Write Irresistible Headlines

the new york times newspaper. Write Irresistible Headlines

I must confess, this is something I struggle with. And I am not sure I’ve told you this before but the main reason writers became teachers is because it is simple way to learn and exist within the vicinity of the craft. Am I saying I write these educational articles for myself? Well, not all of them but this one, absolutely.

In the ever-expanding digital landscape, headlines play a crucial role in capturing readers’ attention and enticing them to delve deeper into a piece of writing. Whether it’s an article, blog post, or book title, the art of crafting captivating headlines is a skill that writers must master. In this article, we will go over all studies I found on how to Write Irresistible Headlines that leave a lasting impact.

the psychology behind winning headline formulas


Surprising headlines are winning headlines because our brains love novelty. The brain’s pleasure centers are more “turned on” when we experience unpredictable pleasant things, compared to expected pleasant events.


Since they are powerful in the brain because they prime our curiosity. Just seeing a question mark starts to stimulate your brain; whereas if you already know what you’re going to get from something like a headline, your curiosity might be over before it can even start.


Viral powerhouse site Upworthy has gained millions of clicks by taking advantage of a psychological phenomenon called the information gap or curiosity gap. Carnegie Melon University professor George Loewenstein coined this term to describe the gap between what we know and what we want to know. When we notice a gap in our knowledge, it produces a feeling of deprivation. Then we go look for that piece of missing information so we can stop feeling deprived.

Curiosity requires a little bit of initial knowledge. We’re not curious about something we know absolutely nothing about.


Superlatives – words like best, biggest, greatest – can be effective in headlines. But it turns out that negative superlatives (like worst) can be even more powerful.

How to

A lot of advertising writers say that if you start with the words “how to,” you can’t write a bad headline. After all, we all want to get smarter and better.


Numbers work well in headlines because humans like predictability and dislike uncertainty. They also help our perception of time. A study on the psychology of waiting in line found that when we don’t know how long something is going to take, we experience that time differently. If a patient in a waiting room is told that the doctor is running 30 minutes late, he might be annoyed at first but he’ll eventually relax into the wait. But if the patient is told the doctor will be free soon, he spends the whole time nervous and unable to settle down because his expectations are being managed poorly. When we’re in this situation, time actually feels like it’s going slower for us.

Audience referencing

Write in second person. Audience referencing basically means using the word “you” or implicating your audience directly with your headline. The copywriter Mel Martin was particularly known for this. He would write headlines like “For golfers who are almost (but not quite) satisfied with their game — and can’t figure out what they’re doing wrong”. In a study in Norway, researchers tried a variety of different headline styles on a shopping website: “For sale: Black iPhone4 16GB” (the regular headline), “Anyone need a new iPhone4?” (question headline without referencing cues), and “Is this your new iPhone4?” (question headline with referencing cues). They found that question headlines with audience-referencing cues (“Is this your new iPhone4?”) generated higher click-throughs than other types of headlines.

Overall, specific, quantifiable concrete facts—particularly ones that form pictures in our minds—are intensely interesting. Figures imply research, which adds to your legitimacy. But all kinds of specificity are good: digits, names, descriptions, titles, examples, projections, results. Being specific also helps to demonstrate that the article will be in depth.

Captivating Headlines

  1. Know Your Audience: Understanding your target audience is paramount to writing compelling headlines. Research their preferences, pain points, and interests to tailor your headlines effectively. Consider using language and tone that resonates with your readers.
  2. Be Clear and Concise: A headline’s primary purpose is to convey the main idea of the content succinctly. Avoid ambiguity and excessive wordiness. Make every word count to grab the reader’s attention immediately.
  3. Create Intrigue and Curiosity: Engage readers by piquing their curiosity with thought-provoking or intriguing headlines. Ask questions or present a captivating statement that leaves readers wanting to know more.
  4. Use Strong Verbs and Power Words: Employ powerful verbs and adjectives that evoke emotions and spark interest. Words like “unveil,” “expose,” “uncover,” or “inspire” can add depth to your headlines.
  5. Emphasize Benefits: Highlight the value readers will gain from reading your content. Clearly state what they’ll learn, discover, or experience, enticing them to click or continue reading.
  6. Harness the Power of Numbers: Headlines with numbers often draw attention and provide a clear promise of what readers will find. Consider using lists, tips, or guides to appeal to readers’ desire for organized information.
  7. Avoid Clickbait Tactics: While creating intrigue is essential, avoid resorting to misleading clickbait tactics that disappoint readers. Maintain integrity by delivering on the promises made in your headlines.

10 real-life examples of headlines

All of these headlines generated a lot of traffic:

  1. “10 Secrets to Boost Your Productivity and Crush Your Goals” – A blog post offering valuable productivity tips.
  2. “The Ultimate Guide to Mastering Social Media Marketing” – A comprehensive resource for improving social media strategies.
  3. “How to Lose Weight Without Starving: 5 Science-Backed Methods” – A health article sharing effective weight loss techniques.
  4. “Breaking News: Exclusive Interview with [Celebrity Name]” – An interview with a famous personality, creating curiosity among readers.
  5. “The Top 20 Must-Visit Destinations for Adventure Seekers” – A travel article featuring thrilling destinations.
  6. “Unlocking the Power of Mindfulness: 7 Techniques to Reduce Stress” – A self-help piece offering mindfulness practices.
  7. “10 Mouth-Watering Recipes You Can Make in Under 30 Minutes” – A collection of quick and delicious recipes.
  8. “The Future of Technology: 5 Innovations that Will Transform the World” – A tech article exploring cutting-edge advancements.
  9. “10 Financial Hacks to Save Money and Achieve Financial Freedom” – A personal finance guide with practical tips.
  10. “The Psychology Behind Procrastination and How to Overcome It” – An insightful analysis of procrastination and strategies to combat it.


Sensationalism in journalism refers to the use of exaggerated or provocative language, images, or presentation to attract attention and increase readership or viewership. While it may initially boost interest and engagement, sensationalism can lead to several pitfalls like erosion of trust and loss of credibility. Media outlets that prioritize sensationalism over journalistic integrity risk losing credibility and becoming known as tabloids or clickbait sources. This damages their reputation and credibility as reliable sources of information.

Optimizing headlines for search engines

Optimizing headlines for search engines is crucial to maximize visibility and reach a broader audience. By following these tips, you can optimize your headlines to increase visibility and improve your website’s search engine rankings, ultimately driving more traffic to your content. Remember to strike a balance between search engine optimization and creating compelling, reader-friendly headlines.

Here are some essential tips to help you create SEO-friendly headlines:
  1. Use Relevant Keywords: Research relevant keywords and incorporate them naturally into your headline. Think about the words or phrases your target audience might use to search for content like yours. Including these keywords will increase the chances of your headline ranking higher in search engine results.
  2. Keep it Concise: Aim for headlines that are concise and to the point. Search engines often truncate longer headlines in search results, so it’s essential to convey the main idea within the character limit (usually around 50-60 characters).
  3. Front-Load Keywords: Whenever possible, place your primary keyword at the beginning of the headline. Search engines tend to give more weight to the first few words in a headline, so this can improve your visibility in search results.
  4. Focus on Clarity: Make sure your headline clearly reflects the content of your article or page. Avoid clickbait tactics that mislead readers, as this can harm your website’s reputation and lead to higher bounce rates.
  5. Use Numbers and Power Words: Including numbers in your headline can grab attention and imply specific benefits, e.g., “10 Tips for…” or “5 Ways to…”. Power words, like “essential,” “ultimate,” “best,” or “proven,” can also make your headline more compelling.
  6. Write for Humans: While optimizing for search engines is essential, remember that your headline should also appeal to human readers. A well-crafted headline that resonates with your audience is more likely to be clicked and shared.
  7. Avoid Keyword Stuffing: While using relevant keywords is essential, avoid overloading your headline with too many keywords. Keyword stuffing can be seen as spammy by search engines and might negatively impact your rankings.
  8. Test and Analyze: Regularly test different headline variations to see which ones perform best. Use analytics tools to track click-through rates and engagement to determine which headlines are most effective.
  9. Consider Featured Snippets: Try to structure your headlines to answer common questions or queries that people might have. This can increase the chances of your content being featured in “featured snippets” at the top of search results.
  10. Utilize Title Tags: Ensure that your headline is also used as the title tag for the page. Title tags are essential elements for SEO, and they appear as the clickable link in search engine results.

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