Why Some People Almost Always
Write Great Post Titles

image of magnetic headlines logo

What are some of the characteristics of people who crank out blog titles that work really well most of the time? Is it something anyone can learn?

Yes, and except in very rare cases, writing great post titles and other headlines can likely only be learned. Rather than relying on natural talent, people who consistently produce winning headlines have learned to do three basic things:

1. They understand that all compelling headlines make an intriguing promise that makes it almost irresistible to its target audience. Understanding the intended audience is key — a really great headline generally won’t appeal to everyone, and watering it down for mass appeal will only hurt you.

2. They study headlines that have been proven to work, and that usually means direct response advertising headlines. In that context, “proven to work” means people responded to that particular headline by pulling out their wallets and making a purchase. You can also learn by studying some of the top magazine headline writers, who work for Cosmopolitan and similar glossies, and even the tabloids you see at the supermarket checkout lane.

3. Most importantly, rather than simply mimicking great headlines, they understand why the headline works, and therefore can make an educated decision as to which type of headline structure is most appropriate, and how to tweak it within a certain context.

So what about the title of the blog post you’re reading right now?

1. Starting off your post title with “why” at the beginning of a declarative statement (instead of a question) is one easy way to focus in on the benefit of reading your article. That’s one of the reasons why the title of this post works, but the words that follow the “why” are what’s most important.

You can do the same by starting with “here’s why,” “what,” “when,” or “how,” or you can simply make a strong statement that clearly demonstrates that the elaborated answer will be provided in the body content. And of course a carefully worded question can magnetically draw in your intended readers as well.

2. The title is modeled after this famous advertising headline:

Why Some People Almost Always Make Money in the Stock Market

Within the context of what I wanted to convey with this post, the basic structure of this classic headline works perfectly.


3. Credibility. The use of the word “some,” and having “almost” modify “always,” make the headline much more plausible. Not even the highest paid copywriters in the world always nail a headline that works, and some people never write great post titles, because they don’t take the time to learn how.

Many people feel that a great headline is bombastic and full of hyperbole, but that’s usually not the case. If people don’t believe you can deliver on your promise, they won’t bother reading further, and your over-the-top headline fails.

As the people marketing their content via Twitter, Facebook, and other social networking sites up the ante with headlines that strain credibility, their results will diminish, while you’ll gain an advantage by becoming a true student of great headline writing. Understanding what type of headline is appropriate to a specific context is the real key to writing magnetic post titles that get your content embraced and shared.

This is the sixth installment in a series of posts called Magnetic Headlines.

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Reader Comments (72)

  1. says

    Another great instructional post.

    Don’t forget to mention to not use Barbie and Furby in your headlines !

  2. says

    Just started reading your blog a few days ago; and I’m loving your newest series. Looking forward to the next installments.

  3. says

    Very good post.

    I think that at the end the most important thing is “Credibility”:

    A man can get a reputation from very small things.
    Inachus by Sophocles.

  4. says

    I stumbled upon your site a few weeks ago and have fallen in love with it. I recommend it everywhere.

    My background is in manufacturing and most of the career-related writing I’ve done has been for ISO 9000 procedures and work instructions. I can’t help but laugh when I think what my documents would look like if I used your techniques:

    Why Some Operators Almost Always Produce Zero Defects …

    How to Keep Your Job: The Top Ten Steps To Properly Setting up the SMT Screen Printer …

    TR3657 Connector Mount Assembly Secrets Revealed …

    Who knows? Maybe the operators would have actually read the documents if I had. 😉

    • says

      You KNOW they would have … at long last a document writer with a sense of humor and humanity. “Official” documents tend to be written for attorneys … who never read them. “5 tips for making your strapping machine work better than any other in the plant.” would have been a big hit with my last employer … who used a lot of temp workers and most of my (the only maintenance employee in our plant) nerves.

  5. says

    Writing headlines is something I find difficult. I was reading about writing for the Web and I recall that the writers encourage that we be quite concise and descriptive so that the message would be clearer to the readers, also for search engine optimization. The difficulty I have with this sometimes is that some blog entries seem a bit too boring or overused.

    Your blog entry has made me think a lot more about the way I write my headlines.

    You are also right about one more thing: understanding why headlines work is important. I don’t get to read much printed material but on the Net I need to see how things fit, more or less so I could write better headlines.

  6. says

    Nick, hilarious! I likewise wonder what would have happened if I would have written my legal motions that way.

    Actually, some lawyers do…

    Clair, one thing that I’ve found is if you understand how headlines work, you don’t need to try to write a homerun headline for every blog post. But you will end up writing snappier headlines off the top of your head, even for the more day-to-day mundane posts.

  7. says

    Another great post in this series – I’m finding that when I write a “better” headline I’m actually simply following your advice. Above all else – keeping it reader focused helps alot even if its a mediocre headline. :-)


  8. says

    This is a beautiful, well designed and written blog.

    You could also add, “Use numbers.”

    Titles like “12 Ways to Improve Your Blog Writing” work well.

    Also “Use variety”.

    Christopher Locke told me some of his highest traffic posts of the past had totally irrelevant, silly, weird titles.

    “Amoogo Monkey Bombs” or whatever.

    It makes readers curious, “what the h is that?”

    Peace, brother attorney!

  9. says

    Hey Vaspers, welcome! You must have missed the previous headline post, “7 Reasons Why List Posts Will Always Work”. :)

    And I too am a huge Chris Locke fan. He’s uniquely qualified to work those pure curiosity titles. I’ve been falling for them for over 7 years.

  10. says

    having a great post title is like a sign post,we only look at the ones that gives us what we want or promises something better before we go in.but you better have that promise when i come in…
    very educating..thanks

  11. says

    I believe the title of each post is the light that allows it to shine. I say this only because without striking interest at all, it just will be skipped and never to be read in the first place… Of course unless it’s the newest article.

    Even so, people can get bored and move on.

    That being said, if you want a place for your article, write an amazing title that shows you’re doing something for your readers and write your title first forcing yourself to write a great article following.

  12. says

    It’s amazing how my blog post headlines have changed over time and I can definitely attest to the power of well written ones.

    I have found though my best headlines are not great for SEO. So which to choose?

  13. says

    Awesome article!

    I’m definitely going to take this into consideration because I really never plan ahead my post titles, at least not for natural SEO rankings.


  14. says

    This series is just simply some of the best advice I have seen for bloggers and writers out there! Great content, and well-written and to-the-point, like we like it! You just got yourself another subscriber!!
    Thank you for providing genuine great posts!!
    Henrik, Tightsandtiaras.com

  15. says

    Going through this list of “Magnetic Headlines”, I get that same uncomfortable feeling as when I see a magician or hypnotist. I know I’m about to get played, somehow, but I don’t know how. Of course, there seems to be no equivalent of the magician’s code – you end up revealing your tricks throughout, so that makes me feel better.

    It’s incredibly valuable stuff that seems like common sense, but like all valuable common sense you don’t notice it until it’s pointed out to you.

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