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5 Irresistible Headline Writing Strategies to Live and Breathe By

By Carly Stec

5 Irresistible Headline Writing Strategies to Live and Breathe By

5_Irresistable_Headline_Strategies_to_Live_and_Breathe_ByWhen I was growing up, my favorite book was If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. 

If you're not already familiar, it chronicled a circular tale of a needy mouse who is given a cookie, and then wants a glass of milk, and then wants a straw to drink the milk, and then wants a mirror to avoid a milk mustache, etc.

The funny thing is, we've found that great headlines often follow a similar sequence. If you give the reader an irresistible headline, they're going to want to read the next sentence, and then they're going to want to read the sentence after that, and the sentence after that, etc.

After all, that's the point, right?

However, we've also found that too often perfectly good content is left untouched as a result of a subpar headline. Can you believe it? All that work for no reward?

To ensure that you never find yourself in a similar situation, we've defined 5 headline writing strategies designed to grab attention, invite clicks, and move people to the next sentence (and the sentence after that, and the one after that, and..okay, let's get started.)

1. Use intriguing adjectives

Quick, which titles sound more appealing?

  • 5 Valuable Tips for Writing Better Emails vs. 5 Proven Strategies for Writing Irresistible Email Copy
  • 25 Interesting Statistics on Lead Generation vs. 25 Mind-Altering Statistics That Will Change the Way You Generate Leads
  • 7 Bad Landing Page Practices to Avoid vs. 7 Alarming Landing Page Mistakes That Are Crippling Your Conversions 

Noticing a trend here?

Adjectives like valuable, interesting, and bad are simply underwhelming. Having been used and reused in countless headlines already, they've seemingly lost their appeal, and as a result, they blend in. 

To avoid vanilla headlines, try replacing an ordinary adjective with one of these:

  • Irresistible
  • Mind-altering 
  • Sensational
  • Stinky 
  • Tremendous
  • Astounding
  • Outrageous
  • Treasured
  • Flavorless
  • Captivating
  • Unthinkable
  • Shocking
  • Dreadful
  • Startling
  • Stale
  • Outstanding
  • Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious (too much???)

2. Focus on the ultra-specific

We've found that too often businesses try to cast a wide net with their titles to attract a large audience, however, bigger isn't always better. 

“Specificity increases credibility because specific details are simply more believable than broad assertions," urges Copyblogger's Brian Clark. 

To better demonstrate the power of specificity, check out these comparisons:

As you can see, narrowing the focus of your headline can do a great deal in terms of creating a unique level of interest. To validate this approach, we turned up some research from Marketing Experiments on optimizing blog titles where they tested the following headlines for an online dental site:

  • (Control)
  • Dental Plans for $8.33 a month. Acceptance Guaranteed.
  • Over 55,000 Dental Care Providers. Acceptance Guaranteed.
  • Dental Care Coverage. Best Price Guaranteed.
  • Low Cost Dental Care for the Uninsured.
  • Best Price Dental Care – Without Insurance.

According to the results, headlines 2 and 3 generated the highest increase in conversions (72.76% and 26.41%), while the remainder of the headlines actually resulted in a decrease in conversions against the control. 

Interestingly enough, both headlines 2 and 3 contained ultra-specific numbers.


We think not. 

3. Address a "common enemy"

Certainly the goal of your blog isn't to badmouth people, however, theorists Georg Simmel and Lewis Coser insist that there are benefits that come with defining a "common enemy."

Through their exploration of the concept, they found that often times the creation of a shared opponent helps to create a sense of unity. (Source: Beloved Enemies: Our Need for Opponents

To leverage this notion that people seek a sense of coherence and mutuality, consider the benefits of positioning your blog title to address a shared enemy. 

To clarify, check out these examples:


(Source: houselogic)


(Source: MarketWatch)

Common_Enemy_Headline_Example_3(Source: Men'sHealth)

This approach is designed to play into our cynical side. You know, the side of us that sees the glass half empty?

4. Make a bold proclamation

When it comes to creating attention-grabbing headlines, don't be afraid to stir the pot, as people are drawn to headlines that disrupt conventional wisdom. 

To be clear, this doesn't mean whipping up a "Why _____ is Dead" post. 

A quick search of "Why Content Marketing is Dead" reveals that this approach has already been covered by everyone (and their mother):


...nothing groundbreaking to see here.

If you're looking to draw attention to your content, you'll want to hone in on a controversial topic that people aren't already talking about. In other words, find something unique to say and be the first to say it.

And when you do, be sure to tune into the conversation that follows to spark even more ideas. 

5. Put a number on it

Okay, so you've probably heard this one a million times, but do you know why it works?

It all comes down to expectation setting. 

When you put a number in front of a post (e.g. 5 Outdated Design Trends That Are Plaguing Your Website) the reader knows exactly what they are going to get out of it. In this case, readers know before they even begin reading that they are going to learn about five outdated design trends. Not three. Not four and a half. Five. 

This type of exactness plays into our psychological need for certainty. The Psychology of Waiting in Lines reveals that "the most profound source of anxiety in waiting is how long the wait will be." For this reason, people tend to be less annoyed waiting in situations where the time is both known and finite, as opposed to uncertain. 

So when we tie this concept back to the function of a number in a blog title, it's easy to understand why people are drawn to list-style posts that set the expectation up front. 

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Marketing Strategy
Published on March 25, 2015

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