How to Write a Headline that Gets Noticed

In Blog by kaila

At Archipelago Communications, we specialise in giving our clients high-quality content. But the best content in the world won’t help grow your business unless your customers actually click on the information to read.

Traditional search engine optimisation (SEO) techniques taught that the more keywords in the title, the more likely your article is to get high rankings and clicks. While keywords are certainly important in SEO rankings, too many can repel a reader. With the massive amount of content available on the internet, users are becoming more particular about what they choose to open, and choose to read.

So what are some techniques to writing a headline that will not only catch your customer’s eye, but encourage them to follow through with a click? We surveyed the Archipelago team and internet research groups like Conductor to discover how.


Think of a headline as a door to your content. It provides a snapshot into what the reader should expect to find. One of the most beneficial ways to do this is with numbers. Numerals immediately catch a reader’s eye, and as several team members pointed out, let you know exactly what you’re going to read. If a customer only has a short amount of time, they might be willing to engage with a “5 Ways to…,” but may steer clear of “50 Top Locales that…”

This concept was proven in marketing software company Conductor’s extensive online survey. Using actual headlines from popular content sources such as BuzzFeed and The Huffington Post, Conductor showed respondents headlines in five different styles for multiple articles.

The styles were “How To,” asking a question, addressing the reader directly, a numbered list, or a regular, plain description (what Conductor called “normal”). They then asked participants to select the headline that resonated the most.

By far, the headlines that drew the most attention were the ones with numbers in them: that style garnered 36 percent of participant’s interest. The next most engaging headline style, at a whopping 11 percent less, were the headlines that addressed the reader directly. Headlines with questions were the least popular style.



To get the high retention, it’s important to actually put the number in the headline, not just write it out. Keynote speaker and author of Content Chemistry: The Illustrated Guide to Content Marketing Andy Crestodina pointed out, “Numerals, not just numbers, are part of the magic. In a line of letters, numerals stand out.” So instead of writing the “Five Ways to..,” the better practice is to write “5 Ways to…”

The Best Headline You’ve Ever Seen – Ever

While it can be tempting to spice up that numbered list with several superlatives, err on the side of caution. Conductor discovered that the more superlatives were added, the less likely readers were to click. More than half of those surveyed preferred to click headlines with one or no superlatives. So instead of “5 Best Restaurants Ever to Eat a Perfect Dessert,” tone it down to “5 Best Restaurants to Eat Dessert.”

Headlines should also be clear. The Archipelago team stressed clarity and detail as important factors in headlines that caught their eye. Conductor found too, the more specific the headline, the more likely the reader was to click on it.

Perhaps instead of “5 Best Restaurants to Eat Dessert,” try typing “5 Best Restaurants to Enjoy Creme Brulee.” Being clever or flowery in your headline can backfire if it makes the headline too vague: “Eat the Creme de la Creme.”

Make a Promise You Can Keep

Readers and customers also respond to promises: as long as the content follows through on the promise it makes. In the article about the best restaurants to enjoy creme brulee, don’t start sharing terrific places to order cheesecake.

Crestodina also stresses the importance of power words in a clickable headline. In a “less is more” reading frenzy, make the words you choose stand out: urgent, huge, surprising, free, best, and critical all have been proven to get more clicks. See a full list of power words that multiply clickability in 131 Words That Increase Web Traffic.

Did you click that link? The above title gives us a list–131 Words; a power word like “increase;” and it made a promise. Which if you read the whole article, you would find that there are a total of 131 words given throughout the story–so the promise was kept. Make your website’s headlines follow these tactics, keep it clear, and you may notice an increase in those valuable content clicks.

  • Words that get more clicks from search results:
  • How to, [List-related numbers], Free, You, Tips, Blog post, Why, Best, Tricks, Great
  • Words that get shared more (appear most often in viral posts):
  • Smart, Surprising, Science, History, Hacks (hacking, hackers and “life hack” related topics), Huge / Big, Critical
  • Negative words that get shared more (negative words from viral posts):
  • Kill, Fear, Dark, Bleeding, War
  • Words that get retweeted more:
  • You, Twitter, Please, Retweet, Post, Blog, Social, Free, Media, Help
  • Words that increase email open rates:
  • Urgent, Breaking, Important, Alert

List from Andy Crestodina’s How to Write a Headline That Won’t Get Ignored.