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Headlines are the most important part of your website.

What makes your readers tick? Why do they choose to read one article over another? Luck? Whimsy?

If you think it’s your brilliant analysis, or perhaps the updated web design, think again. Your readers want to read your article because of your website headline.

Look at your website headline, blog post title, or any heading you’ve just crafted. Is it engaging? If you’re not excited about it, then neither is your reader. Don’t even think about hitting that “Publish” button until you’re certain that your headline will turn heads. Or raise eyebrows. Whatever the effect you’re going for, your headline is the key to readership, attention, and internet fame.

But how do I write this brilliant, showstopping headline?

Do not underestimate your headline’s importance. Your headline is not an afterthought, it is your article’s raison-d’être. You spent hours deliberating your word choice in paragraph three. You agonized about the best pie chart for presenting your data.

The headline is the most worthy of your attention because it is the first line your audience sees and your efforts are worthless if it is also the last. So by all means, consider, agonize and deliberate.

It can take a hours to write the right headline.

Sometimes it needs rewording. Sometimes, it needs many changes before you get it right.

Fortunately, there are a few strategies for writing catchy website headlines that work. Read on.

Strength in Numbers

Copywriters seem to love numbers. Well actually, people (readers) love numbers. Next time you’re in the checkout lane, take note the headlines around you. It’s a safe bet that you will see numbers gracing the covers of all kinds of publications, from the authoritative to the obscene. Use numbers that stand out. Keep in mind that people quickly forget long numbers, although sometimes weird prime numbers do the trick.

Surprise Them

Don’t start with a list of “Ten Things…”. Never list things. If you must do an enumerated listing, count off “thoughts,” “characteristics,” “habits,” “trends,” or “suggestions.” But never things.

A great way to write a surprising headline by substituting a word in a popular expression.

For example:

  • A penny for your – dreams
  • At the drop of a – thought
  • An arm and a – farm
  • Best of both – brains
  • Barking up the wrong – building
  • Close but no ___ (write your own)

Exciting Adjectives

Bring out the Thesaurus! Some examples of adjectives that are sure to excite your readers:

  • Bizarre
  • Frivolous
  • Unscrupulous
  • Indelible
  • Delightful
  • Audacious

Use Your Five W’s and How

Yes, we’re talking about those pesky question words you learned about in grade school.

The “who”, “what, ““when,” “where,” “why” and “how”?

They engage your reader in a game of “Guess What?” Frequently, you’ll be trying to convince your readers to try X or do Y, so “why” and “how” are particularly useful. Note that the Five W’s are rarely effective when combined with numbers, so pick one or the other.

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Make an Outrageous Claim

Can you teach your reader to code her own website? Manifest a previously unsuspected talent for bullfighting? Have you stumbled upon Atlantis?

Make your article irresistible to your reader. Make it the article they cannot live without reading. Promise that the article will broaden your reader’s worldview, and then make sure that it does.

It All Boils Down To a Formula

Begin with a number or one of the 5 W’s. Add an exciting adjective. Don’t forget your keyword. And then make a promise.

Application: Imagine you are writing an article about boiling eggs. The obvious (and boring) title for your website headline would be “How to Boil Eggs.” But what if we take everything we’ve learned so far?  Now your website headline should really be “7 Secrets to Serving Delectable Eggs Every Time.”

Similarly, let’s say you can teach your readers to start a new business in a day. Even if your advice is sound, your readers might never read “Start Your Business in a Day.” Instead, try “How to Launch your Dream Business in Fewer than 24 Hours.”

Invest time in writing and rewriting your website headline. Don’t promise your readers more than you can give, but make your headline enticing. Your readers can’t help but read on with a website headline like that.

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