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SEO & Persuasive Copywriting: Write Eye-Catching Headlines

Posted by Carole Mahoney on 8/24/10 3:00 PM

Why are Good Headlines so Important?

As a journalist, I had an editor explain to me what makes news. He said simply, “If a dog bites a man that’s not worthy of your time but on the other hand, if man bites dog, then you got a story.”

Translation: no one cares about what is expected to happen. They only care about things when something unusual happens. That’s why you need spectacular headlines to move the crowd to view your links, Tweets, Facebook ads and updates.

So how can you to write great headlines that grab attention and show up in search engines?

Guidelines for Great Headlines:

  • Try to keep them short, sometimes less than 7 words.
  • Include an action verb.
  • Make them quirky, off beat or somewhat funny.
  • Summarize was is to follow.
  • Present an offer (especially for business content).

And most importantly....


On the surface, headline writing may seem quite easy. But can really be the most difficult part of writing. Anyone can write War and Peace, but it takes a real genius to write “Headless Body In Topless Bar,” one of the most famous headlines in newspaper history.

How to Write Eye-Catching Headlines

  • Making your headline short, less than seven words is tough. In the age of Twitter and 140-character counts this gets a little easier but it’s still difficult to parse your eloquent prose into short burst of “read me,” power.

Copywriting Tip: Don’t start by limiting your word count. Write your headline, no matter how long it is, and then edit with your delete button. Cut adjectives, articles and just leave verbs and nouns. You’ll be surprised at how efficient your wordplay is.

  • Include an action verb. Action verb or active verbs as your English teacher probably called them are one-word stories. They have the subject doing something. Some of the greatest are: eject, crash, whirl, launch, hurl, bury and vent. Action verbs are usually in the present tense (meaning they don’t have an “ed” on the end) and are in an active voice so the subject of the sentence precedes them. 

Copywriting Example: Dick Punches Jane in Hill Battle. 

Here are list of great action words in action from Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox site.

  • Italy buries first quake victims
  • Villagers hurt in West Bank clash
  • Mass Thai protest over leadership
  • Iran accuses journalist of spying
  • Be Offbeat and quirky – it is popular on YouTube as well as online writing. But it’s often the most difficult thing to pull off. 
Copywriting Tip: If you aren’t normally the funny guy in the room, steal from someone who is. Rip off Caddyshack lines, or others your favorite comedy series and use as a foundation for your headlines. Just don’t plagiarize!
  • Summarize – make sure your headline actually does its job – tells the reader why they should click, or continue reading. The headline is the road but the copy is the destination so get them there. You can use  language like: How to Win Friends and Influence People, (still a popular seller) so you might take a rift from that like “How to Clear Your Debt in 30 Days,” or whatever services your business provides.
  • Use questions! Not sure what questions to ask? Talk with your sales team.
  • “Do you need more hours in the day?” (We all know that we do.)
  • “Want to lose weight by eating all day?”
  • “Want to be famous in 30 days?”

Just make sure your copy answers these questions otherwise you’re pulling a “bait and switch,” and readers hate that.

  • Present an offer: While news headlines just have to reflect what’s happening business headlines should offer some sort of benefit to the reader. Give them an offer they can’t refuse. You can combine questions and offers as well. Try mixing and matching and see what you come up with. But keep it short and simple.
  • 10 Ways to Avoid Common Tax Mistakes
  • Drop 10 Years Off Your Age in 10 Minutes
  • The Secret to Weight Loss for Black Women
  • How to Get a Husband and Keep Him (OK that one is from 1950.)

So headline writing isn’t a whim, or even a gift, it’s a science. If no one reads your headline, it’s a guarantee they won’t read your copy.

Still daunted by writing compelling headlines and need a push over your writers block? Not sure where to get your best content ideas from? Contact us!

Topics: copywriting, guest blog post, online copywriting, SEO