How to Write a Must-Click Headline

  •    Tim is a freelance business writer. He writes about the business of innovation, comics and genre entertainment on The Full Bleed.

You've started a blog. Awesome! Now, how do you get readers?
The answer might surprise you. See, when you're writing a blog post your first job isn't to please readers but to get clicks. And that means learning to write must-click headlines.

Getting the Click

If you've ever been in sales you know what a must-click headline is. It's a tease, an irresistible opening line that promises more if you'll just take the next step.

Here are two that appeared recently at Yahoo's home page, a curated smorgasbord of articles and blog posts from thousands of sources around the web. Must-click headlines allowed these stories to make the cut:

Ex-Googler: 'Tons Of Engineers' Want To Leave Google

Why it works: This headline from Business Insider teases controversy and then promises to let you in on the gossip.

AI Has Arrived, and That Really Worries the World's Brightest Minds

Why it works: This headline from Wired introduces a mystery and then uses fear to induce action.

Avoid the Excess

Of course, it's possible to take this idea too far:

earth from space

Sensationalism always draws a crowd. Trouble is, these viewers tend to be of the hit-and-run variety -- clicking through for a peek before heading off to see the next celebrity meltdown caught on camera.

By contrast, your headlines should inspire readers to get to know more about you and what your blog can offer. You want an audience with whom you can build a relationship and sell to. Hit-and-run viewers won't help you accomplish that, which is why it's almost always a bad idea to engage in excessive hyperbole.

The good news? Sensationalism isn't required for writing must-click headlines. Any of these three approaches will help your blog get the clicks it deserves.

  • Promise to alleviate pain: I call this the problem-solution headline. Often, they come in the form of a how-to. For example, "How to Make a Gourmet Dinner in 10 Minutes" might catch the attention of a working parent struggling to shuttle kids to after-school events. "The Simple Trick That Cures Insomnia" might appeal to the sleepless. Set up your story to solve a problem and you'll find readers seeking solutions.
  • Ask a question your audience is dying to have answered: This style of headline promises to teach the reader something. "Can Coke Really Clean Your Car Battery?" addresses an urban legend while serving cheapskate auto owners. "Which Pet Is the Easiest to Own?" speaks to animal lovers who'd rather not spend hours sweeping and vacuuming. Promise to serve the needs of the curious and they'll come clicking.
  • Use a list! Sometimes you can't settle for just one strategy. That's where lists come in. Some will teach (i.e., "5 Things You Can Do to Burn More Fat Right Now!"). Others promise access (i.e., "The 100 Most Powerful People in Hollywood"). In either case, your headline is offering a transaction -- click, and you'll get "x" number of valuable insights that you won't find anywhere else.

Write and Deliver

Of course, every headline does this to some degree. That's why it is so important to deliver on what you write. Problems should be solved, questions answered and lists complete. Otherwise, the browser who might have become your reader will rightfully click away feeling deceived.

Don't let that happen. Make good instead. Your headline grabbed them, now let your content sell them.