Headlines That Grab Readers by the Eyeballs and Suck Them into Your Message

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. (I recommend both!) If you want to guest post on this blog, check out the guidelines here.

If you’re a blogger who wants more traffic, more readers, and more engagement with your tribe, this post is for you. I’m sharing a simple five-part framework that will make your blog post titles (“headlines”) more compelling.

Headlines That Grab Readers by the Eyeballs and Suck Them into Your Message

Photo Courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/sdominick

In my work as a marketing consultant and copywriter, I see this problem all the time: great content obscured by boring titles and headlines.

A brief story: Morgan is a client who runs an executive consulting business, and she recently started a blog as a way of marketing her services. She called me to ask what she was doing wrong.

“I post lots of content, and it’s helpful stuff. But nobody seems to read it. I get zero comments.”

I brought up her blog on my laptop, and the first post I saw was entitled The Dynamics of Organizational Change Management During Transitional Periods. I read the post. She was right-it was good content. But for some reason she had crowned it with a repulsive title.

Virtually all her posts shared this flaw.

“I think I see your problem,” I said. “Nobody’s interested in reading an article with that title. Your title makes the post sound like a doctoral dissertation. You need a more appealing headline.”

“Okay,” she said, “what would you suggest?”

I thought about the movie I had watched over the weekend.

“How about something like The Avengers Guide To Building Superhero Teams During Troubled Times?

It took some convincing for Morgan to believe this wasn’t a bit over-the-top, but finally she took my suggestion. Is it a coincidence that later that day this particular blog post actually began to get comments from readers? I think not.

The post titles you choose for your blog serve the same purpose as headlines in a newspaper or magazine. They either draw the reader in, or they push the reader away.

Here are five essential qualities of a compelling headline:

  1. Grabs Attention. Your headline’s number-one job is to grab the reader’s attention.  To accomplish this, your headline must either make a claim or promise, evoke an emotional response, or stir up curiosity.

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  2. Screens and Qualifies Readers. Choose specific words that segment out the exact “tribe” you want to reach. Headlines that apply to everyone can just as easily apply to no one.

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  3. Draws Readers into the Body Copy. Remember you’re not selling your concept or proposition in the headline. You’re making one sale only: the idea of reading the rest of the post.

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  4. Communicates the “Big Idea.” What is the one true benefit of your post, and how can you communicate that to your readers in a way that is meaningful to them? Put that in your headline.

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  5. Establishes Credibility. Authority is one of the most powerful ways of gaining attention. If you have an “authority card” to play, play it in the headline if possible.

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  6. Incorporating these five principles into your blog post titles should bring you more traffic, more readers, and more engagement with your tribe.

    Question: What are some other qualities you think great headlines should include? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are snarky, offensive, or off-topic. If in doubt, read My Comments Policy.

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

    Great headlines scan well. They have rhythm.

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

      Good point.

  • http://CorporateCultureRevolution.com/ Bob Winchester

    Nice work Ray! These are great examples!

    Two weeks ago, I finally took the time to head over and read “How To Write Magnetic Headlines” on Copyblogger, like Michael suggests. Wow, did that open my eyes!

    I ended up reading 10 of the 11 articles there and took copious notes (in Evernote, of course).

    What I’m impressed with in this article is that you’ve actually found a way to add some points that weren’t included in those 11 (or at least I missed them if they are).

    Thanks for sharing!!

    Here’s the link for anyone that doesn’t know what I’m talking about:

    • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

      Thanks for including the Copyblogger link, Bob. Good stuff.

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

      Bob, thank you so much for those kind words. I’m a big fan of Brian and the team at Copyblogger, and that’s a great resource.

  • http://www.healnowandforever.net/ Jodi Lobozzo Aman

    Headlines are alway a problem for me. Sometimes I hit them just right but it is an art and i don’t get it right everytime. This was a helpful post and something I will focus on!

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

      Thanks Jodi – glad it was helpful. If it’s any encouragement to you, I don’t get it right every time, either.

  • http://calumhenderson.com/ Calum Henderson

    Some great advice, thanks!

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

      You’re welcome! :-)

  • Robert andrews

    I know readers like headlines like the “the 5 secrets to attracting more readers.” People like info no one else has.

    • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

      So true. Strong word hooks like “secrets” include an element of mystery … makes the reader want more.

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

      You’re exactly right, Robert. We long to fill that knowledge vacuum. Using curiosity and opening “loops” in your headlines draws readers into your material.

  • http://twitter.com/billmarshcars Bill Marsh

    I read somewhere that the most successful headline in the history of advertising went something like this:: “They all laughed when I sat down at the piano….until I started to play.”

    • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

      Sounds like the first line of a killer book!

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

        That’s a great point Michele… good book titles share a lot in common with good headlines.

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

      Bill, that headline was written by the great adman John Caples. Although it was created decades ago, a variation of it was used recently by the Rosetta Stone company.

  • http://www.facebook.com/erin.pearson.391 Erin Pearson

    I appreciate this post about getting more readers by creating more interest with creative titles. I write for an emagazine and each article of mine had been struggling, in my opinion, because I rarely saw comments. After taking more time to develop those creative titles, I have seen an increase in the clicks! While my readers are still tentative to comment, building this readership’s confidence in my articles may change that quickly! Thank you.

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

      Great to hear, Erin. Keep after it-it’s been my experience that persistence usually pays off.

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  • kentsanders

    Ray, thanks for the very helpful article!

    A question for Michael: Why is there an invitation (under Ray’s bio) to check out your guest post guidelines when you are no longer accepting guest posts submissions? This seems confusing.

  • http://twitter.com/Dabneyland Dabney Hedegard

    What a timely post. My last article, Dumb Things Christians Say, caused my tummy to twist as I waited for the April 1 publication to release. Even though I knew the material was benificial, I feared how my readers might respond. The edgy title, I believe, roused curiosity–like you mentioned–and this content was shared more than any other article I’ve written to date.

    I can’t wait to apply your other suggestions to future articles.

    Thank you much.

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

      I like that headline, Dabney.

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

        Agreed – Dabney that is a terrific headline!

    • mmodesti

      I think it’s already taken by Jon Acuff?

      • http://twitter.com/Dabneyland Dabney Hedegard

        Close. He wrote “Stuff Christians Like.”
        My article centered around the dumb things I said when trying to comfort a friend who lost her daughter to a shooting. My canned Christian response, although accurate, was not helpful. I then shared the top 4 hurtful comments said to me when my cancer repeatedly returned. People mean well, but often feel unsure of what to say.


  • Steve Prosser

    Thank you for a really helpful post. By coupling these insights with the thoughts on content and consistency from one of your other recent posts, I can now map out a strategic approach to blogging for the future. Previously, I have been inconsistent with the regularity of my posts, excessively diverse with its content and have always struggled with creative titles. The content and consistency post already means that I will finally break 1000 hits per month for the first time. Now to take it higher!

  • RC

    I’m glad there are different angles to approach it from. I’ve been writing Bible devotion posts and have felt awkward with being catchy. Makes me wonder how devotional authors arrive at their titles. I’ve only really studied one writer’s titles. Thanks for this post.

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

      RC, you make a good point. There are many ways to approach this. The key, I think, is to give your post a title that is interesting to the people who would most resonate with your content. Knowing who you are writing to will help guide you into the right approach.

  • jacqueline gillam fairchild

    Short, sweet and current! Don’t weigh me down.
    jacqueline gillam fairchild Her Majesty’s English Tea Room at Fairchild’s

  • http://twitter.com/KVaselopulos Katina Vaselopulos

    Great post, Michael! Though I try, I don’t seem to be able to create titles that crab attention. “How do you Handle your Challenges?” was the best I could do in a post sharing how I deal with Life’s difficulties. I will keep working with your formula and hopefully do better!
    Thank you!
    Blessings and Light!

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

      But I think straight forward headlines like that communicate the core message.

  • Dan Miller

    Ray – great tips. I often take more time to choose a title than I do to write the post. I often borrow from popular phrases like “Is Your Music Still in You” or “Mama, don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys – or pastors” to strike a chord of familiarity with readers.

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

      That can be a good strategy, Dan, but if I spent that much time choosing titles I’d be in trouble.

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

      Thanks Dan… and that is a terrific way of coming up with great titles & headlines!

  • http://www.liveliberated.blogspot.com/ Aaron Corder

    Great tips anyone can apply. I just completely reconfigured my blog structure trying to make it more appealing. It’s still a work in progress, but every little bit helps. Thank you for sharing these tips.

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

      I’ve redone my blog several times in the past two years. It’s an ongoing experiment.

  • Lisa B Marshall

    While I agree that headlines need to be attention grabbing for the human eye, they ALSO need to include words that people would use to search for this type of information. (They need to be search friendly.) That’s why I think combination titles work well. For example, From Archie Bunker to Mary Poppins: How to speak with tact and grace or Taking the hell out of hello: How to Introduce Yourself.

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

      The search-freindly idea is good. That’s where some of the classic headlines come in… they are time-tested. “Advertising Headlines that Make You Rich” gives many examples.

      • http://www.lisabmarshall.com Lisa B. Marshall

        I found the book POP!: Create the Perfect Pitch, Title, and Tagline for Anything by Sam Horn to be extremely helpful. She helps by discussion the creativity process. She tell you how to come up with great titles–especially helpful for someone like me who doesn’t naturally come up with great titles.

  • Dawn Wilson

    You mean … like the title of this blog post? Ha! I HAD to read it.

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

      Thanks Dawn, you just made my day!

  • http://twitter.com/quirkycity Heather C Button

    I think it’s true. My posts that have generated the most traffic have the most interesting titles, even the ones that sound like a dissertation, because I picked the engaging words out of them. like “North America’s first Digital Hospital.” Its techy, but interesting…

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

      I’m not sure that has been the case with me, Heather. It seems that may most popular posts have been those with universal appeal within the content.

  • http://anitamathias.com/ Anita Mathias

    How can my post serve you, or interest you? Sum it up in a line. You have your title!

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

      Right on, Anita. I like the service mindset.

  • http://sukofamily.org/ Caleb

    Great headlines are also honest to the content of the post. Over selling a post with a bunch of adjectives like “The absolute greatest amazing tips on writing” can actually turn people off. But a more honest title like “5 unique ways to improve your writing” is much more believable and attractive.

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

      I’m right there with you, Caleb.

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

      Great point Caleb.

  • 21stcenturyconfusion

    I would say attracting the reader with a headline that offers perceived value to your niche:

    Here Is The _________You Have Been Looking For!


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

      Although this might be a classic headline and my attract people, I’m not big on this kind of formulaic style.

      • 21stcenturyconfusion

        Dan, how would you write the above title to keep the message in an I formulaic manner?

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

          Good question. I think it depends on what we put in the blank. But I would replace words and/or mix up the more traditional layout of the phrase. I sell books, so let’s make it “Here is The Story You Have Been Looking For.”

          “Here’s The Story That Will Change Your Life”

          “A Life-Chanigin Story is Within Your Reach”

          “This Story Will Make You Sing”

          I could keep playing with these all day. It’s fun. My point is simply to mix it up a bit. I’ve written songs most of my life and have played with “hooks” for years. What you suggested is the core to a great hook. But to keep it fresh it can be advantageous to mix it up and try it in several different ways.

          • 21stcenturyconfusion

            Yeah, I see what you mean. That is fun. If you have time could you look at a couple of my titles? My articles seem tough for me to be creative with the titles. Maybe you could give me a couple examples that could get my creative juices flowing for my genre!

            Here sure my blogs: http://www.zachmalott.com and http://www.21stcenturyconfusion.com

  • http://doingthings.net/ Andrzej Tucholski

    I personally like creating a new things. “2 and half types of artist” makes people think “wow, are there some types that I should now about?” :)

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

      I agree that fresh and artsy headlines are fun and may attract attention.

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

        Just as long as they’re not so artsy that they are difficult to understand. You have to be careful of being so clever that you make your main message murky. Eschew obfuscation. ;-)

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

    I read the book “Advertising Headlines that Make You Rich.” It has some good ideas, but some of them, although time-tested, are too cliche for me. I like your “superhero” example in the post and know headlines are important. But I’m also turned off by headlines that go too far to be cool, or don’t support the content. In my Mass Media class we started looking at news headlines and then watching the videos. We found that many headlines actually tell half-truths and lie just to get clicks. I also like the idea of poetic and artistic headlines. I continually experiment with headlines but sometimes I just keep them short and simple.

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

      Dan, that’s a great book recommendation. And I think it’s entirely possible to be provocative, funny, and enticing with your headlines… While keeping them short and simple. Some of the best headlines of all time are just that: “Lies, Lies, Lies” (for a financial newsletter product)… “Read This or Die” (for a health newsletter product).

  • Jim Martin

    Ray, this was helpful. In particular, I appreciated this sentence “Headlines that apply to everyone can just as easily apply to no one.” Far too often I have been focused on trying to include everyone thinking it would not be good to be too specific. You’ve helped me see the thinking behind doing the opposite. Thanks.

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

      You are quite welcome Jim. And thank you for highlighting that particular point, because it’s one of the most important ones in the entire post.

  • http://www.facebook.com/desiree.mondesir Desiree M. Mondesir

    Great article Ray! My eyeballs were certainly grabbed! lol I do need to do better with this. Thanks for reinforcing that belief!

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

      Thank you Desiree. You might try icing those eyeballs. Helps keep the swelling down.

  • Preston Odenbrett

    Question I have, is would it be advisable to change your headlines on blogs you already posted, would that still gather visitors after the fact? I am new to be comnitted to write a blog- I can’t do daily, but once or twice a month – even though my goal was once a week when I started.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Yes, you can definitely do that. I occasionally do it. However, you should not change the actual permalink (i.e., URL). If you do, you will lose any back links you have, plus your ranking on Google.

  • Lynn Hare

    How about this: draw your reader in with a purposeful opposite. Recent blog post: “Three Reasons to Listen to the Enemy.” Readers will either think, “You’re way out in left field, dude,” or “there’s something rich in this piece. Gotta read this one!”

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

      Great point! With your title, you are making one sale: the “readership sale”. While we must be careful not to be sensationalist for the sake of getting attention only (because then there is a disconnect between the title and the content), using a provocative statement is a great way to write headlines.

  • http://juliesunne.com/ Julie Sunne

    Excellent information. I use to think fun little quirky titles were good, but cutesy doesn’t really work well. Readers seem to want to know the focus of the post to assess whether it relates to them.

    • http://workoptions.com/ Pat Katepoo

      Julie, I still fight the tendency to be clever instead of clear. I’m drawn to the play on words. Ray’s tips will help me shift gears.

      • http://juliesunne.com/ Julie Sunne

        Agreed, Pat. Evernoting this post for future use.

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

          It’s possible to be both clever and clear, it just takes more work.

          • http://juliesunne.com/ Julie Sunne

            I just listened to the last Platform University’s Master Class and you do make that clear, Ray. It was very informative and practical. Thanks!

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

    > They either draw the reader in, or they push the reader away.
    Beautiful precision

    I think great headlines start with your audience — they’re the North Star.

    After all, headlines are a magnet, so you want to attract a tribe of raving fans of the people you want to serve.

    My audience is people with a passion for more from life (at least that’s how my mentor framed it, and I think he’s right.) But it’s a mixed lot of highly educated, corporate leaders on one-end, and underdogs around the world, trying to make their way in life, on the other end.

    So I try to balance my headlines, sometimes more aspirational other times more pragmatic and precise.

    One thing I have noticed is that headlines with numbers (10 Ways to XYZ) always seem to do well … I think because they imply a finite scope, and let’s the reader know it’s bounded.

    In the end, I like the headlines that haunt you … the ones that earn a unique place in your mind, and stand out from the crowd.

    BTW — beautiful examples. You really lit up your points with examples that show you are skilled at what you do.

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

      Thank you so much for your kind words. And thank you even more for those great observations.

  • Kingsley

    I am going to implement these strategies you outlined here. I will let you know how it goes. I am encouraged to work hard on making my headlines as grabbing as this one was. Thanks so much.

  • mmodesti

    I refuse to read this post – it feels like I’m being sucked in!

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

      Does it make your eyeballs sore? ;-)

      • mmodesti

        Well, actually I lied – I did read the article.

  • Daniel Decker

    What I love most about this post is not just the perspective but also the tangible examples. Thank you.

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

      You are most welcome.

  • http://harrisonjonathan.wordpress.com/ Jonathan Harrison

    awesome, awesome examples, and wonderful application – thank you so much for this! I just rewrote the title for my next post, thanks to this advice.

    “Basic Goal Setting” became “6 Stupidly Obvious Ways to Start Accomplishing Your Goals”

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

      Ha! Excellent! And a great example.

  • Kate Boyd

    I write for a nonprofit’s blog, and part of our strategy is to share stories of lives changed through our work. Unfortunately, with those kinds of posts I have a difficult time coming up with catchy titles like those you suggest. Do you have any pointers or suggestions?

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

      I think these templates that I have given you in this post can work in your situation. it might be helpful to just try using the title examples I gave above, and doing a “word substitution” exercise. Use the keywords that describe what challenges you help others overcome. It’s difficult for me to be more specific,, not knowing anything about your topic or your nonprofit.

  • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

    Great post, Ray! It’s really an excellent education piece!

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

      Thank you, John.

  • http://secondchairleadership.com/ Matthew Johnson

    “How Ray Edwards Saved My Blog” Does that title make you want to read my comment? I have been missing the mark on point #2. My blog titles have been reaching for too broad an audience. It does feel counter intuitive as a blogger with few followers, to “screen and qualify” my readers, but I see how reaching for a particular “tribe” chances of attracting readers. Thanks Ray for this “counter-intuitive” wisdom.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Great title! It made me read it.

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

      LOL made me read it too! Thank you, Matthew!

  • akmalakbarov

    Thanks for sharing your tips )))

  • kgstiles

    Thank you!

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  • Mo Hajjar

    Very interesting article. Michael, I would appreciate if you could write an article about attracting new online clients: 1) what are the dynamics, 2) what are the available services that someone could use; and 3) what are the building blocks.

    So far a lot has been written about bit and pieces, but I have not yet seen a good article or book that addresses the entire road map. We have recently launched a new online business, http://www.pronited.com , which is a global alliance of professional service firms, such as law firms, accounting, management consulting, etc.. I am interested to learn how to scale up our client acquisition.