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How to Write a Great Headline in Under 10 Minutes

You’ve got a brilliant idea for your next blog post. Your audience is going to LOVE it.

You spend a few hours cranking out the content to get it just right. You cover all the bases — simple, actionable tips, helpful stories to make it stick, and a couple of subtle-yet-witty jokes to keep it light.

You slap a headline up top, click “Publish,” and wait in anxious anticipation. (You’ve even got Google Analytics pulled up in real-time to watch as the visitors roll in!)

Aaaaand crickets. Nobody’s clicking.

As it turns out, that last-minute, less-than-intriguing headline sabotaged hours of your hard work. Hey, it happens. But it doesn’t have to.

Why your headline deserves some TLC

According to Copyblogger’s Brian Clark, “On average, 8 out of 10 people will read headline copy, but only 2 out of 10 will read the rest.”

That means that even the most entertaining, life-changing content is doomed to digital obscurity if it’s hidden behind a boring headline. (Tweet that!)

So how do you write a great headline without losing your sanity (and your entire afternoon)?

Do what the pros do

Before you start questioning your writing skills, your approach, your purpose in life…let me tell you some seriously good news:

The best, most clickworthy headlines have all been written before.

It’s true! Copywriting heavyweights, A-list bloggers, and highly paid advertising pros will be first to admit that when it comes to great headlines, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel.

Whether you’re scanning Facebook, Twitter, or the magazine rack at the grocery store, chances are high that the headlines grabbing your attention (and commanding your clicks) have all been recycled from copywriters past.

And that’s okay.

Because as a blogger, your job isn’t to invent a completely new way to pique human curiosity. It’s to deliver great value once you’ve got it. (Tweet that!)

How to write a great headline in under 10 minutes

Based on what I’ve told you, you’ve got literally no excuse to spend hours agonizing over the perfect headline. Here are 7 simple steps to make this “recycling” process work for you:

1. Before you need it: Find (or make) a swipe file. A quick search will bring up PLENTY of great (free!) blog posts, guides, and downloads filled with great headlines to get you started. You may also take a closer look at the magazine rack in your local grocery store or create your own swipe file by keeping a “click journal” of the headlines that catch your eye.

2. Choose your topic. Before you dive in and start headline shopping, get clear on the mission. If you’ve got a specific blog topic in mind, you’ll be able to sift and scan the options with max efficiency.

3. Keep your blinders on. Only look for options that will work with your content. Don’t be distracted by shiny objects and options that just won’t fit your current topic (or don’t feel authentic to your brand or your audience).

4. List the finalists. Open up a new document. As you read through the swipe file, make note of the headlines that jump out at you. To save time, be picky. Keep the list to only three to five favorites.

5. Fill in the blanks. Use the sample headlines as your guide, and fill in your info. (Just as I did with this post: How to [Do Something] in [Timeframe]. And hey – it worked!)

6. Choose a winner. Of the finalists you’ve got in the doc, which will be MOST appealing to the audience you want to reach? Which one makes the most intriguing promise? Don’t obsess on this step; follow your first instinct.

7. Celebrate. You did it! Now that you’ve picked a tried-and-tested headline and adapted it to your topic and audience, you can be confident that your post will get the clicks it so rightly deserves.

Check it off your list

You’re a busy entrepreneur (with plans to take on the world). Your time is incredibly valuable. There are so many ways you could spend it wisely.

Spending hours struggling to come up with a blog post headline isn’t one of them.

Let’s talk!

In the comments below, tell me:

  • What’s one of the best, most clickable headlines you’ve ever seen?
  • BONUS: Apply the formula to YOUR next headline, and post it here!

Wanna learn more?

If you’d like more info on great headlines (and want to get a head start on that swipe file of yours), check out these ridiculously amazing free resources:

35 thoughts on How to Write a Great Headline in Under 10 Minutes Leave a reply

  1. Dani

    This is hard for me, I don’t ‘fall’ for generic or overused headlines so it makes it harder for me to not reinvent the wheel. I’m so picky about my headlines and I try to make them in line with frequently asked questions so they get picked up on google quicker.

    hmpf. What to do what to do! LOL

    Great post though, I need to just work on letting go of my headline inner control freak.

    Reply
    1. Nikki Elledge BrownNikki Elledge Brown Post author

      I totally get it, Dani! Trust me – I battle it every single week. Go original, creative, SEO, or old school swipe file?!

      Jon Morrow’s advice in “52 Headline Hacks” really hit home for me: “One of the worst ways you can torture yourself as a writer is to believe everything you do has to be original. Yes, it’s possible, but you’ll get comparatively little done, and the continuous pressure will give you a nervous breakdown.”

      PREACH.

      Reply
  2. Kelly - Project Me for Busy Mothers

    Well your headline certainly caught MY attention :)

    I spend a ridiculous amount of time titling and retitling my headlines before I hit publish and then second guessing the one I’ve chosen!

    I agree, this is NOT the best use of my time. Thanks for the virtual slap on the wrist and top tips. x

    Reply
  3. Kristy

    Nikki, such great advice. I am off to write a blog post today so I am going to follow your 7 steps. As a busy mum and entrepreneur I seem to be drawn to the ‘How to…’ headlines and those that quantify something.

    Reply
  4. Maria Kayumi

    Hey Nikki,

    Love these tips! I’ve got Jon Morrow’s ’52 Headline Hacks’ but don’t yet have my own swipe file. I’m going to start that as of now – I already read it a lot so it’s something I can definitely do for myself (and my writing) that won’t take a lot of extra effort. Hooray!

    One of my favourite headlines: ‘How to Install a No B.S. Clause in Your Life’. I’m quite a gentle, ‘sweet’ person (which I don’t see as a bad thing!) but I find it pretty hard to set boundaries and be clear about what I want/need – I really want everyone else to feel good and happy too! Any ‘how to’ that helps me with stuff like that and I’m clicking like there’s no tomorrow 😉

    So exciting to see your first guest post 😀 Congratulations!

    Maria

    Reply
    1. Nikki Elledge BrownNikki Elledge Brown Post author

      Oooh Maria – don’t let me forget you just said that. I’m a “sweet” one too (on most days, at least…), but Lord help anyone who mistakes that for “passive.”

      I’m all about finding smart, authentic ways to be assertive. You don’t have be a doormat to get what you want, and you don’t have to be a B, either.

      I will definitely be talking more about that in the new year! Thanks for the comment :)

      Reply
      1. Maria Kayumi

        I would LOVE to read a post of yours on this topic, Nikki! Your energy is definitely “sweet” (one of the reason I loooove reading your stuff!) but you don’t come across as passive at all – I’ll look forward to reading some of your tips! :)

        Reply
  5. Jenny

    I love this Nikki! What great, quick tips. I chose “20 ways to love yourself TODAY” as today’s title and it felts very fitting as it was a quick list. Seems so much harder when writing a longer piece, especially for guest posts. Thanks again :)

    Reply
  6. Clare

    As always Nikki great advice to focus on the headline as much as the content. I use a swipe file for anything that catches my attention. Visuals. Writing. Style. Then I quick write a note on why I thought it was swipeable. Thanks for writing.

    Reply
  7. Ellen

    I LOVE the easy, actionable ways you walk us through this Nikki! And how you encourage us to pre-write titles, brilliant. I am going to do this for my newsletters too because even though I’m a writer, I STRUGGLE with subject lines! Off to go google some highly clickable words :-)

    Reply
  8. Omer

    I am very thankful to you for this. I was searching this for a long time. It is very helpful and interesting material for me.I appreciate you for the informative work.

    Reply
  9. Sarah McKay

    Perfect timing! I’ve been concentrating on my headlines this past few weeks and its has made ALL the difference … my page views have pretty much doubled and ALL I’ve changed have been the headlines.
    I wrote an article a couple weeks ago on exercise and titled it: ‘What the Obamas, Tony Abbot and Richard Branson can teach us about brain health’ …. no surprise it was one of my most viewed posts ever. I had been considering something like ‘Why exercise is good for your brain’ … hrmmmm.
    I’ve since rewritten a few others using headline hacks – and the response has been amazing. I’d been guilty of spending ages crafting content but lacking focus on the headline.
    Such a great article Nikki!

    Reply
    1. Nikki Elledge BrownNikki Elledge Brown Post author

      That is AMAZING to hear (read), Sarah. I’m totally inspired by your results!

      I think we’re ALL guilty of trying to reinvent the wheel on this. And it is SUCH a waste of time.

      Thanks for confirming it 😉

      Reply
  10. Tonia Winchester

    Nikki! Brilliant as always. I love these tips. The title of my next article, due out tomorrow just in time for lunch is:

    11 Ways to Eat More Veggies Than You Thought Humanly Possible.

    We’ll see how it all goes.

    Reply
  11. Elizabeth MacLeod

    I wish I saw this post about 2 hours ago as I battled with my headline for this week. LOL. I did however get one, did talk to “the google” and ‘copy blogger’ and filled in some blanks (glad I remembered)… AND… I was grateful to find this article you wrote here so i could feel the sweet scent of validation! It’s okay not to reinvent the world…. 😉 A lovely way to end my night. Thanks Nikkie

    Reply
  12. Natalie MacNeil

    What a great post Nikki, and welcome to the contributor team at She Takes on the World! This is something I’m going to start working on myself. For awhile I was very focused on SEO-awesome headlines for posts, but I want to get back to juicy, creative headlines and save the duller SEO title just for search results through All in One SEO Pack. Again, great post!

    Reply
    1. Nikki Elledge BrownNikki Elledge Brown Post author

      Well thanks for having me, Natalie! :)

      And I should probably be MORE conscious of SEO. Just haven’t carved out time to figure it out yet – it’s like I’m resistant to the creative limitations. (Lame.) I usually end up going with what feels clickable to ME, but I’m sure there’s a dreamy balance somewhere between the two.

      Always learning!

      Reply
  13. Nathalie

    Funny — I just find your blog. I would have loved this post 2 weeks ago. I spent 40 hours over the last 2 weeks building a headline that works. In the process, I found 21 that worked, and I looked for others. i was so, so GLAD when I found that copy edits were there. But even there, I still had to make it my own. I totally get the “not getting distracted by shiny objects,” When I developed my outline, I realized I had an entire course (that’s me). I have a feeling I’m going to love this blog. Now, I got back and revamp my blog titles.

    I finally feell ike I can take the next step.
    http://sparklingchi.com/blog/?post_type=landing_page&p=1811

    I’m going to keep reading!

    Reply
    1. Nikki Elledge BrownNikki Elledge Brown Post author

      Great to hear (read), Nathalie!

      You’ll find all kinds of goodness over here at STOTW. And if you’ve got any particular communication-related Qs, please feel free to send ’em my way. Will add them to the idea bank!

      Reply

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