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How to write headlines that drive traffic? The ultimate guide

September 24, 2023

Why is writing a compelling headline for your news article so important?

With millions of articles and social media posts published each day, your content is up against a fierce competition. In today's fast-paced digital world, readers often decide whether to read an article in a split second. A good headline is crucial because it's the first thing readers see, and it can make the difference between a click and a scroll.

So if an article does not have a compelling headline, it is likely that nobody will open it. This means that your time and effort put into writing the article have been wasted. 

A good headline will help grab your readers' attention and convince them to click on your article and read it. A compelling headline can help pique your readers' interest and make them want to learn more about the topic of your article.

Why a good headline is essential for SEO and ranking in the search results and Google Discover

A good headline is also vital for SEO so that the article will rank well in Google Search and Google Discover. 

If your article has a compelling and attention-grabbing headline, it is more likely to be clicked on by the reader. Google uses the number of clicks on an article as a ranking factor. So this will result in Google ranking your article higher in search results and Google Discover.

How too many boring headlines can hurt user engagement of your website

When readers come across a website with many dull headlines, they may perceive it as boring and not worth their time. This can lead to a low return rate and a lack of visitor engagement.

On the other hand, having a website with many exciting and engaging headlines can attract and retain readers. When people see a website with headlines that grab their attention and pique their curiosity, they are more likely to come back often to see what new content is available, which can lead to increased engagement and a higher return rate for the website.

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How to write compelling headlines that readers click on

Before we explain how to write the most compelling headlines, it is important to understand the relationship between the right news selection and to write compelling headlines.

Because the better you are at selecting the most interesting stories to write about, the less effort it will cost you to write a compelling headline that readers will click on.

The more exciting and engaging the news story is, the easier it will be to write a compelling and engaging headline because the news story itself will already have a natural appeal and interest to readers. In that case, a simple descriptive headline can often be enough to draw in readers.

For example, in the case of a major news event like 9/11 or the transfer of Messi from Barcelona to PSG, a headline like "Terrorist attacks in New York City" or "Messi transfers to PSG" would be sufficient to capture the reader's attention and interest. These headlines would not need to be clever or creative, as the news itself would be compelling enough to attract readers.

So the first step of every newsroom should be to optimize their ability to find the most interesting stories to write about.

But as the world is not flooded with extremely exciting news events on a daily basis, the skill to write a compelling headline to grab the readers' attention is still really important.

A skilled headline writer is able to take even the most mundane news story and craft a headline that captures the reader's attention and interest so the reader will click on it.

The thin line between an interesting and compelling headline and an annoying clickbait headline?

Let's now talk about the elephant in the room: Clickbait. 

Many editors want to avoid clickbait headlines so much that they end up creating headlines that are too bland. Unfortunately, these boring headlines can be just as ineffective as clickbait at attracting readers and will let nobody click on the headlines. So basically, it will waste the effort it costs to write the article.

Boring headlines are headlines that fail to grab the reader's attention and lack any excitement or originality. So people won't click on them.

There is a really thin line between writing compelling headlines and too clickbaity headlines that prevent people from clicking or clicking and leaving the website immediately afterwards. 

Too clickbaity headlines are not effective enough in attracting visitors and harm the reputation of the website.

So how can you write a compelling headline that is not seen as annoying clickbait by your readers?

Research has shown that headlines are seen as too clickbaity when:

  • The headline is basically overpromising on the content
  • The headline uses overly dramatic or sensational language
  • The headline uses a lot of CAPITAL letters and Exclamation marks

The headline is overpromising on the content

You want to avoid making a promise in the headline that you don't deliver at all in the article itself. So if the headline is really exciting but the content is really boring. 

For example, when the headline would be "Discover the Secret to Making Millions Online in Just a Few Weeks!" - But the article only provides general information about starting an online business. It does not reveal any secret or fast-acting methods for making millions in such a short time frame.

If readers are getting disappointed with the content every time they click on one of your headlines, they will stop clicking on all of your headlines at one point.

The headline uses overly dramatic or sensational language in the headline to lure the reader into clicking on the article

Like "OMG: You won't believe what this woman found in her backyard swimming pool!". People recognize this kind of language as overly dramatic or sensational, which creates mistrust and skepticism. So there is a big chance that it will people prevent readers from clicking on the headline 

The headline uses a lot of CAPITAL letters and Exclamation marks

Using capital letters and exclamation marks can make a headline seem too shouting, aggressive, or confrontational, which can be off-putting to readers, who can perceive them as less credible. Which then will also prevent readers from clicking on them.

So it is important to stay away from these tactics when you write headlines and at the same time, don't make your headline so boring that no one will click on it.

So what makes a good headline? 

Simply said a good headline grabs the immediate attention of the reader by evoking:

  • Curiosity
  • Excitement
  • Strong emotions

A good and compelling headline should be able to draw the reader in and make them want to know more about the content that follows.

  1. A good headline generates curiosity by posing a question or intriguing statement that makes the reader want to learn more. It hints at the content of the article or post but leaves enough mystery to spark interest.
  2. A compelling headline generates emotion by evoking a strong feeling or reaction from the reader. This could be excitement, fear, anger, joy, or any other emotion that motivates the reader to take action or continue reading.
  3. A good headline also has some excitement in it. Something that makes the reader feel like they are missing out on something important if they do not read the content.

What are the main mistakes editors make in writing headlines?

  • Summarizing the content of the article in the content
  • Writing boring headlines without any controversy or excitement
  • Focusing on and mentioning the wrong topics in the headline

Summarizing the content of the article in the content

Summarizing the content of the article in the headline is a common mistake that many editors make. Unfortunately, it can be a big turn-off for readers. If your headline gives away all the key details of your article, there's no reason for readers to click through and read it.

A good headline should give readers a reason to be curious and want to know more. That means you need to leave some things out of the headline and focus on the most interesting and attention-grabbing aspect of your story.

Because why would the reader still read the article when all the information is already in the headline?

Writing boring headlines without any controversy or excitement

For example, a headline like ‘Lionel Messi denies there is any disagreement between him and Guardiola. “We are good friends”’

The headline basically says: “Nothing is going on here, keep walking”. Instead of generating curiosity or excitement, the headline does precisely the opposite. It takes away any possible excitement and will prevent the reader from clicking on it.

In this case, a better headline would be: “Messi reacts to rumors about strong argument with Guardiola ”. 

This will generate more curiosity as people want to know what Messi's response is.

If you can not find any controversy, emotion, or excitement in an article to use in the headline, you might want to ask yourself if the article is news worthy enough and worth publishing. As the news itself might be not interesting enough for your readers.

Focusing on and mentioning the wrong topics in the headline

When you include topics from your news article in the headline, it is crucial to include the right topics. So the topics of your articles which will grab the most attention of the reader and pique their curiosity.

Let me show you this with an example. This headline below is about the appointment of a new team leader for McLaren: ‘Brown is happy with the appointment of Stella. “It’s the perfect choice” ’

Instead of using the word McLaren in the text, it uses the name of the CEO and the name of the new team captain of McLaren, which are both a lot less known than the name of the team itself. So, in this case, a headline that mentions the team will be more effective. For example: ‘New team captain for McLaren: ‘’The team will grow explosively” ‘

This way, you focus on the more known topic of the article and you add some emotion to it, which will lead to more clicks on the article.

So what are good ways to write compelling headlines?

  • Use power words in the headline
  • Focus on the edge of a story
  • Leave out information to generate curiosity in the reader
  • Use exciting quotes from the article
  • Use A/B testing to split-test different headlines

How can you use power words to evoke emotion in a headline?

As emotion is such an important factor in the success of headline, it is good to see how you can evoke emotion into a headline.

Power words have a strong emotional connotation and are often used to grab attention and evoke a specific emotion in the reader. Words like: Breakthrough, Deceptive, Betrayal.

Using power words in a headline can immediately grab the reader's attention and create a strong emotional response, which can lead to increased engagement and interest in the content.

Here you will find a list of proven power words that you can use for headlines. Power words can effectively in grabbing the readers' attention but be careful not to overdo it.

Keep in mind that power words should be used sparingly, and only when they're appropriate for the story. Using them too often can make your headlines feel over-the-top or insincere.

Using' the edge' of a story to create a compelling headline

Another good way to write a good headline is to first define what the most exciting part of an article is and then use that 'edge' to base your headline on.

By identifying the edge in the article, you can craft a headline that focuses on this most interesting and exciting aspect of the story. Which can help to grab the reader's attention and draw them in.

For example, if an article is about a new scientific breakthrough, the edge might be the potential impact of the discovery on society. A headline emphasizing this edge, such as "New scientific breakthrough could change the world" would be more compelling and effective than a more general headline, such as "Scientists make new discovery."

How leaving out information of the article in the headline can generate curiosity

Leaving out information in a headline can create a sense of mystery or intrigue that prompts the reader to want to learn more. By omitting certain details or information, the headline becomes more open-ended and encourages the reader to read the article to find out more. This can be an effective way to grab the reader's attention and generate curiosity.

Like for example a headline like: 'FC Barcelona is preparing a 60 million bid on new star player from Arsenal'.

Leaving out the name of the Arsenal player can help generate a lot of clicks as people may be curious to find out who this player is and why they are considered a "new star."

But it is essential to know what information to leave out the headline and what information to include. This will always be a thin line that depends on many factors, but in general, you could say that when a topic generates a lot of emotion or excitement itself it will help the open rate of the headline by naming this topic in your headline. If the player that FC Barcelona is interested in is really controversial then it could be better to include the name of the player in the headline.

Another good reason to include a topic (like a name of the person) in a headline is when this topic has a lot of search volume. Adding this topic to the headline can help the article to attract more search traffic.

Using quotes to create a compelling headline

Using interesting quotes from the article can also be a good way to create a compelling headline by generating excitement and curiosity.

Quotes that are particularly interesting or surprising can grab the reader's attention and make them more interested in reading the article, especially when the quote is thought-provoking or provocative. This can create a sense of excitement or controversy that prompts the reader to want to read on to find out more.

Also, with quotes it can be a good idea to not mention the person behind the quote like in the example below. This will make people curious about who said this and increase the headline's click rate.

Below you find a good example of this.

"I thought: how could I be allowed to play with the Dutch team at the World Cup?"

Using A/B headline testing for headlines

The best way to know which headline works best is, of course, testing it. The CMS of Newsifier has a built-in headline A/B tester.

This tool, built into the CMS of Newsifier, allows you to test two different headlines by showing each to 50% of the visitors for the first five minutes. After this period, the system will compare the number of clicks each headline received and determine the winner. The winning headline will then be displayed to all visitors.

To maximize the effect of this feature, I suggest having a weekly meeting with the entire editorial team to see which headlines performed best in the A/B tests and if you can spot any trends.


In conclusion, the headline of an article is crucial because it is the first thing that readers see, and it determines whether they will click on the article or not. A good headline can grab readers' attention and convince them to read the article, while a boring headline may turn them away. 

In addition to attracting readers, a good headline is also important for SEO because it can help improve the article's ranking in search results and Google Discover.

Good luck!

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