David Ogilvy, who is now known as the Father of Advertising, was one of the best copywriters who ever lived. And what did he have to say about the importance of headlines?
“On average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.”
Up to this day, writers don’t spend enough time on headlines. That’s probably the main reason no one reads their content. But you don’t have to make this mistake.
Let’s see why headlines are so important, how you can create ones that are so compelling that people can’t help but click on them, and put to test the best headline analyzer tools available.
How do @buzzfeed and @upworthy hook you in? With their magnetic headlines! 🎣 We looked at how the best in class create them and tested the best headline analyzer tools for you!
Why Are Headlines so Important?
David Ogilvy was a 20th-century man. He was born in 1911 and died in 1999.
He lived through the birth and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the slow death of the British empire, two world wars.
The 20th century was also a century of astounding technological innovation in which airplanes went from a nascent technology to an ordinary mode of transport, computers became a consumer item, and the world was connected by the Internet.
However, despite all the political turmoil, unprecedented violence, and dizzying technological advancement, in some ways, it was also a much quieter time.
Think about it. For most of Ogilvy’s life, the media consisted of newspapers, magazines, radio, and TV.
Can you remember what it was like before the Internet, social media, and smartphones? That was Ogilvy’s world.
And that world is gone now. We all have a gateway to unlimited socializing, entertainment, and knowledge in our pockets. And every time we go on the Internet, we are bombarded with attempts to get our attention.
There’s an email from a friend, a cousin left a comment on your vacation photo, there are three blog posts you want to read, there’s a new podcast episode, two of your favorite YouTubers just got into a feud…
And then there are all the Google, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and podcast ads.
How to Write Better Headlines from Scratch:
Writing better headlines is an art that can be learned and improved by anyone. If you have to start from scratch, follow these tips:
- Research your customer extensively
- Look at your competitor’s best headline ideas
- Use your customer’s words (no jargon)
- Use numbers at the beginning of headlines
- Use powerful words like “secret”, “untold”, “hidden”
- A/B test your headlines
- Measure your click-through rate and adapt
Now, think of this: if headlines were so important in Ogilvy’s days, don’t you think they are even more important now when we are always being pulled in countless directions?
In today’s world there’s no shortage of content. The role of a good headline is to make a promise, as Andy Cristodina, co-Founder and CMO at Orbit Media, clearly explains:
“Before any of us click anything, we do a split second cost-benefit calculation. […] The job of the headline is to indicate the benefit and to make a promise to the visitor that it’s worth it. And to do it in less than a second. The more specific the benefit, the more likely the visitor is to click. Great headlines make specific promises.”
Here’s the concept illustrated:
If you don’t grab the attention of the reader, i.e. the cost vs benefit equation isn’t satisfied, you will lose them because they will move on to something more exciting within seconds.
Keep in mind that if you come up with a weak headline, it doesn’t matter how great your content is: no one is going to read it.
So, how can you write a good headline?
Understand Your Target Audience
Do you know what is the foundation of persuasive copywriting? Market research.
That’s probably not the answer you were expecting. People often imagine that the best copy is written in a burst of creative genius. But the reality is much more mundane.
The best copy is written by copywriters who understand their target audience better than the target audience understands themselves.
And you can’t get there by just sitting there trying to dream up what drives the people that you want to reach.
No. You need to actually go out there and get it from the horse’s mouth. And how can you do that?
Let’s say that you have a keto blog. If that’s the case, you probably already have at least some experience with this diet and understand why people are attracted to it. But you can take your copywriting to the next level with market research.
Reddit is the most popular online forum out there that has subreddits for pretty much anything you can think of.
r/keto subreddit has 1.3 million members that are all interested in the ketogenic diet.
You can learn a lot about your target audience simply by visiting this subreddit every day, observing which posts get the most upvotes, seeing what issues are the most common, etc.
Youtube is the most popular video hosting site in the world as well as the second largest search engine.
Why not see what the most popular YouTubers in your niche have to say?
For example, Tristan Haggard runs Primal Edge Health channel which has 120,000+ subscribers.
Now, if you go to the “Videos” section, click “Sort by” and choose “Most popular”, you will see all his videos ranked from the most popular to the least popular.
This allows you to see which topics resonate with your target audience the most and also what headlines work well.
And if you click on one of the videos, you will be able to see the comments and get even more insight into the minds of your target audience.
Just keep in mind that Youtube comments are usually full of people memeing so be prepared to sift through a lot of useless comments.
Analyzing popular YouTube channels in your niche is one good way that will help you improve your understanding of your target audience.
And, of course, if you want to create a blog about something, you should take a look at your competition.
For example, ruled.me is a popular keto blog that has over 115,000 subscribers and is full of keto resources.
You can analyze their content, see what they do well, what’s missing, and then produce something even better.
Now, keto is an easy example of market research because it’s such a popular topic, but you can do the same with pretty much anything.
Remember: the best copywriters are the ones who understand their target audience the best, those who perform in-depth customer research.
When it comes to copywriting, there’s no such thing as too much research. Only too little research.
Use Headline Formulas
You know that saying “Good artists copy, great artist steal”?
Well, “stealing” headlines is a standard practice in the world of copywriting because we already know what works and what doesn’t. So don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Use headline formulas.
One of the best resources for headline formulas is Jon Morrow’s book “52 Headline Hacks” which you can download for free.
In his book Morrow covers:
- How-to headlines. “How to [Blank]”, “How to be [Desirable Quality], “How to [Blank] Without [Objectionable Action]”, “How to [Blank] and [Blank]”, “How to [Do Something] in 5 Minutes” and “How to [Do Something] Like a Boss”.
- List headlines. “7 Ways to [Do Something]”, “13 Ways to [Do Something” When [Situation]”, “(The) Top 10 [Blank]”, “7 Steps to [Objective], “7 Tips For [Objective]”, “7 [Adjective] Facts [Person/Audience] Should Know”, “7 Quotes from/by [Famous Person” That Will [Desired Result], “7 [Blank] That Will Change Your Life” and more.
- Bonus headline hacks. “Warning: [Blank]”, “Why [Action/Thing] Is/May Be [Opinion/Assertion]”, “[Question/Problem] Here’s How to Fix It”, “The Ultimate Guide to [Blank]” and “(The) [Group/Famous Person] Guide to [Blank]”.
There are also two appendices:
- Appendix I: “50 Heavy-Hitting Headlines for Instant Inspiration”.
- Appendix II: “173 Awesome Adjectives to Add Power and Pizazz”.
Writing headlines using these formulas might seem uninspired and robotic, but copywriting is about results, not about creativity.
Once you learn these formulas, you will start seeing them everywhere. They are used by the most successful newspapers, magazines, and blogs. Why?
Because they work.
Of course, if you want to take your copywriting to the next level, it’s not enough to have a swipe file with these templates, you need to practice using them until these formulas become so ingrained in your mind that you don’t need to look them up anymore.
For example, when Justin Blackman decided to improve his headline game, he wrote 10,211 headlines in 106 days.
He committed to writing 100 headlines per day for 100 days and actually followed through with it despite the fact that people were skeptical about his ability to pull it off.
As a result, he became much faster at writing headlines, to the point of being able to come up with 80+ headlines without looking up the formulas and knocking out 100 headlines during a lunch break.
Moreover, he didn’t only get faster, he got better, you can see how his headlines improved as he progressed through his challenge.
Justin shared 16 hard-earned headline takeaways. Want to know what was on top of that list?
“Do the work.
No hacks, article, or template can match putting on the gloves and getting dirty. There comes a time to stop reading and start doing. Practice makes permanent. It’s the only way to make things stick.”
You don’t need to go all-out like Justin did, but if you want to learn to write better headlines, then you need to practice the craft. There’s just no way around it.
Sure, 100 headlines a day is crazy… But can you do 10 every day?
Use Power Words
Power words are words that elicit a specific emotion.
For example, the words “Heartwarming” and “Inspiring” are uplifting meanwhile the words “Alarming” and “Devastating” make you alert and put you on guard.
You can use power words to spice up your headlines and grab the reader’s attention.
Take a look at this headline from Cosmopolitan that Sumo presents in their “401+ Ridiculously Useful Power Words To Increase Conversions”:
Cosmo could have run with “Ariana Grande Debuted a Silvery New Hair Color”. But is that really interesting? Okay, she dyed her hair, so what?
However, “Ariana Grande Debuted a Shocking Silvery New Hair Color” immediately makes you want to know more. What’s so shocking about it? What did Ariana do now??
As you can see, power words can make a headline much more persuasive.
So go get Sumo’s list of 401+ power words and start using them in your headlines today.
Learn from the Best
It’s not enough to learn the formulas, use power words, and come up with your own headlines.
You also need to study the masters of copywriting by analyzing outlets with the best headlines:
BuzzFeed was founded by Jonah Peretti and John S. Johnson III back in 2006.
Since the very beginning, the company focused on viral content. They started with aggregating it and then moved to producing it as well, and are now well known for their listicles and quizzes.
While it’s probably inaccurate to say that BuzzFeed pioneered click-bait headlines, the company definitely took it to an entirely new level, to the point where they inspired a parody website ClickHole.
Bassim Eledath analyzed BuzzFeed headlines using data science techniques. What did he find?
Apparently, the average BuzzFeed headline length is 11.85 words.
He then narrowed his focus to 11-word headlines and discovered the most common BuzzFeed headline structure:
According to Bassim’s research, the most popular sequence followed a CD, NNS, WDT, VBP pattern.
In fact, 16% of all headlines start with a number, which is not surprising given the role listicles played in BuzzFeed’s success:
Now, whatever it is that you think about BuzzFeed, you have to admit that their headlines work, so it makes sense to study them.
UpWorthy was founded in 2012 by Eli Pariser and Peter Koechley.
Their mission is to “change what the world pays attention to” which means that they produce viral content with a “progressive” perspective.
They are somewhat a more serious outlet than BuzzFeed and their headlines are longer and less click-baity.
Cosmopolitan was first established in 1886 as a family magazine, then later turned into a literary magazine, and then became a women’s magazine in 1965.
With so much experience under its belt, Cosmo has really mastered the art of writing compelling headlines and is a great example of how to craft a headline that people want to click without devolving into total click-bait.
Daily Mail is a British tabloid newspaper that was founded in 1896.
It has been widely criticized for unreliability and sensationalism but it is still extremely popular (it’s the second largest newspaper in the United Kingdom).
Now, Daily Mail might not be the best source of information, but you know what tabloids do really well? Headlines.
You might be a bit skeptical about studying the headlines from BuzzFeed, UpWorthy, Cosmo, and DailyMail because they are not exactly Pulitzer Prize-winning publications.
However, you should put the journalist in you on hold for a second, and look closely at those headlines people can’t help but click. Don’t you want to learn how to do the same?
A/B Test Your Headlines
In the old days, you would spend a lot of time crafting the best headline you can, and once it got to the printing press that was it, it was out of your hands. No pressure, huh?
And it’s pretty much the same today if we are talking about the print media.
However, if you publish an article on your website, then the headline is not set in stone.
In fact, you can test several variations of it and then go with the winner. But how exactly does that work?
It all comes down to a conversion rate optimization method called A/B testing.
When you are running an A/B test, you create two variants of the same website, one being the control version (A) and the other being the experimental version (B).
Then, you split your traffic in two, and send half of it to version A and half of it to version B.
You then let the test run until it reaches statistical significance, look at the results, determine which variant won and keep the winner.
So, if you are testing headlines, you need to create two variants of the same blog post, and the only difference between them should be the headline.
Then you run a test to determine which headline resonates with your audience more.
When it comes to A/B testing software, there are a lot of options out there, but here are the top four that you should consider:
However, keep in mind that for a test to work, it needs to reach statistical significance. What does that mean?
It means that you need to send a certain amount of traffic to each variant to be sure that the pattern you see isn’t accidental.
For example, if you only send one visitor to page A and one visitor to page B, the results will be worthless. Why?
Because you can’t know for sure whether the fact that say website B performed better was due to the headline.
Maybe the one person you sent to it was simply in a great mood that day and that’s why they decided to take your desired action?
However, the more visitors you send to each variant, the more likely it is that the result isn’t just statistical noise.
So if you send 10 visitors to each website the result becomes more reliable, and then even more reliable with 100 visitors, and even more with 1,000, and so on.
At some point, the result reaches a 95% statistical significance (likelihood of not being statistical noise) at which point it is considered reliable enough to base your decisions on.
All this means that if you want to run A/B tests, you need to have traffic, and the more traffic you have, the more valuable A/B testing is.
So if you are just starting out, don’t bother with A/B testing, but definitely consider it if you already receive a lot of visitors each month.
Now, if all this talk of market research, headline formulas, and A/B testing did not destroy your romantic perception of copywriting, then get ready for the final blow: headline analyzer tools.
Yes, you can use software to analyze your headlines and determine how they can be improved.
Let’s take a closer look at the most popular solutions on the market:
Advanced Marketing Institute Headline Analyzer
Okay, so the Advanced Marketing Institute headline analyzer might make you feel nostalgic for the early 2000s, but don’t be fooled by its appearance, it can be quite useful.
Type your headline into the text field, pick a category, and press “Submit for Analysis”.
You will then get the analysis of your headline that looks like this:
As you can see, our headline is almost within the “professional copywriter” range, which isn’t bad.
This free headline analyzer is a great way to quickly gauge how compelling your headline is.
Sharethrough Headline Analyzer
Sharethrough headlines analyzer is a more sophisticated analyzer that not only tells you how you stack up against other copywriters but also provides suggestions on how to make your headline better.
Simply type your headline into the text field, press “Find Out”, and you’ll get analysis like this:
As you can see, you can take a look at your strengths, but, more importantly, you get suggestions on what to improve that you can then immediately implement and run the analyzer again on the updated headline.
You also get the engagement score and the impression score for your headline:
Overall, Sharethrough headline analyzer is a great free tool and is especially helpful when you are just starting to learn how to write compelling headlines.
CoSchedule Headline Analyzer
CoSchedule headline analyzer is the most popular headline analyzer out there.
All you need to do is type your headline into the text field and click “Analyze Now”.
However, in order to get your headline analysis, you’ll need to provide some personal information:
You will also be asked to answer a few questions about your business:
Once you submit the required information you will get the headline analysis which includes the overall score, length analysis, Google search preview and more.
Our headline is below the average and the suggestion is to increase the number of uncommon words in it.
It seems that our headline needs to be shortened.
This is interesting because Sharethrough said that length was one of its strengths.
However, when we take a look at the Google Search preview, it becomes clear what the problem is.
As you can see, this headline doesn’t work on Google, which is bad if you are writing the article with search engine traffic in mind.
I guess we’ll have to come up with a shorter headline!
CoSchedule headline analyzer is without a doubt the best of these tools because it provides you with a strict analysis and a lot of information.
Of course, you need to keep in mind that while headline analyzers are valuable tools, you shouldn’t treat their analysis as gospel.
So don’t obsess over your exact score. What matters is getting the general idea of how your headline compares to others and seeing whether you can implement any of the suggestions.
See the analysis you get as general guidelines that you should consider not as strict instructions that you must follow.
Also, using headline analyzers is a great way to develop a copywriting intuition: the more you use them, the less you’ll need them, and eventually you’ll feel confident enough to write headlines on your own.
What If You Can’t Come up with Headline Ideas?
When you find yourself struggling to write a headline, don’t waste your time staring at a blank page, it won’t help.
Turn to Jon Morrow’s “52 Headline Hacks” for inspiration. And what if that doesn’t help?
Then it’s time to use headline generators!
Sumo Kickass Headline Generator
Sumo Kickass Headline Generator asks you to start by selecting what kind of content you need to create a headline for.
You are then taken to a page with text fields that you need to fill to see the headline suggestions.
Headline suggestions are then generated immediately.
As you can see, it didn’t work well for this particular topic, but it might work for other topics.
Plus, playing with this tool is a good way to memorize headline templates!
Inbound Now Blog Title Idea Generator
Inbound Now Blog Title Idea Generator is a simple but fun tool that you can use to generate headline ideas.
All you need to do is click the “Click to Generate Title Idea!” button and it will show you a headline template.
Don’t like it? Click the button again. Sooner or later it will generate something that resonates with you.
Impact Blog Title Generator
Impact Blog Title Generator is similar to Inbound Now Blog Title Idea Generator, but it has more functionality, looks amazing, and is overall better (no offense, Inbound Now, just keeping it real!).
You need to type your topic into the text field and press the “Next” button.
You will then be taken to a page where you are provided with a headline template which you need to customize by filling out text fields.
You can then either generate another headline template or click the heart button to add your headline to your notebook.
This is a really impressive headline generator and the notebook feature is very handy if you want to try out a variety of headline ideas.
Portent Content Idea Generator
Portent Content Idea Generator is a great headline generator with a unique stylish design.
All you need to do is enter your subject into a text field and press the arrow to proceed.
You will get not only a headline but also an explanation of the reasoning behind it.
These bubbles with explanations are valuable to someone who wants to learn to write better headlines.
SEOPressor Blog Title Generator
SEOPressor is another headline generator you can try.
Simply put your keyword into the text field, use the drop-down menu to describe it, and then press the “Generate Titles” button.
As you can see, the headlines are solid. Who wouldn’t want to read “The Billionaire Guide On Headline Analyzer Tools That Helps You Get Rich”? Maybe I should have written that article instead!
There are also tips on writing headlines.
Don’t be afraid to use headline generator tools. Writer’s block is a real thing. Sometimes you just need a little help to get your creative juices flowing.
Headlines are crucial elements of blog posts, sales pages, and almost anything content. Headlines make or break content.
It doesn’t matter how great your article is. If you can’t get people interested in it, no one will read it. As highlighted by all the viral clickbait posts, even a mediocre piece can get a lot of attention when combined with a compelling headline.
Now, no one is saying that you should turn your blog into a BuzzFeed’s clone, but you do need to learn to write headlines that grab attention.
And don’t forget what Ogilvy said. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollars. So, make sure to spend them well.