Killer Headlines: The Guide


From blogs to advertisements to email subject lines, it's easy to spot a catchy headline. But there's more to creating great headlines than catchiness. There's so little time these days to make an impression, especially online. Your headline needs to capture a viewer's attention within a few seconds.

But creating the perfect headline can be a challenge. There's a lot to consider when giving your content a name, like whether the headline will effectively convince your audience that the content is worth their time. If you're thinking about how the audience will react, you're already on the right track to creating a great headline. However, there's still more to it.

Here's what you can do to create spectacular headlines.

Know what kind of headlines perform

Writing great headlines comes from seeing other great headlines. You can find them almost anywhere. Try seeking inspiration from your favorite website or magazine. Think about headlines you've seen that made you want to continue reading. If you remember specific headlines that left an impression, consider the techniques the author used to write it.

With so much content floating around online, you probably ignore most of the headlines you see. But some types of headlines tend to be more successful at capturing your attention. Here are four top-performing types of headlines:

  • List headlines: tell readers exactly how much information they'll find in your content (i.e., 3 Levels of Website Development Tools)
  • How-to headlines: offer a how-to guide for achieving a specific goal (i.e., How to Improve Your Online Reputation)
  • Resource headlines: show that your content is an important resource for getting the essential information (i.e., KILLER HEADLINES: The Guide)
  • Question headlines: ask a question that your readers might have in the headline and then answer it in your content (i.e., Can They Find You? SEO for Manufacturing)

If you use a combination of these types of headlines for different content, you'll be more likely to engage your readers.

Tease the content

The goal is to make the viewer want to learn more about what you have to offer. Whether you're showcasing an exciting new product, promoting a great sale, or publishing an interesting article, the headline should hint at what's great about the offer. But it shouldn't give everything up. You still want the reader to open the email, click the ad, or read the article. If they learn everything they need to know from the headline, why would they need to read further?

Just be careful not to entice the reader and then not fulfill your end of the bargain. If you've convinced them to continue reading, make sure you follow through and provide accurate content that's valuable to them. Nobody likes being tricked.

Show why the content matters

If your reader sees a headline but doesn't think the content affects them, they'll ignore it. This is especially true with ads because visitors tend to simply scroll past them, especially if the ad interrupts their experience. When you create new content, you should already be focusing on what will appeal to your target audience. You've brainstormed what information your readers will need as they make their buying decision. Just like you cater your content to your intended audience, you also have to make sure that your headlines capture their attention and keep them interested. The best way to do this is to highlight how your content benefits the reader.

That's because emotional headlines make it easier for your audience to connect with your brand, increasing the chance that they'll read the content or click on the ad.

Always be creative

Creative headlines are memorable and should be tailored to the audience that will be reading them. Even if you're going for a professional tone, creativity is what sets your business apart from others.

Headlines are the first words your audience sees. Sometimes, the headline is the only thing they see, such as with web banner ads. We have so little time to capture someone's attention these days. If the headline doesn't matter or doesn't capture our interest, we skim right by or refrain from clicking. You can't go wrong with emotion. Headlines that invoke emotions tend to outperform those that don't because they use powerful words to stop someone in their tracks to laugh, cry, gasp, etc. And when they're hooked on the headline, they're more likely to interact with that content, whether it's clicking the ad or sharing the article on social media.

Ultimately, headlines can change the way people think about the content they describe. Use a creative headline to offer your audience a new perspective on the topic that motivates them to see what you have to say.

Match your brand

It's okay to be clever and cheesy if that's the vibe you're going for. If your content is fun, your headline should be, too. It's a great opportunity to engage with your audience. Match the tone of your content and your brand. It's tricky because you may want to write a clever headline, but if that isn't the way your business normally writes, it won't fit with the content. A millennial/Gen Z audience may find a clever headline more intriguing than one filled with industry jargon and lacking personality, while a Gen X/Gen Y audience may find a clever headline unprofessional. Any tone can be effective—just remember to stay consistent with your brand and your other content.

Watch out for wordiness

Although the ideal word count for the best headlines varies, they're typically around six words long. That's enough wiggle room to give the reader an idea of what your content is about without losing the reader's interest or giving away too much. You should be able to read a headline aloud in one breath—anything longer than that and the reader will probably move on.

With a creative mindset and an understanding of what makes a headline successful, you can consistently create headlines that entertain and inform your audience, motivating them to engage with your content.

Robin Chandler

Robin Chandler

Marketing Coordinator & Copywriter
Cain & Company logo

685 Featherstone Road
Rockford, IL 61107

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