5 Headline Templates That Grab Readers

This is a guest post by Ray Edwards. He is is a marketing strategist, copywriter, speaker, and author. You can read his blog and follow him on Twitter.

Your readers decide whether your blog post is worth their time within a few seconds. Most of that decision is based on the post title (or “headline”).

5 Headline Templates That Grab Readers

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/DNY59

Some of the highest paying work in the copywriting business is creating headlines for magazine covers and tabloids. Think about it. Aren’t you sometimes at least tempted to pick up those magazines in the grocery store line? That’s the power of a great headline at work.

Effective headlines tend to follow a pattern. Here are five headline templates you can use that should have more people reading your posts and commenting on your blog.

  1. The “How-To” Headline.

    The key to making this particular headline work is that you need to tie it to a benefit your reader cares about (related to your content, of course). Examples:

    How to Write a Blog Post Every Day
    How to Land More Clients As a Freelancer

  2. The “Transactional” Headline.

    This headline is all about the promise. When you truly have “Wow!” level content, this headline that will grab attention. Examples:

    Give Me 30 Minutes And I’ll Give You More Blog Traffic
    Try These 5 Tactics for a Week, And Be Twice As Productive

  3. The “Reason-Why” Headline.

    Robert Cialdini cites the power of the word “because” in his book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. His research showed that simply adding the word “because” to a request makes it more likely you’ll get what you’re asking for.

    Advertising copywriters have known this secret for a long time. Decades earlier, John E. Kennedy wrote a modest little book called Reason Why Advertising, which has become a classic in the field. Use the power of the “reason why” in your blog headlines. Examples:

    Why Your Blog Posts Get Ignored, And How to Fix That
    7 Reasons You Should Be Using Social Media In Your Marketing

  4. The “Probing Question” Headline.

    With this kind of headline, you ask a question that creates an intense desire to know the answer. Be careful with these headlines. If you ask a question like “Do You Want to Know My Blogging Secret?” You might get a discouraging answer, such as, “No.”

    The kind of question you want to ask is one that really evokes strong curiosity, or taps into a problem you know your reader has. Examples:

    Why Don’t Doctors Get Sick?
    Do You Wish More People Bought Your Book?

  5. The “If-Then” Headline.

    With this headline, you contrast something that’s easy for your reader to do with the major benefit of your post. Examples:

    If You Can Send and Receive E-mail, You Can Build a Platform
    If You Can Follow a Recipe, You Can Write Better Headlines

One final piece of advice. I have found the ultimate secret to writing really good headlines … is to write a lot of really bad ones. The point is not to stop with just one or two attempts; write lots of possible headlines for your blog post before you finally settle on one.

Using these five headline templates, you should have more people reading your posts and commenting on your blog.

Question: What kind of headlines have worked best for you? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • http://bookmoxy.com/ James Lewis

    The how to headline has worked well for me, but that’s because my site is based on showing people how to self-publish. I’d like to try some of these other headline styles and see how they do. Thanks for the list Michael.

    • http://rayedwards.com/about/ Ray Edwards

      I’d be interested to hear your results, James!

  • Paolo_Sini

    Ray, I follow both your blog and podcast because you always offer valuable content. My week never ends without consuming it. thanks to you and Michael.

    • http://rayedwards.com/about/ Ray Edwards

      Thank you Paolo. That’s encouraging to hear.

  • http://paulbrodie.wordpress.com/ Paul Brodie

    I’ve found that controversial headlines work best for me. I’m not pulling in heavy traffic for anything, but my two best headlines have been “Is Over Population a Threat to the Earth?” and “Gun Control: Satire.” The first meets the question recommendation, but the second just rides on popular search terms – gun control, satire. I like the “reason why” headline idea.

    • http://rayedwards.com/about/ Ray Edwards

      Controversy works, for sure. I like to use it as a seasoning, rather than as the main dish. But it definitely gets people to click!

      • http://paulbrodie.wordpress.com/ Paul Brodie

        I like that way of looking at it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/steve.martin.10485 Steve Martin

    I like headlines that challenge people’s assumptions.

    “God is Not in the Miracle Business”….etc.

    • http://rayedwards.com/about/ Ray Edwards

      Challenging headlines can be quite effective, and I have found that using them requires a higher degree of sensitivity in how you deliver the rest of the material. Unless, of course, you are choosing to start more fights.

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  • http://SourcesOfInsight.com/ J.D. Meier

    I especially like your point on writing lots of bad headlines.

    If we can’t come up with 1 good one, for every 5 bad ones, then we should write 10 bad ones, or 20 bad ones.

    After all, if a post lands in the Web, but nobody clicks, is it success?

    I think another key is shifting our mindset. We have to shift from author to reader. Specifically, we have to shift from, “What is my article about”, to “Why should I click that?”

    Mindset is the little edge that can sharpen our daily abilities.

    • http://rayedwards.com/about/ Ray Edwards

      One reason I think the idea of coming up with lots of bad headlines works is this: it gives us permission to try. If we know our effort doesn’t have to be perfect, we are more likely to take a risk. To go out on a limb. And that’s good, because out on the limb is where all the fruit is!

  • http://personalsuccesstoday.com/ John Richardson

    I agree with you, Ray. Experimentation is key. I can remember spending days on a post along with hours on the headline. I thought is was perfect. I launched it and it went… nowhere. It bombed bad. Then on a Saturday, I spent fifteen minutes coming up with a idea for a desktop flowchart. I created it in Word and published it as a free download. Didn’t think much about it. Then Lifehacker picked it up and the crazy thing went viral.
    You never know…

    • http://rayedwards.com/about/ Ray Edwards

      John, that’s funny and instructive at the same time. Thanks!

  • http://twitter.com/josephjyoung72 Joe Young

    HI Michael, thanks for sharing this post, just awesome! I saw your link on LinkedIn, thanks for utilizing Platform to get the word out as I am not always on Twitter or the other, Facebook. On the note, writing a lot of bad ones…. In my character animation class, we learned to thumbnail our ideas for a pose we would animate. I mean, thumbnail, thumbnail and thumbnail – sometimes hundreds to get the pose we would use for our animation piece, the one that would make it to film. I use aminstitute.com/headline to rate my headlines. It doesn’t mean this tool makes them good it just tells you if you are resonating on 3 levels, emotional, intellectual and spiritual. Yes, getting all the bad headlines out will give way to the really great ones!

    • http://rayedwards.com/about/ Ray Edwards

      That is an interesting tool Joe. Thanks for sharing it.

  • http://www.barbraveling.com/ Barb Raveling

    Thanks, Ray, this is really helpful. I’m going to print it out so I can refer to it when I’m titling my posts. Some of my most popular posts have been posts that connect how-tos with a number, such as this one: How to Stop Being Annoyed: 12 Questions to Ask

    • http://rayedwards.com/about/ Ray Edwards

      Barb, yes, those “numbered posts” can be real attention getters. Of course, so many people are using them now, you have to find a way to bring a unique twist to your numbered post. Your example is perfect.

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  • http://www.billzipp.com/ Bill Zipp

    Sage advice, Michael. Early in my blogging life I tried being cute with my headlines using word plays and turns of phrases, but it didn’t work. The formulas above are perfect.

    I would add one more: The BIG List. Pick a topic and write as many short, pithy points as you can on it. One of my most popular is 19 Essential Evernote Terms and Tricks, but any big list attracts attention and curiosity.

    • http://rayedwards.com/about/ Ray Edwards

      Bill, that’s a great approach to writing headlines! It also forces you to create more comprehensive content. Thanks for sharing that.

  • http://b2binbound.com/blog Greg Elwell

    Wise advice Ray! One type of headline that’s worked really well for me is the “Difference” headline. It’s where you compare/contrast two seemingly similar (or different) terms, ideas, beliefs, etc. My most popular blog post of all time is “What’s the Difference Between a Press Release and a News Release?” You see Seth Godin using this approach a lot too – so it must work! Thanks, Greg

    • http://rayedwards.com/about/ Ray Edwards

      Greg, thanks for bringing up that particular kind of headline. Yes, those are some of my favorites as well. And you’re right about Seth!

  • http://www.chancescoggins.com/ chance

    I agree – but I also think there’s more to the story. These formulas are so prevalent that our inboxes and Twitter feeds are FILLED with far too similar titles. Net effect, you actually DON’T stand out and we skip your article. This is GREAT advice – sometimes. But the key is to write something that STANDS OUT. People click when we’re intrigued – and part of that demands that your headline not look like all the headlines around it. (my humble opinion)

    • http://rayedwards.com/about/ Ray Edwards

      You make a good point, Chance. The templates and formulas are merely a starting point. The next step is to recognize and use the principle behind the formula, and to use it with elegance. You can get a long way by using the templates as they are, because even though they may be used more today than they were a few years ago, they are still better than most of the writing we find on the web.

      Merely writing things that “stand out” isn’t enough, either. There are plenty of blogs, articles, and books that “stand out” because they are weird, offensive, or obtuse.

      The best play to make is to do both: use the principles behind these writing templates, while simultaneously finding a way to differentiate your writing from that of others.

      • http://www.chancescoggins.com/ chance

        I’m with you.

        By the way, I used your “Who else wants to ___” advice from your interview with MH and had great success with it. I was actually surprised that people were reeled in to such a large degree, but I couldn’t argue with the stats. Goes to show that formulas become formulas for a reason.

        Thanks for the reply and for sharing your expertise.

  • Matthew Rupp

    I truly enjoyed your book and recommend it to all my seo / Internet marketing clients I work with. Love the design of your site and content. Thanks for giving back!

  • http://www.apprenticeshipofbeinghuman.com/ Graham Scharf

    Yes I’m with you on these 5. They’re right on. In addition, there’s a sixth that (I think) is at least as important: The Emotive Headline.

    If a headline makes me feel shocked, angry, scared, happy, sad, or curious, I take the bait – whether it is an email, RSS feed, or newspaper headline.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jolly.mokorosi Jolly Mokorosi

    on point

  • http://www.facebook.com/Wsaade Wes Saade

    This was a very helpful blog thank you Ray, thank you Michael!

  • http://blog.cyberquill.com/ Cyberquill

    I’ve never written a “useful” post that offered advice of any kind, so I’ve never had a chance to test any of these five headline types. As to the two kinds of headlines I have used so far — namely long ones and short ones — I cannot tell the difference as far as traffic generation. And although some of my posts do marginally better than others, how would I know if it’s the headline or the picture that accounts for the difference?

  • http://twitter.com/lancecashion lance cashion

    My best headline: “Is there really anything left to say?”

    Ray, thanks for the info!

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  • http://www.danerickson.net/ Dan Erickson

    “Maybe Someday I’ll Grow Up” was a recent headline that drew more traffic than I expected. “Advertising Headlines that Make You Rich” by David Garfinkel is a great book. I did a review of the book awhile back at: http://www.danerickson.net/?p=6563

    • http://twitter.com/bitesizebschool Bitesize Business

      Nice review Dan. Just finished reading it.

      • http://www.danerickson.net/ Dan Erickson

        The book has some good suggestions.

  • Custom Screen Printing New Jer

    Nice article..i read many article but it is awesome

    Custom Screen Printing New Jersey

  • Elisa Leeder, MS

    I am a newbie in the blogging world. But how to get an audience attention?

    I appreciate what you say about successful headlines that grab readers. I am exited to take my audience on a journey into magical ideas through my headlines.

    My blog, highwaynotmyway.com, is about the struggles that flood our lives, and the solutions we have within ourselves and our lives. My therapy work inspires my blog. We stand out by being uniquely ourselves—and we solve our greatest challenges the same way.

    Elisa Leeder, MS

  • http://www.coffeehousepilgrim.com/ Cody Alley

    I am still relatively new to the blogging world so I can’t say I’ve had any great headlines. These templates are great, though, because they at least give me a starting point. I think it’s time for me to start practicing! Thank you.

  • http://candelierious.blogspot.com Lis

    I guess I would call it the “shock value” headline. When I first created a blog, I wrote a post called “What My Ob-Gyn, Hallmark, and the Bible Taught Me About Loving My Husband.” That post got picked up by many big-time bloggers and within days I had hundreds of hits on that post alone. It would have been great to use it as a momentum, but I missed the opportunity.

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      You wrote the first great one. It’s never too late to make it happen again!

  • Clint Pagan

    Very useful information, as always Ray. I apply a lot of your styles and recommendations to my blog. Thank you once again for this inspirational write up.

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  • http://JonDHarrison.com/ Jonathan Harrison

    Ray – awesome content, as usual. My favorite points is your very last one…I’m doing my best to write a lot of bad headlines on the path to better headlines! Thank you for sharing!

  • http://www.davidsollars.com/ David Sollars

    Michael, I also have used the Myth Busting Headline “The 4 Hour Workweek” was a crowd sourced title that challenged a sacred cow. Generated tremendous curiosity because it’s a myth that everyone wanted busted. I think that’s the key to this kind of headline.

    • http://twitter.com/bitesizebschool Bitesize Business

      I think the myth or hoax headline can be good for challenging. But it can also work when it surprises. As in undermining a long held belief that no one is challenging.

      • http://www.davidsollars.com/ David Sollars

        Great point. The best mythbusting headline use both. Remember the conspiracy headlines around NASA missions having never walked on the moon? Hoax or headline! I like where you’re going with this point. What’s your favorite example?

  • UWayStan

    Does anyone have thoughts of how to integrate great post titles along with search engine keywords.

    We often hear people say to do keyword research to match up what your post title/topic is along with the search engine traffic, but sometimes these two factors do not match up. Sometimes a great title has very little search engine searches, while other times terms that are typed into search engines do not always make great titles.

    Anyone have thoughts or help on this?

    Thank you. :-)

  • Jenny C

    Thanks for these, Ray! I haven’t tried the transactional one yet. But I love Jon Morrow’s “52 Headline Hacks” as a go-to cheat sheet.

  • Melinda Todd

    This is an area I need to work at. I pretty much suck at it. Thanks for the ideas. Time to practice!

  • http://1chicretreat.com/ One Chic Retreat

    Thank you so much for these tips! I just used your ‘Reason Why’ headline and it worked really well. Super helpful!