Headlines Should be Specific

Pretend an elevator door is closing and you want to tell someone on the other side a story. You’ll need to get the most interesting point across quickly, so don’t be vague about it.

The same goes for your headline. When people see it, they will make a quick decision: Do I care about this? Be specific — add enough information to help them connect with the story and make a favorable decision.

The purpose of a good headline is not solely to entice people to click. We want people to have a positive experience. We don’t want people to feel duped or disappointed, right?

2. Your Headline Should be Clear

When someone sees your headline, they’re likely reading it on their phones. The screen is small, but the experience is fast.

You only have a second or two to make your point. So, when you write your headline, make it easy to understand.

Keep it simple, and avoid names and acronyms that aren’t widely recognized. For example, check out the title “Eric Athas of the NPR ETT on headlines”. Do you even understand what “ETT” means? And because you don’t understand it, you won’t click on the headline.

Avoid words that appear almost exclusively in headlines (“5 headline ideas to bolster your stories”).

Remember that the headline is likely the only part of your copy that reaches all corners of the internet. It should make sense to people no matter where it is seen.

3. Don’t Try to be Clever in Your Headlines

Headlines, like stories, should have a distinct voice, style, and creative element. This is especially true for public media.

With that in mind, don’t use clever headlines.

A headline with a pun or a cultural reference is nice to write, but is it necessary? Will they get it? Will people spend too much time trying to “get” your joke?

Again: creative, unique, and full of life, but not overly clever. Don’t lose sight of the goal.

4. Add an Element of Curiosity in Your Headlines

Curiosity-laden headlines pique readers’ interest. Use foreshadowing in the title of your next copy to make it more interesting.

A blog post titled “Most copywriters don’t know about these work hacks” is an excellent example because it makes readers wonder what kind of secret knowledge they can stumble upon by reading on.

5. Use Numbers

If you’re creating a list, try using a number in the headline. People prefer numbered headlines because they are easily scanned without having to digest every piece of information. That way, they can get the gist of the content in a minute or two.

Another reason to use numbers in a headline is to break up the content into smaller, more manageable sections. When presented with large amounts of text, some people may simply move on to something else.

6. Use Power Words

Headlines containing exciting or emotional language tend to stand out from ordinary titles.

Look for ways to spice up a headline by using power words wherever possible. Examples include “comprehensive,” “guaranteed,” “instantly,” and “free.”

The most effective power words elicit excitement and motivate readers to take action.

While some power words elicit fear or anxiety, others inspire or even seduce readers. If you want to write better headlines quickly, try using a few power words in your titles to make them more interesting.

Here are a few power words you can use.

7. Know Your Audience Well

A major secret to writing effective headlines is to know who you’re writing for. You must understand their needs, problems, objectives, interests, and preferences.

This will allow you to tailor your headlines to their unique situation and expectations.

Surveys, analytics, feedback, and customer personas can all help you research your audience and segment them into different groups.

8. Apply the 4U Formula

The four U’s formula for writing headlines is widely used. They are:

  • Useful,
  • Urgent,
  • Unique, and
  • Ultra-specific.

This formula was created by copywriting expert Jon Morrow. It will help you write effective headlines that appeal to the emotions and curiosity of your audience.

To be successful, your headline should provide a clear benefit to your reader, create a sense of urgency or scarcity, differentiate itself from the competition by avoiding clichés, and be precise and detailed.

Also, use words like today, now, limited, or before to create urgency; words that are specific, surprising, or intriguing to make it unique; and numbers, facts, examples, or questions to make it ultra-specific.

9. Address Your Audience’s Pain Points

What motivates you, the reader, to click on a headline and read more?

I’m willing to bet that if the content addresses a problem, a question, or a specific need, you’re more likely to engage with it.

Powerful headlines identify a topic of interest for your target audience and then position your content as a solution or pathway to that interest.

10. Apply the 5W Principle

You might be familiar with the 5Ws, a well-known principle among writers and journalists.

The idea is that when writing something, you should include the 5Ws (who, what, when, where, and why) as early as possible to provide people with the information they need.

When writing headlines for digital marketing and social media, we don’t always have much space. So, focus on the three most important questions: who, what, and why.

This does not require you to include specific words for each of these. It simply means explaining who your content is for, what its premise is, and why they should engage with it.

11. Tap Into Your Reader’s Emotions

Just as the best content appeals to readers’ emotions, so do headlines.

A headline that makes you laugh, touches your heart, surprises you, or piques your interest can motivate you to act and learn more.

Our emotions drive us to action in all aspects of our lives, and they are an effective tool for content marketers.

So, keep these ideas in mind as you create your headlines. How do you quickly elicit an emotional response from people, whether it’s empathy, shock, or anger?

12. Ask Questions

Another tried-and-true method for creating compelling headlines is to ask a question. Why?

Think about it. When you’re asked a question, the first thing you do is think of the possible answers. By asking a question in your headline, you invite readers to think, which provides an incentive for them to find the answer.

You also make it clear that your content contains the answer – or at least an exploration of the topic.

Another advantage of using questions is that they allow you to tap into trending conversations, giving you a competitive advantage and focusing on what your audience is interested in right now.


Learning how to write effective headlines is not an easy task.

It’s a delicate balancing act that needs a solid understanding of the data, intimate knowledge of your audience, cultural sensitivity, and a lot of creativity.

Next time you write a headline, try using some of the information we’ve provided above. This should help you reach and connect to your readers.

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Maku Seun is a freelance copywriter and direct response marketer. He helps digital marketers, coaches, and course creators boost sales by writing compelling sales copy which includes long-form sales letters, email copy, and website copy for their products and services. If you want him to write compelling sales copy for your business, click here.