12 Tricks For Better Headlines in 2024: Are You Hooked Yet?

February 2024

Your headline is your first chance to make an impression on your readers — so it had better be a good one. In this blog, we go over the ways to start your piece off right with a headline that’ll snag your audience’s attention.

One of the great equalizers of the Web is that sooner or later, everything needs a headline. Whether you’re writing a blog post, a case study, a landing page, or an advertisement, your headline is your first shot at stating your intentions to your audience in a clear, engaging way.

Most readers rarely go beyond the article headline. On social media, where hundreds or thousands may see your headline, only a fraction will click the link. If you want people to read your messaging, or if you want better click-through rates, you’re going to need to learn how to write catchy headlines.

There’s no one secret tip for writing good headlines - there’s twelve secret tips for writing good headlines, and you’ll want to use several of them simultaneously to create a headline that truly attracts readers. There’s a fine line between a click-worthy headline and a click bait headline, however, and you want to be careful to stay on the right side of that line. So while every headline will likely employ several of these tricks, trying to use all of them at once will probably come across as over-the-top.

Here are 12 tricks to writing effective headlines:

1. Use Active Voice

The difference between active and passive voice in writing is that in passive voice, nobody does anything, things just happen. When you hear a crash in another room and arrive to see a small child and a vase, the child will likely point to the vase and say, “It broke.” That’s passive voice, where nobody is responsible for anything. This isn’t just misleading, it’s also less-engaging to read.

So when you’re writing a summary of your company’s latest success, don’t say “Sales Increased 20% in 2024,” say “[Company Name] Increased Sales 20%.” If you’re writing about a product or service, actively say, “[Product] Causes 40% Faster Weight Loss” or “[Service] Decreases Server Lag By 25%.” When you’ve got some cool stat to show off, make sure you’re taking active responsibility for it in your headlines.

2. Keep It Under 60 (Characters)

Headlines longer than 60 characters often get cut off on search engine results pages (SERP), which is reason enough on its own to keep your headlines short. But beyond that, longer headlines are often too-wordy, confusing, and dull, and can be improved by an edit that hones it down to what needs to be said.

There might be situations that call for longer headlines, but using the 70-character guide as your limit will help you focus your messaging. If you find yourself unable to explain the point of your article in under 70 characters, you might have a bigger problem with the theme of your piece.

3. Make Your Audience Curious — Give Them A Reason To Read

Imagine a blog post or article entitled, “What I Did on My Summer Vacation.”

This is a great example of a terrible headline. Being forced to endure a slideshow of someone else’s vacation photos was, for a long time, the stereotypical example of being bored to tears by someone else’s good time. Everybody likes remembering their own vacation, but nobody cares about someone else’s vacation. If you want to get people to read their piece, you need to provide an example why they should care.

How about a simple tweak: “What I Did on My Summer Vacation That I’d Never Do Again.” Well, now you’ve piqued my curiosity. Did you have a bad experience with AirB&B? Eat some expired shellfish? The implication is that this article doesn’t just contain a recap of someone’s time off, it contains a lesson, where the readers have the opportunity to learn from the writer’s mistake. When writing a headline, you always want to dangle some bait, some mystery that will compel the reader to keep going into the body of your post.

4. Write For Your Reader — And Talk To Them Directly

It should go without saying that you should know who your target audience is when writing a piece. Whether you’re writing something informative, persuasive, or entertaining, you should have a reader in mind — and you can often hook them into reading your piece faster by speaking to them directly, using the second-person voice.

What is the second person? You’re reading it, right now: the same way a first-person essay is all “I did this,” “I did that,” a second-person piece of writing is written to “you.” So rather than saying “How to Clean a Keurig Coffee Machine,” try swapping that out for “How to Clean Your Keurig Coffee Machine.” It’s more familiar, and less formal (and you’ll have to decide when that’s appropriate) but it’s also friendlier, and makes the reader feel as though you’re on their side.

5. Use Interesting Words

Right now, if you were to search “How to Write a Good Headline,” you’ll get a LOT of results. It’s simple, straight forward, and it aligns well with the sort of thing a person might commonly search for on Google. It’s also incredibly boring, and gives very little indication as to which of the many options on the screen are worth reading. “Good,” in particular, is one of the more-invisible words in the English language, and feels like a placeholder waiting for something better to come along.

“How To Write Amazing Headlines” isn’t much better, but it’s an improvement. “How to Write a Kick-Ass Headline” is probably too spicy for most brands, but some companies can go really far with that kind of brand voice. The point is that even changing one word can open up a whole new vibe and make your headline stand out from a sea of same-iness. Use in moderation, however: if you start swapping out every word from your headline with a more “interesting” alternative, you’re going to sound like a Thesaurus.

6. Do It “By The Numbers”

Numbers, digits, and lists — these are things that hook an audience’s attention. “The Best Movies of 2023” is an okay headline, but “The Top 10 Movies of 2023” is going to be far more effective. It creates more questions for the reader: is it a ranked list? What’s number one? There’s a reason that most end-of-year roundups take the Top-10 route. People like reading lists: they’re interesting, they generate discussions, and they give a good indication as to how much time and investment they’ll take to read.

If it’s possible, including numbers in your headlines is a great way to increase engagement. “5 Rules of the Road Every Driver Ignores,” “How To Lose 10 Pounds In January,” “50% of Home Cooks Are Doing This Wrong,” — all of these headlines will work more-effectively than their numberless alternatives.

7. Ask Questions?

A question headline is just that: a headline in the form of a question. They engage the audience and pique their curiosity by implying that an answer to that question lies within the article. It sometimes conforms almost exactly to what your readers might be searching for in Google. “How Do I Change the Fuel Pump on a Honda CR-V?” “Is Margot Robbie married?”

Other times, the question headline serves as almost a dare or challenge. “Do You Know Which Vegetables Are Bad For You?” “Can You Answer 30 Trivia Questions About ‘Game of Thrones?’” A reader wanting to know the answer, or to prove that they already know it, will get spurred on to read more.

8. Use Parentheticals (And Here’s Why)

This one strays pretty close to actual clickbait, so you’ll want to be careful, but adding a parenthetical aside onto the end of your headline is often a great way to add an extra bit of mystery onto the end of your headline. The trick on old Buzzfeed articles was to include it on the end of listicle headlines: “30 Things They Taught You In School That Weren’t True (#5 Is Mind-Blowing)” or the like, which pretty well guarantees that a reader will hold on until the fifth entry in the list to see what the fuss is about.

Beyond that, a parenthetical is often a visually-interesting way to break up your headline. Like numbers and interesting word choices, you also want your headline to stand out visually through the words and punctuation you choose.

9. SEO Tweaks — But Only So Much

The conventional wisdom on search engine optimization these days is that a little goes a long way; Google is making every effort to ensure people don’t game the system for clicks and revenue. The suggestion is that people should just endeavor to write the best article they can on the topic, and that Google’s algorithm will respond to that.

That being said, there are simple actions you should likely take to ensure your article reaches the right audience, and incorporating some basic SEO is probably the way to achieve that. Including relevant keywords in your headline makes sense — they’re “key” words because people are likely to search for them. And the advice about shortening your headlines below 60 characters is SEO advice that also makes sense from a writing standpoint. First and foremost, you should be writing for an audience, not for the algorithm, but once you’ve got your article in a good spot some housekeeping for Google-friendliness is good policy.

10. Negative Consequences

You can imply not only the benefits of reading your article, but the potential pitfalls of not reading it. Human beings are risk-averse people by nature, devoted to avoiding negative outcomes, and framing your headline through the lens of something people want to avoid can often be helpful. “30 Tips To Make Your Home Greener” is a nice article, for sure, but “30 Ways To Avoid High Electricity Bills This Summer” reminds readers that energy efficiency also saves money. You want to avoid coming across as cynical or manipulative, but flipping the script from a positive to a negative can often drive engagement.

So, “How To Register To Vote” becomes “How To Make Sure Your Vote Isn’t Thrown Away.” They’re both equally true, and could have the same article beneath them, but one promises negative consequences for not reading your article. Use sparingly.

11. Be Urgent and Timely

On the heels of the above, if you’ve got any sort of time factor involved in your article, work that into your headline. “Headline Tips and Tricks” can become “Headline Tips and Tricks for 2024,” implying that the science of headline writing is evolving and that the reader needs to stay on the cutting edge. If you’re advertising a special offer that expires, include that in your headline: “Do This Before April 27, 2024” or, more vaguely, “Before Time Runs Out.”

If people feel like they’ve got unlimited time to make a decision, they’ve also got unlimited time to read your article. If the implication is that they’ve only got a brief window to stay ahead of the curve, the FOMO will kick in and they’ll have no choice but to read on.

12. A/B Testing

If you’re wondering which headline will work best for your piece of content, why not try both? A/B testing a couple of headlines against each other to see which one is a better driver of engagement is a great way to hone your craft.

If you don’t have the technical capability of testing different headlines on your content, try using different headlines to promote your content on social media and see which headlines drive the best click-through rates, reposts, etc. If one headline drives more user traffic than the other, chances are that you’ve found your winner.

Final Thoughts

No headline could possibly include all of these recommendations simultaneously, and if it could, it would probably be an unreadable mess. The best headline writing tip is to only use a couple of these in any one headline. So how do you figure out which tricks to use for which headline? Practice. Play around with different styles of headlines, A/B test your way to better numbers, and over time you’ll discover you’ve developed a knack for catchy headlines.

Another thing to keep in mind is that trends change over time, and catchy headlines from 2012 might come across as corny or scammy or even offensive a decade later. Going back to update headlines for your old content with what you’ve learned today will give you more places to practice, and also help keep you up to date with the latest trends.

If you’re looking for more ways to boost your audience engagement, reach out to Insticator today for help getting more eyes on your content. Or, if you want to follow our blog to stay up-to-date on the latest tips, tricks, and trends, you can follow us on Twitter/X, LinkedIn, and more.

Sean Kelly

Written by

Sean Kelly, Senior Content Writer