5 Types of Headlines Our Brains Are Wired to Click
Updated: November 21, 2017
8 out of 10 people will read your headline. Only 2 out of 10 will read your article.
I was going to try to write some witty statement or smart ass remark but I think those statistics kind of drive the point home on their own. Your headline is the most important piece of your article or post.
With sobering statistics like that it’s pretty clear why a headline needs to be engaging and makes people want to click it and share it. Headlines that get clicks and shares drive more traffic, both from search engines like Google as well as social media platforms.
Writing a great headline is hard work though. Some of the best copywriters in the industry say you should spend a majority of the time spent writing focusing on your headline and with good reason.
Let me throw another statistic at you: people who do read headlines generally skim through them, only reading the first 3 words and the last 3 words. That’s why it’s important to start and finish strong.
So what makes for a great headline? What makes people want, or even better yet, need to click on your headline?
5 Types of Psychology Backed Headlines
Headlines that pose a question are great attention grabbers as long as: the audience doesn’t already know the answer, it’s a subject they are interested in, the question can’t simply be answered with a “no” unless you immediately provide the answer.
For example, the headline “Is Your New Password Secure?” is ok, but it can be answered with “no.” A better rewrite of this headline would be “Is Your New Password Secure? What You Need to Know.” In this example, the reader could have answered “no” but the second statement provides the immediate benefits of reading the article – what they need to know.
Another example that can’t be answered with a simple “no” would be “What Should Your New Password Be?”
“No one would ever guess ‘password’ as my password for everything, would they?”
Curiosity Gap Headlines
Our brains are programmed to be curious and we love novelty.
The “curiosity gap” refers to the gap between what you already know and what you want to know. It reveals this gap to the reader, which in turn makes them inclined to close it (read your article to get the answer).
To write a curiosity gap headline, you provide a statement with bit of (incomplete) information regarding something your reader is interested in without giving everything away.
Upworthy.com uses curiosity headlines pretty extensively (and successfully) – here are some actual examples, taken right from their website:
- Hear paralyzed musicians deliver a performance with only their brainwaves.
- 9 former gang members see photos of themselves without tattoos for the first time.
- I told a kid a riddle my dad told me when I was 7. His answer proves how far we’ve come.
[Side note: I definitely ended up reading all of these articles while I was researching this post. Sigh.]
How to Headlines
I love “how to” headlines and the reason they are successful is because they offer the promise of teaching you something. Most people strive to improve themselves and we all want to feel in control of our lives. When we stumble upon a “how to” that contains tips, tricks, hacks, secrets to make things easier for us, we’re all about it.
“Uh well, not exactly, doctor. The article didn’t say I was supposed to drink while building it but it also didn’t say not to drink either so really, who's to blame?”
To find a great “how to” within your niche, ask your audience or customer what their struggles are. What were some things you were struggling with when you first got involved in your industry or niche? How did you solve it?
Some examples of “how to” headlines are:
- How to grow and automate your email list.
- How to optimize website images for free.
- How to find blog topics in your niche.
This headline type is also known as fear of loss. Negative headlines work because people hate to lose. PsychologyForMarketers.com wrote an interesting article on the subject of loss aversion and how it translates to marketing.
Essentially, people are more driven by the fear of losing something they already have than by the idea of gaining something they want.
A perfect example of this is the stock market. Logic tells us that we should buy low and sell high. It makes sense. However, what do people do when stocks start falling? A large majority of people sell, sell, sell to prevent further loss instead of staying in the marketing for the inevitable rally and opportunity to earn more.
Here are some examples of “negative” or “fear of loss” headlines:
- What’s not in your insurance policy could cost you thousands.
- How to save yourself from career burnout.
(bonus points for overlapping with “How To!”)
- Why the Internet is Ruining Your Life. (And How to Stop It)
I purposely saved numbered headlines for last. Numbered headlines work for a number of reasons (ha, see what I did there? Note: that stupid joke isn’t the reason I saved it for last).
The reason I saved numbered headlines for last is because numbered headlines that lead to a list-formated blog post are probably the best type of post you can write when you’re in a jam. They tend to move up the search rankings very quickly.
Numbered headlines work so well because people like predictability and certainty. A numbered headline lets people know exactly what they’re getting into when they read your post. The reason these headlines get clicks is because of something I mentioned earlier. People like to scan or skim content just like they do with headlines.
If you write a blog post titled “5 Ways to Earn $1000 This Weekend,” then your readers know they can quickly and easily scan the list for the main points in the post.
I think this type of headline is pretty self-explanatory but for the sake of consistency, here are some other examples:
- 9 Ways to Write Better Blog Posts
- 5 Things You’re Subconsciously Doing (That Are Killing You)
Bonus points AGAIN for overlapping with “negative” headlines! I’m on FIRE!
- 7 Ways to 10x Your Email List Growth
Headline Writing Tips
To take this post a step further, I want to mention a few other tips and strategies to really take your headline writing game to the next level.
Use Odd Numbers
When writing a numbered headline, use odd numbers over even numbers. I don’t actually know the psychology behind this (hey, I’m no scientist) but there have been a lot of discussions and testing about this topic and odd numbers are the way to go.
If you have a post titled “6 Things That Make Customers Love Your Brand” either drop one and make it 5 or add one and make it 7. Thank me later.
Your headline should be clear about what your readers are going to get in your article. Don’t be vague and do not use the ol’ “bait and switch” technique. I hate the bait and switch and so do your readers. If your readers get into your article and feel like the headline misled them, not only are you not going to get any shares, you’re also not likely to get any future traffic from that person. There are websites I flat out avoid now because I feel they use misleading headlines just to get clicks. Don’t be that person.
Use Sentence Case
When writing your headlines, it’s best to use “sentence case” over lowercase or all caps, the latter being pretty obviously a horrific idea. Sentence case is capitalizing the first letter of each word in your title.
Examples would be:
- 6 Things That Make Customers Love Your Brand
(Sentence case performs best.)
- 6 things that make customers love your brand
(Lowercase underperforms sentence case.)
- 6 THINGS THAT MAKE CUSTOMERS LOVE YOUR BRAND
(ALL CAPS is a dumpster fire, however, studies show 1 in 5 people don’t mind all caps. We all know those type of people.)
Keep Headlines Short and Sweet
Search results tend to truncate headlines longer than 65 characters. On mobile devices, this is even less. Also, as I mentioned before, people tend to skim headlines and read the first 3 words and the last 3 words. These means an ideal headline is around 6 words.
If You Use Superlatives Be Careful
According to a study done by Moz, 51% of respondents preferred a headline that used either no superlatives or 1 superlative at most in the headline. Throwing in words like “best”, “ultimate” and “astounding” can help get the attention of your readers but let’s not overdo it.
Use the word “you” or “your” or in your headline if possible. Doing this helps emphasize the connection with your reader.