They say content is king; so imagine the headline as the crown. Catchy headlines are critical in capturing readers’ attention. Readers have a tendency to skim or scan content, especially when reading online, and so headlines are an important tool in creating successful content.

Strategies for Writing Headlines

Depending on your audience, there are several strategies for writing catchy headlines. It’s up to you to decide what approach best matches your site and your audience. For example, if your site focuses on business and careers, you may want a more professional, formal tone; if you’re aimed at college students or new moms, a more informal and casual tone may be more appropriate. Good headlines will match the voice and style of your content and site.

What Kind of Headline to Write?

There’s no set formula for writing headlines; it’s more of an art, and with any talent, takes practice. Each of the specialized headline styles described below could work for your content or site – although for some outlets, you may have more or less freedom within that specialty; there’s no reason you can’t use humor occasionally on a finance website, but it will probably need to be more toned down than if you were writing for college fraternity members.

  1. Be funny. Does your content lend itself to humor? While humor is one of those subjective things – we don’t all find the same things funny – your text may include elements where you can introduce a little levity that’s general enough to solicit a chuckle and not offense.
  2. Be controversial. Making a bold statement in your headline is one way to grab attention. If your content includes a conclusion that’s sure to surprise, capitalize on that. Avoid misleading readers, though; if your headline promises that “Study Shows Coffee Drinkers are Geniuses”, then you’d better have something to back it up. But remember, there’s a difference between controversial and offensive, so be careful!
  3. Use numbers. Again, here’s an instance where people know what they’re going to get: “10 Uses for Old Dryer Lint”.
  4. Be pithy. Keep your headlines short. Save your detailed text for the content. Remember, you want people to keep reading, so don’t reveal everything in the headline. Also, when content gets shared online, you want as much of the headline as possible to go with it. What’s the point of a great headline if only the first four words are seen by the next person who receives it? How much more engaging is “Naps Restore Sanity” than “Regular Napping Shown to Benefit Working Parents”?
  5. Ask questions. Sometimes a headline is catchier when framed as a question. “Are You Getting Enough Sleep?” This makes a reader quickly pause and reflect.
  6. Use action words. Some of the most attention-grabbing headlines use action words to hook readers. How many times have you reached out for a supermarket magazine on the checkout line that promised “Eat Cake; Lose Weight”?
  7. Be descriptive. Let readers know exactly what they’re getting: “Quick Suppers for Summer Nights” or “Homework Help for High Schoolers” The key to success with this catchy headline is delivering what you promised the reader!