Good headlines are tough to write. But, when you get them right, they pack a punch and make your content unstoppable.

That said, the best headlines are not always showy.

It’s not about the shock factor. It’s not about making your readers’ heads explode.

It’s mostly about being useful.

That’s right – usefulness matters more than writing a pretty, punchy, or compelling sentence. When you look at headline writing from this angle, the task gets a whole lot easier.

So, what can you do to make your headlines uber-useful? How can you write them so they speak to the heart of your readers (and thus become as powerful as Wonder Woman)?

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7 Smart Tips to Write Powerful Headlines (& Add ‘Oomph’ to Your Content)

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With thousands of content out there, having an irresistible headline can make your post stand out. How do you do this? Read @JuliaEMcCoy's 7 tips on writing powerful headlines. Click To Tweet

1. Make Your Headlines as Important as the Body Copy

Rule number one: Don’t just dash off your headline as an afterthought after you write your main content. Don’t scribble something down and call it a day.

Instead, give your headline the time and craft it needs to soar.

  • Write variations of your headline using different words and phrasing.
  • Play with various sentence lengths.
  • Add numbers, turn it into a question, or try deleting it and starting from scratch.

If you want the headline to be good, you have to give yourself time to hone it, edit it, and polish it until it shines. Great example: Jeff Goins, a successful online writer, spends as long as 30-60 minutes deliberating on his headlines – and, more often than not, he still goes back and changes them later.

'Rule number one: Don’t just dash off your headline as an afterthought after you write your main content. Don’t scribble something down and call it a day.' - @JuliaEMcCoy on writing powerful headlines. Click To Tweet

2. Write Headlines with Their Purpose in Mind (for Users and for Google)

While crafting your headline, think about the job it does in your content. This covers two areas:

  1. The purpose headlines serve for your readers:
  • It tells readers what to expect and what your post is about.
  • It (hopefully) piques their interest.
  • It aligns with their information needs.
  1. The purpose headlines serve for content, SEO, and Google:
  • It summarizes the topic of the post.
  • It uses your focus keyword in a pivotal spot for SEO – the H1.
  • It signals to Google that your content is topically relevant to various search queries.
  • If/when your post ranks, the headline will often determine whether users click or not.

As you can tell, the two main purposes of headlines intermingle. Crafting good headlines for your readers is good for SEO and Google.

In Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines, Google explains that the page title/headline is part of the main content (MC). Above all, it must be descriptive and helpful.

As you create your headline, keep these roles it plays in the back of your mind. Try to make sure it fulfills them.

'While crafting your headline, think about the job it does in your content. This covers two areas: your readers and SEO.' - @JuliaEMcCoy on writing powerful headlines. Click To Tweet

3. Always Address the Reader (Entice Them, Play to Their Needs, or Grab Their Attention)

If you’re not talking to your reader in your headline, you’re doing something wrong.

Headlines MUST address the reader to be truly useful for them.

This can mean a few things:

  • Talking to them directly using “you”
  • Asking them a question
  • Telling them something amazing/surprising/useful/interesting
  • Above all, describing the content they’re about to read

Addressing your reader is always more engaging than talking about yourself. Your readers don’t care about how great you are – they want to know what’s in it for them. Give it to them!

For proof, let’s look at BuzzSumo’s oft-cited study of 100 million headlines.

They found that the headline phrase that got the most engagement on Facebook was “will make you”. In fact, it won by a landslide.

Is it any coincidence that this phrase contains the word “you”? I don’t think so.

As BuzzSumo explains, this phrase serves as a link between the content and the potential impact it will have on the reader. When this phrase is present in a headline, the reader KNOWS how they will benefit from consuming the content because you’re telling them directly.

The typical headlines from the study with this phrase all include a direct benefit – how the content will make you feel, what it will make you do, or how it will make your life better.

For best results, follow suit and talk to your readers in your headline.

'Addressing your reader is always more engaging than talking about yourself. Your readers don’t care about how great you are – they want to know what’s in it for them. Give it to them!' - @JuliaEMcCoy Click To Tweet

4. Focus on Benefits for the Reader

We already addressed this briefly in point #3, but it bears emphasizing: When you talk to your readers in the headline, tell them about a major benefit of reading the content.

What will your blog post help them achieve? How will it make them smarter/savvier? What will they learn? Will it help them boost their lives, business, relationships, SEO, marketing, skills, etc.?

The second you add a benefit, your headline becomes more engaging and powerful.

Important tip ⚠️ 'When you talk to your readers in the headline, tell them about a major benefit of reading the content.' - @JuliaEMcCoy on writing powerful headlines. Click To Tweet

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5. Use Strong Adjectives and Verbs

A headline full of weak words will not do any heavy lifting for your content. Instead, you need strong adjectives and verbs in your headlines that pack a punch.

Examples of Weak Adjectives and What to Use Instead

  • Any adjective with “very” in front of it (e.g. very pretty, very smart, very good) – Adding “very” is a weak way to pump up a lackluster adjective. Nix this formula and instead use one word that’s stronger.
  • Replace “very pretty” with “gorgeous, or “very smart” with “genius”. (The chart below has more examples.)

Image: ESLBuzz

Examples of Weak Verbs and What to Use Instead

Weak verbs are action words that don’t convey much information. When you hear or read them, you can’t quite picture the action they’re supposed to represent. Here are some examples:

  • How to Have a Lot of Money

Picture someone having a lot of money. It’s unclear and fuzzy, right? Does it mean their wallet is fat with dollar bills? Are their pockets overflowing with change? Do they have stacks of hundreds in the bank? Or does their bank account balance contain a lot of zeroes?

We don’t know – the verb “have” doesn’t tell us.

  • 7 Ways to Be Smarter

It’s hard to imagine a person being smart. That’s way too vague to paint a bright picture in our minds. Does it happen when somebody is winning an expert game of chess? When they’re reading a 1,000-page novel? Or when they have all the right answers to tough questions?

As you can see, neither of the verbs in the above examples are clear enough to give us a concrete picture.

Let’s rewrite them and make them clearer and stronger. To do it, we need to be both specific and descriptive:

  • How to Have a Lot of Money >>> How to Fill Your Pockets with Cash by Next Week
    • This helps you imagine somebody walking around with overflowing pockets full of money. Maybe they’re trailing dollar bills everywhere. That person is definitely rich.
  • 7 Ways to Be Smarter >>> 7 Ways to Transform Yourself into a Genius
    • The verb “transform” makes you think of a complete change from one state of being to another. Coupling it with “yourself” gives the idea that you are in charge of the change from average to genius intellect.

To learn more about the difference between strong and weak verbs, read this tutorial from Sophia Learning.

'Avoid using 'very' Replace them with strong adjectives. Examples: 'very pretty' with 'gorgeous', or 'very smart' with 'genius'.' - @JuliaEMcCoy on writing headlines Click To Tweet

6. Stuck? Use Tried-and-True Headline Formulas

If you’ve tried all the tricks and headline writing still seems agonizing, fear not. That’s what headline formulas are for.

What are headline formulas?

Easy. These are go-to sentence outlines you can use (filling in your own words) that readers love and share, according to studies.

Take that BuzzSumo study we referenced earlier. The research looked at top phrases at the beginning of headlines that got the most engagement. This list is a goldmine for writing new headlines.

Henneke Duistermaat did her own research into headline formulas using BuzzSumo – her findings are useful and she explains exactly how to write each formula.

A few of the top headline formulas she discovered:

  • The burning question
  • The unexpected comparison
  • The how-to case study

These formulas serve as blueprints for creating headlines that work. Definitely use them if you’re stuck.

'If you're out of headline ideas, you can use tried-and-true headline formulas' - @JuliaEMcCoy on writing headlines. Check out these headline formulas in this post! Click To Tweet

7. Test Your Headlines to Find What Works (and What Doesn’t)

The final tip for writing powerful headlines: test, test, test.

You won’t know what works for your audience and boosts your content unless you try.

Test different headline types, wording, and lengths. Note what posts get more traction and engagement. Going forward, you’ll develop go-to formulas of your own that are particular for your brand and audience.

If you want to get more concrete data about your headlines, try split testing (also called a/b testing). If you don’t know how, read this post on a/b testing headlines from Wordstream.

'The final tip for writing powerful headlines: test, test, test.' - @JuliaEMcCoy on writing powerful headlines. Click To Tweet

Crafting Powerful Headlines Takes Some Elbow Grease

The best headlines aren’t necessarily showy, but they do accomplish what they set out to do:

  • Attract readers by appealing to their needs/search intent
  • Effectively summarize what the content includes
  • Appeal to Google bots with relevancy + keyword inclusion

That means you don’t need to be a wordsmith to write a great headline. You DO need to work on your headline to make it the best it can be.

Put in the work, create a headline worthy of your awesome content, and you just might reap the rewards.

 

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