Ben Silverman

Grabbing a reader’s attention is becoming one of the most challenging parts of online content marketing. Consider that Google’s users search about 3.5 billion times every day, and see about 35 billion first page results. That’s a lot to choose from.

How do searchers choose what to click? Headlines.

Social media also presents an overwhelming amount of choices for readers. According to Pew, 63 percent of Facebook and Twitter users say they get their news in-network, which means that they are among the hundreds of millions of people who are exposed to hundreds of millions of headlines on social media every day.

Your headline is your first opportunity to capture the attention, and the clicks, of your target audience.

“On the average, 5 times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent 80 cents out of your dollar.”

David Ogilvy, “The Age of Persuasion: How Marketing Ate Our Culture”

You’ve got roughly 65 characters to draw people in from search results, and only seconds to do so on a social network news feed. Once you catch the eye of your target audience and drive qualified traffic to your site, your headline should encourage them to read your content, and prime them to be engaged and ready to convert.

Here’s how to optimize each headline with an emphasis on engagement, conversions and qualified traffic:

1. Determine who you’re writing for

Planning an effective headline is a great use for your buyer personas because they’ll help you focus on who you are trying to reach. Identifying your target audience’s goals will help you focus your headlines to appeal to them. Ask yourself questions about your audience’s needs, such as:

  • What are their concerns before they buy?
  • What questions frequently come up after transactions?
  • What is a clear selling point that tips the scales?
  • What do they ask at the point of sale?
  • Are they looking for quick answers or detailed information?
  • What might they want to learn?

Your headline should answer the questions your audience is asking, and researching large samples of keywords will help you do so. Using a combination of high-volume words (which typically will also be high-competition) and medium-volume, low-competition words is a great way to reach audiences who have the highest chance of clicking and sticking.

2. Catch your audience’s attention

Whether you are aiming to reach people on a search engine result page, a social network, or a content aggregator like Flipboard, Buzzfeed or your first goal is to simply catch your audience’s attention. Simple, bold headlines that make a profound but realistic claim or promise tend to work best. Research similar headlines and look for ways to set yourself apart.


Look at the image above: What do you notice? Including numbers in a headline is a proven way to grab attention. They communicate information quickly and efficiently, and let readers know that the article is offering digestible content.

Just as large numbers printed on magazine covers are designed to grab your attention while you are checking out a supermarket, numbers in your headline will stand out as people browse search results.

Boring, bland, uninviting:

  • Guideline for making amazing headlines for your content
  • Making a perfect headline: Your guide for starting your article off right
  • Optimizing your blog’s headline and catching your audience’s eye

Tempting, informative, bold:

  • Optimize your headline to boost your traffic by 25 percent
  • 7 ways to create a killer headline that will increase traffic and engagement
  • Don’t let your headlines fall flat: 6 tips for reaching 20 percent more readers

3. Get the click without ‘baiting’ it

Be informative, but leave your audience wanting a bit more. Use words like “how to” or “tips” to show that you confidently intend to provide actionable ways to solve a problem. A good headline will hint at the information to come, and guide users toward clicking to read about the solution in the body of the content.

Promise a solution, help, tips or advice without sounding unrealistic, or overly urgent. Once a headline professes to have secret, magical solutions to drastically improve your business or lifestyle, they cross over into “click-bait” territory where they join “Lose 20 pounds in 2 days” and “Make $4,400 a week from home.”

Your content isn’t a diet pill. You worked hard to research, write, target and publish it, so why treat it like a “Doctors hate him…” article on Taboola? Marketing Insider Group advised against using words like:

  • Trick
  • Simple
  • Secret
  • Best
  • Magic
  • Amazing

These words not only have scammy connotations, but they have shown to lead to a lower click-through rate. Click-bait journalism is also responsible for lower click-through rates for headlines with overly urgent phrases like “need,” “free” and “now.”

4. Give a brief description of your content [LIKE THIS]

For certain types of publications, you are able to provide a more explicit description of what is an article contains. Content marketers often add “tags” like [PHOTOS], [VIDEOS] or [INFOGRAPHICS] in their headlines to compel readers to click through. Most people are visual learners, and although the majority of articles normally include pictures, letting readers know that your blog will be image-heavy or include multimedia content is a simple way to increase your traffic. A headline with a tag like this can see up to 37 percent better performance than one without it.

5. Keep it short

There are two main reasons why headlines should be on the shorter side – the technical and the psychological.

Reason No. 1: Character limitations

We recently wrote about how to tweet your own content, but when others share it, they often use the headline for the Tweet itself. While we recommend writing your own original content to tweet out along with the link, there’s no way to prevent your readers from simply tweeting your title. You’ll need to keep it short enough for them include the title, link and hopefully your blog name.

Additionally, Google will only display up to 65 characters in links on their results page. If you don’t want your headline to be truncated in Google results, keep it brief.

Reason No. 2: Attention spans

People have short attention spans – shorter than a goldfish’s. Our attention span is so short that it is actually important to front-load your headline with information. Put the most important information as close to the beginning of the title as possible.

I titled this blog 5 steps to boost your site traffic with the right headline, and it must have worked if you’re still here. By putting the accessible, actionable material first – 5 steps – I showed that the process would be doable. Next I mentioned the benefit – boost your site traffic. The promise of straightforward results following the action helps the article’s appeal. I saved with the right headline for last because, while it helps to clearly show what the piece is focused on, it doesn’t offer benefits or action – it does, however, hint at the meat of the content, as we discussed in step three.

Always write a few versions of your headline and choose which stands out the most using these steps to guide you to the best choice.