Three tips for writing headlines that pack a punch

writing headlines

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

When discussing headlines, everyone starts with that David Ogilvy quote. It is supposed to be the ultimate social proof for why headlines matter. Ogilvy gives sage advice for writers in any industry and any era.

How on point was Ogilvy’s quote?

ConversionXL ran a study on how many people read the article compared to the title. Their conclusion? It lined up pretty well with what Ogilvy said. Check out these four points,

What we already knew: people don’t read.

  • 97% read the article title.
  • 98% looked at the sub-title, but it was more of a glance than read.
  • 60% finished the article, but the time spent on content shows they were skimming rather than reading everything.

If you are concerned about Google and search engines, you realize you just have a few characters of your title tag that shows in the Search Engine Results Page (SERP). So, go ahead and create a long, creative title, just realize it could get cut off in the search engine results.

According to Moz’s incredibly detailed Title Tag guide,

Google typically displays the first 50–60 characters of a title tag. If you keep your titles under 60 characters, our research suggests that you can expect about 90% of your titles to display properly. There’s no exact character limit, because characters can vary in width and Google’s display titles max out (currently) at 600 pixels.

Make it count.

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Nevertheless, the purpose of a title is to keep the reader reading. That is the crux of what Ogilvy was saying. Each heading or sub-heading will tell the reader what is next.

Ultimately, sometimes, it is better to be clear than creative.

Sound good?

Old school typewriter
Do you think Ogilvy used something like this?

Three tips

Today we are going to discuss three things to keep in mind when writing headlines for your blog posts. With that in mind, let’s get started, shall we?

Make your headlines crystal clear

Look, you see the parameters in the Search Engine Results Page. You have up to 60 characters in the search engines results and you have a few seconds for people to read your headline, so you have to make an impact quite quickly. How do you do that? Clarity.

Remember, I said it’s better to be clear than creative.

Case in point:

Author Brad Smith expounds on 10 advertising secrets of Ogilvy in this article at Wordstream. Regarding headlines, he says,

So you’ve only got one shot. Five to ten measly words to get your point across. Quickly. In the blink of an eye, before they scan down to the next one.The only way to cut through the clutter? Clarity. (And a few power words don’t hurt, either.)

In the article, he offers this title example,

When in doubt, keep it simple stupid. Not, “100GB of Bandwidth.” Don’t know, don’t care. Not clicking.Customers wanna know, “How many songs can they fit in their pocket?”

As you can see, he simplifies the language. We are writing for our target audience, and the quicker they can process the information without having to think too much, the easier it is to keep them reading.

The headline does need to grab attention, just not the way you may think.

another old school typewriter writing a blog
Improve your blog post with better headlines

That leads us to the next point regarding headlines.

Never write just one headline

I admit it. Sometimes I publish a post with a headline I spent too little time working on the headline. If I am really on my game, I will write at least 10 headlines. You can make a good argument for writing more.

Writing good headlines is like anything else, it takes practice. That means you have to write multiple headlines for each article.

You really should practice writing headlines because you use them in multiple places.

For example:

What is the headline for your homepage?

What is the headline you used for that email you sent last week?

What kind of headline did you use for that social media post today? What, you didn’t use one?

You get the picture.

Let’s discuss two ways you can practice writing headlines.

The first is what Neville Medhora calls the Brain Dump.

Start with your first headline. Write it Notepad or some other kind of word processing document that is distraction free. Create another one trying a different variation.

Write at least ten variations. If you are on a roll, write up to twenty. Write them from different angles and try to incorporate benefits into the title while maintaining clarity.

Which headline is the best? You see, the practice of writing different variations helps us unclutter our brain of the bad ideas and helps us get to the good ideas.

My headlines brain dump
My headlines brain dump

Copywriter Justin Blackman wrote 10,000 and he learned 16 painful lessons.

You also have the chance to practice different formulas. In fact, find a list of headline formulas and use them for inspiration.

Using headline formulas is the second way to write your headlines. There are, literally, hundreds of headline formulas you can find on the internet. They are helpful to give you guideposts for writing good headlines.

69+ High Quality Copywriting Templates Proven to Work – OptinMonster

The only guide you’ll ever need to write headlines that sell – CopyWrite Matters

There are three things you want to have in your headline. First, you will want clarity. Next you will need to include your target keyword phrase, and finally, you need to include either benefits or power words.

If you hit these three elements, you have a good headline.

Stick with me here, because we are on the last point.

Don’t write deceptive headlines

Don’t be deceptive with your headlines. Call it what you want, but it is slimy.

You see it often with blog post headlines. The headline will make a claim that sounds like the post is about one thing and you click on the article to find out it isn’t about that all.

Another problem I see with headlines is an illogical use of a good formula. How many headlines have you seen that were the “Ultimate Guide of” of anything? Seriously.

If you use the “Ultimate Guide” in your blog post headline, it better damn well be an ultimate guide. For example, the article needs to be well written, exhaustive, full of good data points and examples, and it will be a long-form blog post.

What happens is the writer writes a post about something and then tacked a headline on to the article, using a formula, that gets clicks even though the article doesn’t live up the name.

That, my friends, is slimy. It is deceptive. Don’t do it. It will hurt your credibility.

That is not to say that a little curiosity in the headline isn’t a good thing. Just don’t attempt to market something your article doesn’t sell.

Wrapping it up

To recap, when writing headlines, make them crystal clear, never write just one headline, and never write deceptive headlines. Following these simple benchmarks will make your headlines much better.

Do you know why some blog posts are just better than others? It is because the writer took the time to look over the blog post and incorporate elements of good writing. That includes writing the writing of headlines, transitional phrases, good stories, utilizing story and curiosity gaps, and much more. It takes time to build that into articles.

Headlines are quite possibly the most important thing you can write for your articles, social media posts, and even your homepage.

Images courtesy of

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