A young woman sits in a gray cloth-covered chair at a table. She leans forward to see something on the screen of a small laptop and has one hand on the keyboard to type something. The woman's other hand is tucking a pen behind one of her ears. The woman wears a loose muted green top and has glasses pushed on top of her head. Next to the laptop on the table are a clear plastic cup half-filled with iced coffee and a smartphone in a pink case. In the background is a large dining hall or restaurant with high ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows along one wall.
A good headline appeals to feelings like curiosity and surprise, so sharing an interesting fact or shocking discovery in your headline could draw in more readers. — Getty Images/Thana Prasongsin

Writing a headline that entices someone to click on and read your content is both an art and a science. Catchy or inspirational copy that elicits an emotional response is one part of the equation. The other part? Learning what words or phrases search engines and social media platforms value in order to show your headline to a potential reader.

There are some technical aspects to writing headlines that can help your content get more views. But there’s also a psychological element to writing a headline that resonates with your audience. Here’s how to write headlines that meet both those requirements.

The technical side of writing headlines: keywords

First, your headlines should follow some basic best practices to help search engines correctly (and frequently!) show your content to your target audience. Headlines that are optimized for search engines and social media algorithms are more likely to get clicks than those that aren’t.

How do you know which keywords to use? “Think about what people might search for when looking for an article like yours,” wrote Newsweek. “Then, include those keywords in your headline. For example, if you're writing an article about marketing, you might use the headline ‘The Top Marketing Trends of 2022.’”

Likewise, make sure the headline matches the content of the article. If your headline is too vague or misleading, you’ll see higher bounce rates — a metric that describes people clicking into your article and then immediately leaving. This is bad for your brand and for your website performance.

[Read more: 5 Insider Secrets for Website Success]

Use a little psychology

The best headlines are designed to elicit an emotional reaction — surprise, curiosity, outrage, or humor. A study by Buffer found that there are eight specific headline types that can impact someone’s reaction to your content. These headline types include the following psychology best practices:

  1. Surprise: for instance, “Why Bacon is Better Than Getting 8 Hours of Sleep”
  2. Questions: for instance, “Do you know the right way to screw in a lightbulb?”
  3. Curiosity: for instance, “XX Little-Known Ways to Do (Blank)”
  4. Negatives: for instance, “Avoid overpaying your taxes by doing X”
  5. How To”: for instance, “How Make a Pie Crust With Just 4 Ingredients”
  6. Numbers: for instance, “13 Eye-Opening Pet Industry Statistics”
  7. Audience Referencing (e.g., “You”): for instance, “How You Can Improve Your Work/Life Balance”
  8. Specificity: for instance, “14 SEO Tools That Will Double Your Website Traffic”

Useful headlines are those that point to an obvious benefit for the reader.

Ultimately, try to write an aspirational headline unique to the audience you’re trying to reach. Include power words—words like "amazing," "sensational," "incredible," or "remarkable"—to grab someone’s attention and get them interested in your content. And keep it short. Shorter headlines that have between 16 and 18 words are those that are the highest-converting.

Make it catchy

Marketing expert Neil Patel recommends using the 4U formula when writing your headline. This formula ensures every headline is useful, urgent, unique, and ultra-specific.

Useful headlines are those that point to an obvious benefit for the reader. What will the content in your article or post offer to your audience? It should be clear what problem your article will help to solve. Likewise, an ultra-specific headline indicates exactly what someone should expect. Since people have short attention spans, your headline must be clear about what it will deliver.

A unique headline can help showcase your brand’s personality and make your content stand out from the sea of other internet articles. Don’t be afraid to write something quirky or punny to get someone interested.

Finally, adding a sense of urgency can appeal to someone’s FOMO and encourage them to click. “Urgency is the hardest of the four U’s to capture, and it might not always apply to your article’s topic. If you’re going to skip over any of the 4 Us, this is the one to think about leaving out,” wrote Patel.

[Read more: How to Write Great Content for Your Website]

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