How to write great headlines to accompany your lists

Lists are everywhere. And there’s a reason why. Visually breaking up blogs and articles using bullet points improves readability and boosts click through rates too. So, surely anyone wanting to know how to write great headlines should also master lists.

True, lists help:

  • Establish expectations
  • Are easy digestible
  • Provide plenty of choice

Both elements should therefore work cooperatively if a piece of digital content is to stand out. After all, lists are rife to such an extent audience’s have become jaded by them.


But first a quick disclaimer…

Before I begin, I feel I should say that the notion that the noble craft of composing headlines can be dumbed down to a mere set of formulas makes me want to cry.

But there are certain principles that work really well and, as a marketer, you should know what they are, particularly when sharing content with a brand-new audience.

7 tips for writing frighteningly good headlines

Without further ado here are some tips you can put into play right away to captivate your audience.

#1 Make an outrageously huge promise people would be crazy to ignore

Example: “You’ll never speed again after watching this video”

Remember, you have no prior relationship with the reader and are competing with 30 other headlines simultaneously. Small promises won’t do. Yours needs to be life changing. If you want to know how to write great headlines you need to start thinking big.

Naturally your content should meet expectations. If your headline is the inaugural fanfare, then the bullets are the fireworks that follow – captivating your audience and geeing them on to read further.

#2 Be a tease and create a sense of mystery.

Example, “I thought I knew how to make an omelette fast, but then I saw this…”

The headline cliff-hanger is a classic. Humans are inherently curious. If we get 80% of the story and then the final 20% is snatched away, we suddenly need that 20% more than anything in the world, even if the previous 80% was rubbish (think Eastenders).

Knowing how to write great headlines is also recognising what not to say. Again, though, take care to follow through on your promise. Click-bait headings get strong click-through rates but are unlikely to help you build a strong and loyal following.

#3 Create a sense you’re giving access to something exclusive or off limits

winning racing metaphor UK recruitment agency winning with social media

#4 Write an emotively charged headline

Example: “The shocking scene in The Little Mermaid that you won’t believe you missed”

Those wanting to know how to write great headlines often overlook the importance of emotional connection. When we create content that resonates it makes the reader feel connected not just to the story but our brand too.

Confession: When a stranger falls down a flight of stairs on a YouTube clip I might respond with a slight curving of the lips and an inward titter, but should that happen to a friend I would buckle at the knees with joy and laughter (and then of course check they were still breathing).

#5 Contradict commonly held beliefs

Example: “Why you need to start eating more junk food”

Stop the reader in their tracks with an outrageous statement that they will either want to see verified or disproved. The only thing they won’t do is ignore it.

Again, this returns to the notion of missing out. The reader becomes obsessed with uncovering the illicit secret hinted at in your bold headline.

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#6 If it’s instructional, make it sound easy

Example: “The idiots guide to erecting a tent in less than 30 seconds”

Is your headline going to make readers’ lives easier? If not, then their interest will likely wane – no matter how quirky, bold, and emotively charged it is.

When people ask me how to write great headlines, I remind them people want to achieve things three days ago – and with no outlay, time, or money.

#7 Create a sense of urgency

Example: “Stop whatever you’re doing and read this secret to business now. Everything else can wait. This can’t.”

You’re not giving the reader a chance to think about it. They click before they’ve even had time to fully process the statement. After all, every second they hesitate is a second they could have been reading the article that’s going to transform their business …. probably.

HOWEVER, that last sentence brings me onto my concluding point. Each of the ideas covered here, while hugely effective, has the potential to be complete spam. This is not to say you shouldn’t use them. 

The reason why these tactics have become associated with spam is quite simply because they work, and when you have no prior relationship with the reader you need to use tactics that work. But there is a caveat…

You must ensure your content delivers what it promised (or at least comes bloody close). After all, remember that getting clicks is less than half the goal. Your true objective with any form of content marketing must be to either to:

  • Encourage shares
  • Achieve a positive brand experience
  • Attract links
  • Achieve some other conversion

These things will only happen when the readers’ expectations are met or surpassed. In other words, the sensationalist heading should be no more than an accurate representation of some sensational content. If the content sucks or isn’t relevant then everyone loses, including you.


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