Copywriters preach the importance of great headlines, because your audience will only read your copy if they first click on the headline.

Yet, writing a great headline is tricky because:

1.) There isn’t a single way to write a headline. There are plenty of tips on writing headlines, like using power words, mentioning benefits, and adding intrigue. So which one should you choose?

2.) Using good tips on a fundamentally flawed headline (which I’ll discuss in more detail below) won’t boost clicks. You need to have a sound headline before you can optimize it for clicks.

Instead of just giving you generic tips to write a great headline, this post outlines a simple three step framework to create a great headline and then provides tips you can incorporate into your workflow so you feel confident that your final headline is stellar

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How To Write A Great Headline (3-Step Framework)

There are plenty of copywriting tips that are designed to help you create a more compelling headline, but applying these tips to a headline that ignores one of these three questions will still bomb. Therefore, ask yourself these three questions before generating any headline ideas.

Step 1: What Does The Content Deliver?

Once you decide that your content needs a better headline, your first reaction is probably to think of a way to make it as clickable as possible.

While you probably know that it’s best to avoid clickbait titles (i.e., titles that make false promises exclusively to earn clicks), it’s not uncommon for copywriters to create titles that don’t communicate what the content actually delivers.

For example, I wrote an article about someone’s experience as an Airbnb host. The article’s original title was “How This Superhost Makes $84,000 per Year On Airbnb.”  

At first glance, that is a decent title. It’s certainly intriguing.

The only problem is that the article itself focused more on the host’s story of selecting and renovating her home. The last part of the article includes information on her revenue, but it’s not the article’s focus.

So, even though the title technically delivers information about her finances and revenue, it’s still a somewhat misleading title as revenue isn’t the article’s primary focus.

In addition, a revenue-focused title will attract a more entrepreneurial-minded reader interested in the economics of an Airbnb business, so they’ll likely leave your content as soon as the article focuses on the host’s renovation journey. These people also probably won’t read or watch your future content because they were disappointed with their first experience with your content.

Unfortunately, these negative user signals tell algorithms that your content is unsatisfactory, which can cause your future content to drop in the rankings.  

Therefore, I changed the article’s title to “This Airbnb Superhost’s Renovation Journey: Was It Worth It?”

This title aligns much better with the information the content actually delivers. However, it will likely appeal to a smaller audience and attract fewer total clicks. 

For this reason, I encourage you to brainstorm titles before writing the content to make sure that you can maximize traffic to your content. 

Step 2: What Is The Goal Of Someone Consuming This Content? 

The first step to writing compelling copy is understanding your audience avatar and then crafting your content to solve their pain points and help them achieve their goals. If your content isn’t helping them achieve their goals (assuming you’re creating educational content rather than entertainment content), then there isn’t really any incentive for them to consume it.

So after defining what value your content delivers in step one, the next step is to define the goal of a reader searching that topic. 

For example, the goal of someone searching “how to write a headline” is likely increasing clicks to their content.

That’s why I decided to title this post “How to Write A Headline That Makes People Click.”

In step one, I determined that the content is about writing a great headline. 

Then, I determined that the goal of someone searching for content on improving headlines is to increase clicks

As a result, I landed on the title idea “How to Write A Headline That Makes People Click.”

I also want to mention that someone might have multiple goals for reading this content. For example, you might want to increase clicks, but you probably also have other goals like:

  • Ranking higher in search engines 
  • Generating more brand awareness
  • Spending less time writing headlines
  • Feeling more confident that your headlines are good

However, you probably aren’t searching how to write a headline if your primary goal is ranking higher in search engines or increasing brand awareness. 

In addition, you might want to spend less time writing headlines, but that’s probably not as critical to you as getting more clicks.

Therefore, always select the primary goal of a reader/viewer searching for your content. 

Step 3: What Is The Element Of Intrigue?

Adding intrigue is often the first tip mentioned when discussing how to write a great headline, but it’s actually the least important.

This is because the ultimate headline hack is communicating to the viewer that your content is the solution to help them achieve their goal/solve their problem

If you’ve already mastered steps one and two, your headline is already 85% of the way there. 

And I always prioritize clarity over cleverness. If the headline doesn’t instantly communicate the value viewers will receive from your content, they won’t click.

Note: That isn’t to say that you can’t create a “curiosity gap” (e.g., “this is the strategy I used to double my clicks”). In this case, the curiosity gap is “the strategy” as readers want to know what “the strategy” is. Curiosity gaps tend to work better for YouTube videos or news style articles that don’t require a keyword. Nevertheless, the value the reader will receive is still clear – they’ll double their clicks.

After completing steps one and two, you can make your title more compelling by incorporating an element of intrigue. 

Here are some of my favorite ways to make a headline more intriguing:

  • Mention a benefit: Ask yourself what benefit the reader will receive by reading your article.
    • Example: How To Write A Headline That Increases Clicks
  • Mention a pain point: What problem is the audience currently facing that drove them to search for this in the first place?
    • Example: Why Nobody Clicks Your Headlines (And The Solution) 
  • Answer an objection: If someone has already tried to solve the problem, why didn’t it work? Or if they’ve already searched this problem, why did the advice not work?
    • Example: 7 Headline Tips That You Haven’t Tried Yet (The objection here might be that most people have already heard all the headline tricks in the book, but they still aren’t working).
  • Provide proof: This works particularly well for case study posts.
    • Example: The Headline Formula That 10xed My Channel In 30 Days 

You’ll notice that I don’t include an element of intrigue in the headline for this blog post. This is because the title was too long (I’ll discuss title lengths later on), and clarity is more important than intrigue.  

I would have loved to write a title like “How To Write A Headline That 10xes Your Clicks,” as that would have checked the “provide proof” box and would have been a more compelling title than the one I selected (“How To Write A Headline That Makes People Click”). However, this post isn’t actually a case study of 10xing clicks, so using a title like that would have broken the rule I laid out in step one – accurately setting content expectations.

Also, for SEO purposes, using a case study wouldn’t have made sense as someone searching “how to write a headline” wants a guide – not a case study.

Tips To Write Headlines That Get More Clicks

While the framework above will help you master the 80/20 of writing a great headline, there are a few other things to consider to improve your headlines.

1. Consider The Knowledge Level Required To Understand The Headline

I learned this strategy from Ed, the founder of Film Booth.

He asked this question in a recent email:

So why is that? 

Ed eloquently explains later in the email that the first title is only interesting to people who know what VidIQ is and what a tag is

On the other hand, the second title doesn’t require you to know anything—it appeals to anyone who feels the pain of not having enough video views.

Therefore, the more advanced concepts you introduce to your titles, the fewer people your title will attract.

That said, there are some scenarios where it does make sense to include more technical concepts in your title:

  1. You have a new website and are trying to rank for low-difficulty keywords: If you’re writing blog posts exclusively for SEO, it wouldn’t make sense to use a broad pain point in the title because the search difficulty will likely be far too high. Additionally, the search intent behind a keyword like “how to get more views” is a list post of multiple ideas – not just one title tip. As a result, if Ed turned that video covering this one title tip into a blog post, it probably wouldn’t rank for the keyword “how to get more views.” Yet the YouTube algorithm works differently, and this title clearly performed well in the browse and suggested content.
  2. You only want to attract an advanced audience: Including technical terms is a great filter to only attract advanced audiences.

However, if you’re writing social media content, new headlines, email headlines, or YouTube titles, using a broad pain point in your title and excluding any terms that require advanced or additional knowledge to understand will help you earn the most clicks. 

2. Build A Swipe File

“Headline formulas” can be a trap because every audience and platform has its own nuance. So a headline formula that works for one platform and audience might not be as effective on another platform with a different audience. For example, a great YouTube title is very different from a great SEO title, and a title that would attract a college student will probably have a different feel than a title that would attract an investment banker.

Instead, the best way to improve your headlines is to build a swipe file of the top performing headlines for your audience on your platform.

For example, if I had a YouTube channel on architecture and design, I would look up the top architecture and design channels on YouTube, sort by “Popular,” and then create a swipe file of the top-performing videos on each channel (the videos with the most views obviously earned the most clicks, and the click is mainly attributed to the thumbnail and… title!). 

You can also create a separate playlist for top performing videos in different industries.

For example, I could create a playlist of top performing videos across photography channels, fitness channels, cooking channels, and other unrelated topics.

It’s easy to see which headlines are most effective because YouTube publicly posts view counts. 

However, if your primary platform is email marketing or even SEO, determining top performing titles can be a little trickier. 

In that case, simply save the headlines that grab your attention. 

You can create a swipe file using Google Sheets, or if you want to get fancy, you can use a tool like SwipeFile.com to save your favorite headlines. 

Then, you can break these titles down into formulas that are proven to work in your industry and on your platform. 

For example, you could take a title like “Is this the Best Modern House In California? (House Tour)” and turn it into a formula. 

The formula here is:

  • “Is This The (Top Subject) In (Location/Qualifier)? (House Tour)”

So I might brainstorm other titles like:

  • Is This The Most Sustainable Garden Home In All Of Northern America? (House Tour)
  • Is This The Best Log Cabin In Switzerland? (House Tour)
  • Is This The Most Underrated Airbnb Property In Florida? (House Tour)

3. Test And Update Your Headlines 

Testing copy and titles is common in paid advertising, but it’s rarely done in organic content marketing. 

So before you post a piece of content, you can “pre-test” it by asking friends for feedback. You can either text it out to friends or drop it in a Slack or Discord group.

For example, Jon Youshai has a free Discord group that allows people to ask and provide feedback on members’ thumbnails and titles.

Once your content is published, you can continue to test different variations and see if it impacts its rankings and engagement. 

If you find a particular headline formula or style that works well for one piece of content, test your other titles using a similar format.

4. Respect Platform Title Length Limits

It won’t matter how compelling your title is if it gets cut off and people can’t read it.

So look up the title length limits for your platform before you start brainstorming different title ideas.

Even after publishing your post, double check that the headline isn’t cut off.

For example, the title length limit for SEO is up to 70 characters, though Google often cuts them off shorter than that limit. 

For example, the title “How To Get More Followers On Twitter (Avoid These Mistakes)” is only 59 characters and should show up fine in search results. Yet when I checked it in the SERPs, I saw that the title was cut off.

5. Write At Least 10 Variations of Your Headline

I used to only write two or three variations of my titles. 

Then I took George Blackman’s scriptwriting course, and he recommends writing at least 15 titles. Being forced to think of more title ideas was probably the single best hack I’ve used to improve my headlines.

If you’re feeling stuck and can’t think of more headline ideas, here are a few of my go-to strategies to think of more ideas:

  1. Ask ChatGPT to create more variations

I have a two-step process for using ChatGPT. Here’s the first prompt I use:

Then, I pick my favorite title, tell ChatGPT some common pain points/objections and ask it to rewrite the title based on them:

  1. Refer back to the swipe file of headlines/headline formulas you’ve collected.
  1. Run through these questions: You already did this with ChatGPT, but sometimes it can help to do it manually as well.
    1. What’s the pain point I’m helping them avoid?
    2. What’s the benefit they’ll receive from this content?
    3. What’s the objection they might have to reading my content (maybe why other advice didn’t effectively answer their question or didn’t work for them)?

As you’re brainstorming each headline idea, make the meaning behind each one different. For example “How To Write A Headline That Makes People Click” and “How To Write A Headline That Encourages Clicks” is more or less the same meaning.

On the other hand, “How To Write A Headline That Makes People Click” and “How To Write A Headline That 10xes Your Content ROI” communicate two different meanings.

6. Write Your Headline Before The Content

Many content creators preach that you should write the headline before the content, but I always ignored that advice. 

Then, I learned the hard way why it’s so important.

When I wrote an article about an Airbnb host, I focused the entire article on her journey renovating her house. When it was time to write the title, I realized that a title that included the revenue number would be far more compelling. 

By then, I couldn’t use the revenue number in the title because it wouldn’t accurately set the reader’s expectations for what the content covered, so I was forced to use a title that I knew would attract a smaller audience.

Therefore, brainstorm your title first, and only once you’ve identified the most compelling angle should you create the content. 

7. Deliberately Decide If You Should Use Keywords

If your main goal is to rank a blog post in Google, you should definitely use a keyword in your title. This is important because it helps search engines understand what your content is about and helps searchers immediately identify that your content is the solution to their problem.

However, if you’re primarily posting content on YouTube or social media, you may not need to use keywords in your content. 

If you publish primarily entertainment content or content designed specifically for your core audience, prioritizing intrigue over keywords may make more sense.

Here’s YouTube strategist Paddy Galloway’s take on keywords:

However, you’ll notice that he isn’t saying that keywords are “bad.” You just need to deliberately decide whether or not it makes sense to target keywords.

In general, if you’re publishing primarily educational and tutorial-based content, it often makes sense to include keywords so that people can quickly identify that your content answers their questions.

Additionally, if you offer a specific product or service and are using educational content to help new customers discover your solutions, it often makes sense to target keywords so that new people can find your brand.

Get More Help Writing Your Headlines

The guidelines in this article are the 80/20 of great headlines. 

However, if you want to master the art of writing great headlines (and general copywriting), the key is to practice as much as possible and get feedback from peers and mentors. 

Finding peers and mentors can be difficult, so we created the Copyblogger Academy. Inside the Academy, you’ll have access to a network of peers, many of whom are quite advanced and willing to help those just getting started. 

You can also get direct feedback from Tim Stoddart, a copywriter who owns multiple seven-figure businesses built on copywriting, and Charles Miller, a personal branding expert who has helped many entrepreneurs turn their words into seven figures. You’ll also have access to eight courses on various topics, including copywriting, content marketing, personal branding, and other fundamental skills you can use to turn your words into dollars. You can sign up for the Copyblogger Academy today, and if you aren’t 100% satisfied, we’ll give you a full refund in your first 30 days.