Headline Magic: 10 Secrets to Gain Readers Everyday

On the average, five times as many people read the headlines as read the body copy.” ~ David Ogilvy 

Is your headline magic? It should be. Having a great headline is critic­al for the success of your blog post. Ogilvy wrote these words back in the 1960s when people only saw a small percent­age of the headlines they do today. Getting the headline right is more crucial today than ever before. Copyblogger says that 80% of your visit­ors will read your headline – but only 20% will go on to finish the complete article. One of the keys to improv­ing reader­ship is having a better headline to bring in more readers then write more power­ful prose to keep them engaged. 

1 — Attract Readers

The primary purpose of the headline is to attract readers, get them to read your article. Your ultimate goal is to convert them into return­ing readers.

Some of the steps required are small, simple ones. According to Neil Patel the “Content Marketing Institute, found that includ­ing a hyphen or colon in the headline increased the click-through rate by 9%”. This is without changing a word in the title, an easy win. Maybe headline magic!

Other quick wins include:

  • Being noticedLimit to 55 or 60 charac­ters.
  • 6 to 8 words is the perfect length.
  • Make the first and last 3 words most allur­ing.
  • Use inter­est­ing adject­ives.
  • Make it allit­er­at­ive.
  • Ask questions.
  • Use numbers.
  • Make it rhythmic.

Try these as the first step.


2 — Create Alternative Titles

Patel suggests we should spend as much time working on the headline as we do writing the article in the first place. His first sugges­tion is that each piece should have 25 altern­at­ive titles, which should each be analysed before decid­ing on the final one.

This idea has a lot of merit. It has become clear to me that headline writing is rapidly becom­ing a lost art. Blog writers need to pay more atten­tion to the headline. Place each headline into a search engine and see what the results are. If there are items in the search results match­ing your headline then you need something more unique. Do this for each headline in your list. This can also help you under­stand the exist­ing posts you will compete with once published. Is your headline magic? Will your article compete with the others on the search results? Two import­ant question to ask yourself.

Many blogs writers, don’t spend the neces­sary time to create a power­ful, moving, headline. People love to rush to public­a­tion, they often do so without having an attract­ive headline, perhaps a title already used by someone else. Even news providers are writing poor value headlines. Is your title tantal­iz­ing? If not then publish­ing could be a wasted effort.

3 — Match the Content

If the headline doesn’t match the content then, it may fail. If your headline asks “The Flying Car: How close is the Dream?” The corres­pond­ing article should examine viabil­ity of the flying cars and wheth­er any product releases are immin­ent.

When you write your title you should question wheth­er it matches the content and when you write the mater­i­al you should question wheth­er it relates to the headline. Of course the mater­i­al you write can go beyond the scope of the headline, but it should start there and come back to the point. 

Writer Jeff Goins states that he “delib­er­ates over titles for 30 – 60 minutes before settling on one that works. And I often go back and change them.” It takes much thought to produce a catchy headline. I concur, and have spent sever­al hours because I am not satis­fied with the choices made. “Is the headline magic?” Too often the answer is “no”.

4 — Use a Headline Generation Formula

Try using the follow­ing formula (courtesy Kissmetrics):

Headline magic - formula

Numbers show to the reader that you will give them a specif­ic number options in your content. A title like “101 Tips to make your PC Faster” is most likely to provide a summary of each method. “6 ways to Crack an Egg” on the other hand is more likely to show some of the details.

The trigger provides the under­ly­ing reason the person must read your post. It initi­ates a process or course of action and carries an emotion­al charge. These are words like: cure, energise, empower, unscru­pu­lous, conspir­acy, reclaim, etc. Phrases like “cure cancer” will turn heads, or make them think, the purpose of the trigger.

Adjectives help set the scene. Look at the follow­ing; effort­less, easy, painstak­ing, complex, strange, each changes how you under­stand the rest of the headline. The keyword is perhaps the most import­ant word in the title and will be in the first or last 3 words, it is the central focus of the piece. The promise is a short state­ment about the value of the article.

If you promise to show ways to bathe an elephant indoors then you must live up to that promise.

5 — Understand the Ways Headlines Fail

There are plenty of reasons why this may happen, it normally starts because enough thought has not been given to creat­ing the headline in the first place. They include:

  • The headline doesn’t match the content.
  • It is not specif­ic.
  • Words can have multiple meanings.

If you know why they fail, then you are less likely to make the same mistake. But we will all make these mistakes from time to time.

Remember that despite all the techniques demon­strated here if you are not using social media or your pages are not being seen by the search engines then it doesn’t matter how power­ful your headline then the cause of your content not being seen lies elsewhere. Here headline magic will not help. Solve your visib­il­ity issues first.

6 — Use Action Verbs

Action verbs are part of headline magic. They express the need for either physic­al or mental action the reader should take. The use of action verbs, inten­ded to drive the observ­er to read the mater­i­al you have written. Action verbs include: analysed, improved, motiv­ated, inter­preted, inven­ted. They show leader­ship, provide power­ful means of commu­nic­a­tion, build­ing techno­logy, teach­ing, and gener­al accom­plish­ments.

If you use action verbs then, the associ­ated article will also be empower­ing, built to encour­age people to improve. You should use simil­ar words in your content.

7 — Use Emotive words

Headlines or titles with higher emotion­al value get more shares and in turn get more reads. It has been possible to link headlines to the use of emotive words and measure how they have performed since the 1960s. Emotive words create a predict­able response, this is good news to blog writers who need to bring in new readers.

When we write, we will do so using a mix of words. 20% of these in every­day writing trigger some form of emotion. With headlines the idea is that you produce a great­er emotive effect and a higher percent­age will trigger an emotion­al response. It is this that drives search­ers to read your post.

Emotive words include; free, challenge, complete, last chance, helpful.

8 — Use Powerful Words

This operates in the same way as emotive words. These also give a set of emotions which trigger a response. This includes words like: pitfall, caution, brave, helpless, spirit, daring. 

9 — The 5 Most Persuasive Words

The five most persuas­ive words in the English language are:

  • You
  • Free
  • Because
  • Instantly
  • New

Every day you will encounter these words, most likely in the form of either a headline or an advert­ising slogan. Truth is these words work. The next 20 influ­en­tial words, origin­ally identi­fied by David Ogilvy are: suddenly, now, announ­cing, intro­du­cing, improve­ment, amazing, sensa­tion­al, remark­able, revolu­tion­ary, start­ling, miracle, magic, offer, quick, easy, wanted, challenge, compare, bargain, hurry.

Remember the reason that many people read blogs is because they are looking for person­al or business focused improve­ment. Thus, either improve or improve­ment is a good word for a headline.

10 — Analyse the Power of your Headlines

With prior posts, I have reviewed two headline analyz­ers:

Headline Analyzer Main screen CoSchedule Headline Analyzer entry

You should read those articles for details of the capab­il­it­ies of each headline analys­er. Even if you use a headline analys­er, it doesn’t allevi­ate the need for you to perform the other steps identi­fied here. You must still create a list of altern­at­ives, then be ready to spend time tweak­ing your best headlines to make them even better. Your headlines should include both emotive and power­ful words. It is possible to find lists of such words on the Internet.

The process of analys­is should allow you to create better headlines over time. You still need multiple options. If you wish to under­stand the emotions that partic­u­lar words drive, then you will need to do some research. Getting the emotive response right is import­ant.



My person­al prefer­ence is to avoid the use of formula based headline, sadly too many people use them. Often they don’t provide the right impact. It requires work to make your headline magic. Many sub-headers sued within your mater­i­al do, arguably, need to have the same rules applied. Power or emotion­al words, or a call to action, can cause a person to read on when they were think­ing about not reading any further. Not all sub headings demand highly emotive words.



Buy Peter B. Giblett a coffee to thank him for provid­ing his thoughts on improv­ing your headlines and titles. Is your headline magic? If you have questions then please ask them via a comment. The images included here are from royalty free public domain image collec­tions, Pixabay, or from Peter Giblett’s collec­tion.


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