How to Write Good Headlines (Or, Why Some Article Get Read and Others Don't)

by Joe Fontenot

How to Write Good Headlines (Or, Why Some Article Get Read and Others Don’t)


Here’s a powerful statistic: Eight out of 10 people read headlines, but only 2 out of 10 click to read the rest of the article.

If your business depends at all on content marketing (creating valuable and free content to draw in potential customers), then the hook–the headline–is critical.

This is the same whether you’re a write, have a subscription service, create training videos, or run a brick and mortar retail shop. The headline (or title or label) is what draws viewers in.

But how do you write a good headline?

Here are six rules to follow:

1. Be super-clear

Perhaps the number one rule in all of this is: be clear.

Clever is fun. Cute is, well, cute. But neither clever nor cute communicate. Instead, what you need is clarity.

Donald Miller’s book Building a StoryBrand helps brands clarify their message so that customer will listen. If you haven’t read it, this is a good starting point.

So many brands lose potential customers because they’re message does not clearly communicate what they offer and who they offer it to.

2. Make specific promises your article (content) will answer

People are busy. One of the best ways to cut through that busyness is by telling them–up front–exactly how they can benefit.

If you’re vague here, people are going to assume that your content is not for them. It always goes that way. So let them know up front that it is.

You can do this by using “how” language.

How language works because it’s practical. List articles are great examples of this (“6 Ways to Find…” or “9 Steps to building your…”).

By being practical you’re taking the risk out of your viewer spending time with you (instead of elsewhere).

3. Talk about pain points

Whenever you can speak to someone’s pain, you have their attention.

Consider this example:

“How I completely got rid of lower back pain with a 7-minute-day exercise.” If I have lower back pain, then you better believe I want to click to learn more.

If you’re speaking to the right audience there will always be a place where your offerings or services overlap with their pain.

Think about it in terms of a Venn diagram:

The red is everything you can talk about. The blue is everything your customer is interested in hearing about. But the purple is what they’re interested in hearing about from you.

The fastest way to find that is to look for their pain.

4. Stay laser focused

The fastest way to lose a viewer is to introduce too many new ideas.

This article here is about how to write good headlines. If I start jumping into what it takes to write a good article (or worse, something completely off topic, like: why businesses fail), then you’re going to lose interest fast.

Not only have I switched topics on you (see #6 below), but I’m confusing the issue. You came here for headlines, and that’s what you want from this article. When I give you other things, I’m throwing hurtles in your way of getting to what you came for.

5. Open story loops

A story loop is an intriguing problem with a satisfying answer.

When you open a story loop, your viewer’s brain is actually looking for the close. You are effectively creating a desire to click.

Click-bate, for all its shenanigans, does a great job at opening story loops. “See which celebs have let themselves go in the last 12 months.” They are talking to anyone interested in celebrities and/or who have concerns about their own weight.

You open a story loop in a headline by focusing on your audience’s pain (#3), while staying focused and practical (#4 and 2).

Take the headline of this article (“why do some headlines get read while others do not”). It takes a lot of work and expertise to write an article. It’s difficult when that hard work gets ignored (that’s the pain). The solution is to write good headlines. My headline opens that story loop by offers that promise.

6. Deliver on your promise

There are a lot of articles that make promises and don’t deliver (again, click-bate).

Delivering on your promise is more of a long-range strategy.

But some push back on this. For instance, if your headline is great, why do you need to actually deliver on your promise? If all you’re doing is trying to get eyes, then maybe this argument works.

But people catch on. And not even people–Google’s algorithms are catching on. If you’re providing value, people will look to you again to provide more value.

This last step closes the cycle that the first five steps have been setting you up for. When you consistently deliver on your promise, people come back.

Want more?

Copyblogger has a great (free) guide called “How to Write Magnetic Headlines.”

If your marketing or website needs copy that doesn’t sound sales-y, or if you need to clarify and focus your message to win more customers, I’m a StoryBrand certified GuideContact me here, and I’ll get your marketing where it needs to be.