September 28, 2021

6 Powerful Tips for Writing Headlines That Drive Traffic

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Wondering how the best headlines get written? We’re sharing our top tips and 10 headline formulas to help you craft a viral masterpiece.

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Great headlines are a crucial piece of the content puzzle. To your reader, your headline is the first impression, your way of reaching out to them through the noise of other search engine results or social media posts.

If you want a guaranteed way to come up with the best headlines every single time, then you’re in the right place. We’ll examine how viral headlines are made and look at some headline formulas and examples you can emulate.

What makes a headline go viral?

Keep these six points in mind if you want to create a headline that stops readers in their tracks.

  1. Include numbers

Headlines with numbers are more attention-grabbing because they help readers to quantify the value they’ll be getting from your article. Research also shows that readers tend to value odd numbers over even numbers as they seem more authentic and promote curiosity.

So, if you can include a figure or two while writing headlines, do it.

  1. Share something new

Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it sure will get you clicks. A good headline should tease new information just enough to convince readers that they want to know more. 

For example, headlines like, “The One Tool That Will Get You to Inbox Zero” are clickable because they heighten curiosity. Even if you’ve tried a dozen methods already, if you’re overwhelmed with emails, you’ll want to click this. If for nothing else, to see what they have to say.

Remember, though, to avoid clickbait. Nothing destroys trust faster than clicking a link and not seeing the information promised.

  1. Teach something

The internet is a learning hub like no other and most people come to Google first with any life questions they have. So if your headline shows the reader that they’ll be getting in-depth guidance about a particular topic, they’ll be more willing to click. 

Phrases like “Ultimate Guide” and “Comprehensive Guide” work for readers looking for a crash course on a new subject. 

But because this headline style is overused, be sure to include additional qualifiers like who your guide’s audience is or why your guide is different from other “ultimate” guides. For example, instead of “Your Ultimate Guide to Skateboarding,” try “A 10-Minute Guide to Skateboarding for Beginners.”

  1. Ask thought-provoking questions

Questions have a way of luring readers in, especially if they’ve had those same questions on their minds. These questions make readers feel seen and even before they click, they feel a sense of kinship with the writer.

Other times, questions evoke curiosity or skepticism — both of which can lead a reader to your article.

  1. Add a personal touch 

Humans love stories and people tend to trust stories from the horse’s mouth. So if you’ve got the “receipts” to back up your talk and you’re willing to be vulnerable in your piece of content, let your headline show it.

From posts about how people hit a certain earnings goal to articles about weight loss using a particular fitness regimen, readers love the personal touch. Don’t forget to also share your missteps — nothing says human more than mistakes and imperfections.

  1. Power words 

No headline is complete without at least one power word. Power words make readers stop and take notice of your headline. They’re often unique, punchy, and are likely to incite an emotional response. 

Adjectives like brilliant, powerful, frustrating, and impressive are all power words. Did you feel something after reading each of those words? That’s the power. You can view a longer list of options on CoSchedule’s post about power words

10 headline formulas you can use for crafting catchy headlines

If you’re looking for interesting ways to write your headline, try one of these 10 easy formulas for creating headlines for any kind of article.

1. How to do anything

The how-to headline works because often, the audience is already desperate for help. Still, it’s important to elevate your how-to headline because there’s usually stiff competition on search engine result pages (SERPs). 

You can help your headline stand out by being more specific, highlighting how fast your article helps, who your target audience is, or what shortcuts your process helps the user through.

Here are three examples with our specific benefits bolded:

  • How to Start a Blog in 3 Simple Steps (Step by Step Guide)
  • How to Keep Your Kids Occupied Without More Screen Time
  • How to Lose 20 Pounds in 3 Weeks Without Exercising

2. Common mistake

No one likes to be caught slipping, so ears perk up when you highlight a potential error that readers are at risk of (or already) making. The three headline ideas below are for the same (fictional) post about mistakes first-time business owners make:

  • 8 Common Mistakes New Business Owners Make 
  • Still Doing Your Numbers on a Spreadsheet? Here’s What You May Be Missing
  • Don’t Make These 8 Common Startup Founder Mistakes

3. This vs That

Readers are always looking for posts comparing products or services. However, this template can also work to compare non-tangible ideas like approaches to business, lifestyle preferences, and the like. And it doesn’t always have to be a boring “This vs That” presentation. 

Here are some examples:

  • Why Content Marketing Works Better Than Paid Advertising
  • Content Marketing vs Paid Advertising: Which Should You Choose?
  • Are Paid Ads Worth It? Or Should You Stick to Content Marketing?

4. All you need to know

This is the Ultimate Guide 2.0. Having the phrase “need to know” in your headline tells your readers that you’re covering all their bases. Try one of the following formats:

  • Everything You Need to Know About Starting an Online Business
  • 10 Things You Need to Know About Your First Pregnancy
  • Your Ultimate Guide to Moving to New York

5. The probing question

This headline asks readers questions they may or may not have answers to — questions the article promises to answer. Here are some examples to fill in the blanks:

  • Should You Still Be Doing ____
  • Is It Safe to Do ____
  • Is ____ Costing You ____?

6. The sage advice

There’s no better formula to share a personal story than this one. Use one of the templates below to share your personal successes or horror stories:

  • How to Survive Your First ____
  • Behind the Scenes of My First ____
  • What You Should Know Before Your First ____

7. Why? Why? Why?

This headline formula uses the word “why” without actually asking a question. Although most readers want to know how to do things, many of us also simply want to know why some things work the way they do. Here are some (fictional) examples:

  • Why You Should Be Using LinkedIn to Promote Your Business
  • Why You Need to Use Fewer Plugins on Your WordPress Sites
  • Here’s Why Your iPhone Keeps Dying at 20% Battery

8. Negative lure

This template works for pretty much the same reason as the common mistakes one: people like to be in the know. Unveil your audience’s common misconceptions with these formulas:

  • Debunked! 8 Myths About ____
  • 8 Lies You Probably Believe About ____ 
  • 8 Common Misconceptions About _____

9. Basic listicle

The basic list post is a classic like the how-to article. To make your headline for these posts more effective, pack on the power words. For example:

  • 10 Important Reasons to Declutter Your Home
  • 20 Easy Ways to Save $1000 in a Year
  • 30 Life-Changing Books to Read Before You Die

10. Two for one

Using a colon, you can combine two headline styles for maximum impact. Here’s how it works:

  • How to Write a Book: 9 Steps to Ditching Writer’s Block
  • Content Marketing vs Paid Ads: A Case Study
  • 10 Quick SEO Tips: Why You Should Be Using SEO for Your Business

Best headline examples to copy (with stats)

Don’t take our word for it, see what real-life viral headlines are made of. We’ve dug out five headlines that fulfill our criteria and done some research to see how they fared with social shares, backlinks, and overall traffic.

1. Sumo: 401+ Ridiculously Useful Power Words To Increase Conversions

The headline for Sumo’s power word post is eye-grabbing because of that enormous number! Every reader is going to want to see all those power words, if only to satisfy their curiosity. Ahrefs backlink tool shows that the post has a whopping 1800 backlinks to its name, showing how widely read and valuable it is.

Sumo best headlines example

2. Shopify: How to Start an Online T-Shirt Business: Everything You Need to Know

This Shopify headline uses a how-to and “all you need to know” formula in one — and it works! In the last year since it’s been published, the post has had over 800 social media shares, according to Sharescore.

Shopify best headlines example

3. Hubspot: Do You Really Need That Exclamation Point? [Flowchart]

What a pointed question! This short post has an intriguing question as its headline and proceeds to answer using a flowchart. Ahrefs reports that the post has been linked back to over 350 times.

HubSpot best headlines example

4. GrooveHQ: How Zapier Went From Zero to 600,000+ Users in Just Three Years

GrooveHQ best headlines example

This Groove HQ post shares sage advice with specific details in its headline. It’s no wonder that the post has had over 1000 shares since it was published.

5. Nerd Fitness: Fat Shaming vs Body Acceptance: Is it okay to be fat?

Another two for one headline style, this one touches on a sensitive topic and pits two ideas against each other. It ends with a probing question that might make some readers uncomfortable. It seems to resonate with readers as it’s been shared over 200 times, according to Sharescore.

NerdFitness best headlines example

How headline generators help you craft the perfect headline

Even with all the formulas in hand, writing the perfect headline is no easy task. If you have to think up multiple headline options every day, you may be in need of a headline generator. These tools implement some of the formula types discussed in this article.

However, if you want to go beyond formulaic options and gain a sidekick that actually thinks and generates unique content, try AI writing assistant, Jarvis. Jarvis has over 52 writing templates, at least three of which are designed to craft intriguing headlines: The Perfect Headline, Facebook Ad Headline, and Google Ad Headline templates.

Jarvis also has templates for writing email subject lines and website subheadings — all forms of headlines that can be challenging to write.

Here’s the Perfect Headline template at work:

Jarvis Perfect Headline template

Notice how it automatically uses all of our recommended headline formulas with little to no effort on your part? That’s the beauty of using Jarvis. You can also get extra help understanding the way the AI works using the Jarvis Bootcamp.

Ready to get some help with your headlines? Sign up with Jarvis to start writing viral headlines right now.


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Meet the author

Austin Distel
CMO at Jarvis.ai

Austin Distel is the CMO at Jarvis.ai, your AI content writing assistant. He's also an Airbnb superhost in Austin, Texas and fun fact: Forbes recently wrote an article about his stock photography being the most popular on the internet with over 700 million views. You can follow Austin's adventures around the internet and the world at distel.com.

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