Let me guess:
As an SEO specialist, you craft headlines with only one formula in mind: It should contain a target keyword. This formula is perfect for search engines to see and rank your content, but what about the audience?
Is your keyword in a headline enough to hook users and make them click?
Like it or not, a headline is what determines how many people click and read your SEO content. Even if your texts are unique, comprehensive, and fully optimized, poor headlines will destroy their chances for success. Advertising guru David Ogilvy nailed it a long time ago:
On average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy.
It means only two out of ten people will read your SEO text, while eight out of ten users will read the headline itself. More than that, people tend to absorb the first three words and the last three words of a headline, so we need to build them accordingly.
Below you'll find 20+ headline formulas that hook readers and motivate them to click. Feel free to use them for your SEO content, but ensure you avoid clickbait: relevancy is a must.
First, let's find out what makes people click. What is so special about those two out of ten headlines they choose to open and continue reading?
They stand on either the 4 U’s formula or psychological tricks a writer builds in a headline to make them irresistibly clickable.
It's an oldy-moldy headline formula copywriters and web writers use to make the content sound more powerful. Four U's here are as follows:
- Urgent, addressing people's FOMO (fear of missing out) and convincing them to open the content.
- Unique, demonstrating what makes this content different from others writing on the same topic.
- Useful, offering something that provides benefit for the audience.
- Ultra-specific, increasing the usefulness of your content and making it more compelling.
You don't have to use all the components to make a powerful headline. But the more attributes you put together, the more effective your headline will be.
Example: You Could Lose 10 Pounds in 10 Days If You Love Pineapples
It's useful (promising to help with weight loss), unique and ultra-specific (focusing on those who love pineapples), but less urgent as it's not time-sensitive.
In the case of SEO texts, the extra component of this formula will be your target keyword.
Example: Get a Free Investment Plan from Experts with 15 Years of Experience in a Day
It's urgent ("in a day"), unique and specific (promising a plan from experienced specialists), and useful (providing a free plan). And, as you've probably guessed, it specifies a keyword: free investment plan.
Back in 2014, Courtney Seiter from Buffer nailed it:
Specific headline formulas work because they appeal to human psychology. By using particular lexical items, parts of speech, and stylistic devices, a writer activates brain areas responsible for experiences, thus motivating readers to act (click for further investigation).
Courtney described the eight psychological tricks in detail:
- Surprise: Present something unexpected that will capture attention.
- Questions: Prime curiosity, springing the brain into wondering about the answer.
- Curiosity: Close the gap between what your audience knows and what they want to know.
- Negatives: Try words like "worst," "never," "stop," "don't," or "avoid" in headlines. They have more power because they address our insecurities: We want to read and find out if there's something we do wrong or should stop doing.
- How-to: Help the audience get a sense of order and gain control over something.
- Numbers: Use numbers in headlines because they provide predictability. The human brain dislikes uncertainty.
- Specificity: Add specific facts, not broad statements, to your headlines. Therefore, you'll appeal to the "What's in there for me?" question a user subconsciously asks when deciding if they want to continue reading.
- Referencing: Include your audience in headlines, making them feel like, "Oh, that's for me!"
And now, for the list of headline types you've come here to see.
Let's get to the headline formulas you can save and use for your SEO content whenever relevant. They aren't that difficult to customize, but please do your best to find a proper keyword to include there.
This one is among the most common headline formulas that work for SEO, and it looks like this:
Numbers + Adjective + Target Keyword + Rationale + Promise
Its big plus is that it has all the components for a headline's success and can be customized according to the 4U formula, with psychological elements to trigger the audience.
When you start a headline with "Who Else Wants..," you provide the audience with social proof, so critical for their motivation to choose your content. It signals that there is someone who's already tried and got it, so it's worth checking to see if it's something you can use.
- Who Else Wants to Get More Traffic from Guest Blogging?
- Who Else Wants Lose 10 Pounds in a Week?
- Who Else Wants More Readers to Share Their Blog Posts?
The word "secret" in a headline grabs readers' attention, stimulating their curiosity and inviting them to click to find out some "not for everyone" information.
This headline is perfect to use when you share insights, rare techniques or strategies, or practical tips that can be of benefit to the audience.
- The Secret of Writing an SEO Text That Brings Clicks
- The Secret of Getting A+ for Your College Essay
Another headline formula with the same effect to try is "The Truth About
- The Truth About Guest Blogging for Link-Building
- The Truth About a Paleo Diet from Experts
Lists are about an order, and that is why the human brain loves them: We hate chaos, and we need something that dampens this anxiety and gives us a structure. People process lists more efficiently, retaining them with little effort.
It's also a trick to grab a user's interest. They'll go to check if they knew about ALL the items from there because there's always a chance of missing something, right?
You can take a step further and strengthen your headline with a subhead evoking a user's curiosity.
Example: Top 5 Ways to Boost Organic Traffic. Most SEOs Are Lazy to Try #4
First, it's about questions we are subconsciously trying to answer when we see them. A user will want to click to find out if they were right.
(Source: Why SEO Never Ends)
And second, such headlines signal a reader an opportunity to learn new information. The trick is to address your target audience's pain points in a headline: They'll hardly click if you write about something they don't need (or want) to know.
As already mentioned, how-to headlines are super popular as they provide the audience with a sense of order and help them gain control over something. The "Help You Succeed" detail is about a personal benefit: A reader wants to find out what they can do to solve their problem and become better.
And again, it's all about curiosity, questions, and referencing — headline strategies backed by psychology.
- How Failure Can Help You Succeed
- How Everyday Writing a Diary Can Help You Succeed
This formula works best for self-development, mindfulness, psychology, or self-growth content. It's more about personal success, not a professional one.
It's also a list, but this formula is not about a number but interesting adjectives or unique nouns in headlines: They grab attention, are more memorable, and help you highlight a headline among dozens of same-looking content assets others share.
- 10 Captivating Photos That Will Make You Love Your Legs
- The Life-Changing Magic of Writing a Diary
- Three Rock-Solid Reasons to Write an Ebook
This one is about the curiosity gap again. Users will click such headlines, but your task here is to avoid making it clickbait. Your SEO content should be super-relevant and provide compelling information on the topic.
Otherwise, you'll disappoint the audience — and they won't trust your content anymore.
- What Neil Patel Doesn't Want You to Know About SEO
- What English Teachers Will Never Tell You About Their Work
(Source: Narrative Essay: Inside Out)
This headline has everything to hook a reader: It's short (remember the info that people tend to absorb the first three words of a headline from the intro?), it contains keywords, and it provides a rationale ("inside out") to click and continue investigating.
Here goes another example:
(Source: Video SEO: The Best Practices)
Such headlines are about promise: Users will click to find arguments or counterarguments about their fears, doubts, or beliefs. They'll want you to confirm or dispel their thoughts.
- Why Growing Up Isn't as Bad as You Think
- Why Spider-Man 3 Isn't as Bad as You Think
- Why Palm Oils Isn't as Bad as You Think
This formula is about addressing FOMO, aka the fear of missing out. Users will click to ensure they already know everything you cover in the article or learn something new to become one of "everyone" who knows it.
- What Everyone Should Know About Ranktracker
- What Everyone Should Know About HARO for Link-Building
People love quick and easy ways to solve their problems, and that's actually what they want to find when coming online. Your headline with words like "easy," "simple," "quick," etc. is a trigger to click and check.
Alternative formulas to try here:
- 5 Minutes to a Better
- The Lazy
- Here's a Quick Way to
- 5 Minutes to a Better Headline Writing
- Here's a Quick Way to Get into Google Snippets
- The Lazy Blogger's Way to Publish Content Every Week
Such a headline promises a super-comprehensive piece of evergreen content for users to check when they need to know everything about a topic. And big chances are they will refer to such content many times, which means more clicks, traffic, and conversion.
It stands to reason that the content itself should be comprehensive and full of insights. The headline alone won't help: A visitor clicks, sees poor or irrelevant content, and leaves; as a result, your bounce rate grows, dwell time suffers, and the overall SEO results get worse.
This type of headline draws big curiosity, motivating users to click and check if they are doing something wrong or missing something.
Another headline formula to try here: What Everybody Ought to Know About
____________. (It reminds the "What Everyone Should Know About
- What Everybody Ought to Know About Sensible SEO
- What Everybody Ought to Know About Writing Great Headlines
Such a headline is about both the curiosity gap and social proof, which make it work. (If you satisfy user search intent, of course.)
- Here's What Happens When You Drink Protein
- Here's What Happens When You Publish Topic Clusters to Your Blog
Another headline formula to try here: Case Studies That Prove
- Case Studies That Prove Topic Clusters Work for SEO
- Case Studies That Prove Video Content's Impact on Marketing
An alternative variant: Before You
__________, Read This Post.
- Before You Try Topic Clusters for SEO, Read This Post
- Before You Start Your First WordPress Blog, Read This Post
It will work as an added value for users. Write a headline and highlight a little extra to increase curiosity and evoke a motivation to click and check what's in there inside.
- How to Proofread an Essay (+ Little Tricks Most Writers Ignore)
- 7 Alternative Ways to Build an Instagram Following (We Try #3 Today)
Another headline formula to try here: Headline + Subhead. You start with an opener, place a colon, and add a subhead that helps readers understand the worthiness of your content.
- Book Quiz: Can You Guess the Writer?
- Greek Life in College: Benefits and Considerations for Students
- SEO for Restaurants: 7 Details to Remember
The "Do something like" formula is perfect for making users feel accession and participation in something. Consider your target audience's interests when choosing a motivator.
- Do SEO Like Brian Dean
- Speak Spanish Like a Diplomat
- Blog Like an A-Lister
This headline formula is a powerful attention grabber. After all, no one wants to make mistakes, looking for methods and opportunities to avoid them, right?
- Do You Make These Mistakes in SEO?
- Do You Make These WordPress Mistakes?
- Numbers + Adjective + Target Keyword + Rationale + Promise
- Who Else Wants
- The Secret of
- The Truth About
- Top X Ways to
________Can Help You Succeed
- X Genius Hacks That Will Help You
_______Doesn't Want You to Know
- The mini-headline: 4 words or fewer
__________Isn't as Bad as You Think
- What Everyone Should Know About
- 5 Minutes to a Better
- The Lazy
- Here's a Quick Way to
- The Ultimate List/Guide to
- X Things I Wish I Had Known About
- What Everybody Ought to Know About
- Here is What Happens When
- Case Studies That Prove
- Before You
__________, Read This Post
- Headline + Little Extra
- Headline + Subhead
___________Like a Pro
- Do You Make These Mistakes?
- Headlines do influence conversion: Sometimes, it's enough to change a headline but leave an old text — and the results will surprise you.
- There's no headline formula that works for everyone. Sometimes, one word can grab more attention than the whole sentence.
- Your headline will change depending on the channel you use for content promotion: Short and intriguing headlines are perfect for automated email sequences; properly-place keywords are critical for contextual ads; landing pages need headlines motivating users to read the first sentence.
Now that you have so many headline formulas in your pocket, it's time to start practicing and see which one will work best for your SEO goals.