5 Ways to Power Up Your Blog Headlines

How to write effective blog headlines

Day 8 of the A-Z challenge.

H is for Headlines

Do you wrestle to find the perfect headlines for your blog posts?

I do. Even with eight years of blogging under my belt, this is still one of my most challenging activities. 

Why? 

Because I know they can be the most important words I write in the whole post.

The headline is the first thing readers see. The pace of life is so busy today that people make decisions in seconds. If my headline doesn’t immediately interest, amuse or intrigue them, they may never read the rest of the post. And all my efforts will have been in vain. 

The good news is that there is a wealth of advice out there in cyberspace about how to write effective headlines. I’ve boiled this down to 5 tips.

As always, the relevance of these tips will depend on why you blog

These tips will primarily be of interest if you’re trying to build followers and regularly take part in memes or write discussion posts. Tip number four will be of particular interest.

1. Be specific, not general 

In other words, don’t make your headline too vague, or try to be too clever. Tell your readers exactly what they will discover if they read on. 

Here’s what Darren Rowse of ProBlogger has to say on this. 

A post titled ‘More Reader Engagement’ could mean almost anything. But a post titled ‘Five Ways to Encourage Readers to Comment More Often on Your Posts’ is clear and specific. If you see that title on Twitter or in your email inbox, you’ll know exactly what you’ll get from that post.

I know I’ve fallen into the trap of trying to be too clever sometimes, going for headlines for example that rely on wordplay. They seldom worked.

I’m talking about something far simpler, but just as effective.

2. Use Powerful Words

Powerful words and phrases work well in headlines. They grab the attention and create an emotional pull or inspire people to take action.

Examples of words adding power and effectiveness to blog headlines

The examples above are ones I think could be used in book reviews if you use them in combination with the book title and author name.

Some of the words/phrases you see recommended frequently would be more suited to other kinds kinds of content – like a list post, or a discussion article. If you never write these types of post you can skip the next few paragraphs and go straight to tip number 3!

But for other readers, let’s give some categories of word groups you could find useful.

First up are those groups that promise the blog post will tell the reader something they don’t know. This is quite a popular option which works because it suggests you have expertise and are ready to share it with your readers. So use words such as Secret, Little known as in …

10 Little Known Gems of Irish Literature

Other groups might promise speed or convenience: Speedy, Quick, Simple, Straightforward as in

Quick Guide to Historical Fiction

Or you could use words that indicate the post offers a comprehensive perspective: Complete, Ultimate as in

Ultimate Guide to Welsh Authors

There’s also a group of words that you could use to alert readers to something: Warning; Red Flag, Mistake. As an example:

5 Mistakes To Avoid As A Book Blogger

By the way, headlines that contain a number are very effective. They intrigue readers (who doesn’t love a list?) and give the impression that the content will be quick to read.

One word of caution with all “power” words: you have to make sure your blog article backs up the claim. Don’t claim something is a quick guide and then write 3,000 words! Or say something is an ultimate guide and write only 600 words.

3. Watch The Word Count

There’s a school of thought that says the most effective blog headlines are those 5-10 words long or have 50-80 characters. Other experts at Co-Schedule say headlines with approx 6 words or around 55 characters tend to earn the highest number of clicks.

There isn’t really a hard and fast rule. But generally shorter headlines tend to do better than longer ones, particularly with readers who are getting your blog feed via their phones where the screen size will often chop off the last few words.

One other factor to bear in mind. Research has shown that when people skim content they tend to read the first and last three words of a headline. They’re not consciously doing this – it’s just the way we read text on a page or a screen.

However many words you put into your headline, use the most important words (your keywords) first and last. More about keywords in a later post.

4. Try “Why” … Headlines

These are the posts which begin with “Why”

Why You Should Read XYZ Without Delay

Why XYZ Should Win the ABC Award

Why XYZ Is The Best Book I’ve Read All Year

They work I think because they suggest that the blog post is going to be an answer to a question your reader is considering. They imply you have good knowledge or insight about the question.

5. Add Square Brackets to Headlines

A number of bloggers I follow are already using this technique. I’ve not really understood the purpose until now. But reading up on how to create effective headlines, has persuaded me that this is a technique well worth trying.

The idea is to add the square brackets to the end of your title to give readers an indication of the kind of content they will read in your post. For book bloggers the most common usage would be to add [Book Review] to the headline.

The Challenge

I’ve found these tips helpful when I’ve written list posts or discussion posts. Using them to write headlines for review has been more of a challenge. It’s difficult to reconcile all the tips.

For example…

If you want to use the book title and author name as part of the headline but also want some of the “powerful words”, the headline becomes longer than the recommended 5-10 words. Adding [book review] makes it even longer.

If you don’t use the book title/author name and instead go for an eye-catching title using those emotive words or the “Why…” type, it could fall foul of the “Specific not General” tip. I ran into this issue with I chose “Haunted by A Gentle Survivor [Review]” as the title for my review of Robert Seethaler’s A Whole Life. And also when I wrote “Touching tale of dignity and vulnerability [book review]” for my review of Alys Conran’s Pigeon.

I was so pleased with myself when I wrote those headlines. But looking back on them now, I can see they are flawed because they’re not clear enough for the reader.

I suspect this is a question I’m still going to be wrestling with for a long time.

Join The Discussion

Do you struggle with headlines? Have you found any solutions beyond the tips mentioned here. Leave me a comment below to share some of your experiences.

About BookerTalk

What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

Posted on April 9, 2020, in Blogging and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 25 Comments.

  1. Sheree @ Keeping Up With The Penguins

    I’ve found perusing Pinterest is really good training for writing headlines. Whenever I find myself drawn to click through on something, I ask myself why, and that’s usually a good indication that the headline is effective. I think the trick is not to overthink it, if we get caught up in too many “rules” for “best practices” we’ll drive ourselves nuts. Something simple, declarative, and descriptive – “10 Uplifting Books To Read During Quarantine” or “Little Women by Louisa May Alcott – Book Review” are fine, and we needn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. 🙂

  2. I gave up “witty” titles and went for the book title and a few key words.
    I don’t know if it’s more effective or not but it more practical for me.

    I don’t have time to mull over titles, my blogging time is too limited for that.

  3. Tricky… I used to just go for book title and author or maybe something that indicated what I was writing about. Now I try to think outside the box, and I try to include either hashtags or Twitter handles because my posts automatically tweet when they go live. I often use what I think is an interesting quote, although I suspect they’re probably too long. But since my blog is not going for the latest bestseller or trying to suggest a number of things my readers should do, it probably doesn’t matter! 😀

    • Other than the reason you give, I don’t think I’ve seen anywhere an indication that there is value in having the hashtag or @ in a title. Personally I don’t have my set up to Tweet automatically. I’d rather use the word count for something else.

    • on WordPress, you can can the contect of what’s going to be published on Twitter before you clik on the “publish” button.
      I usually do that to add “New billet:” before the title of the post and hashtags and other Twitter addressees.

  4. The square brackets is a new idea to me – I’m not sure what I think but might be tempted to give it a try.

  5. The brackets tip was a new idea for me. Hmmm.

  6. I always start with author and title followed by a subtitle. It’s the subtitle that I find tricky. My aim is to give readers a flavour of the book. I’m with Kim about clickbait headlines and Mary on exhortations. I ignore those unless they’re from a blogger I follow.

    • The title/book and subtitle approach is an interesting one. I think I have done that a few times but in reverse order – ie put the title of the book and author second.

  7. I was a magazine headline writer for very many years. There were all kinds of rules and conventions dictated by space limitations, style guides and tradition. Their aim was to summarise an article and / or get people to read the article.

    Interesting you don’t mention SEO in your piece. That is the MAJOR difference between print media headlines and online headlines. The words you use in your blog headlines are what search engines will use to find your blog post. That’s why my headlines are only ever the book title and the author’s name because that’s largely all anyone will ever search for if they are looking for a review of a particular book. You can craft the most interesting / clever headline but if you’re not using key words that will be picked up by search engines you are wasting your time.

    Also, don’t get me started on click bait headlines. A lot of those “ultimate guide” type ones are just click bait. I’m always disappointed by them as they never live up to the promise.

    • How embarrassing. I meant to mention SEO but in the scramble to finish the post before bedtime, I overlooked it. Thanks for highlighting that Kim and sharing your expertise. i had a long discussion with one blogging advisor about this in relation to headlines. His line of thought was that you shouldn’t worry about SEO when you are trying to build a following – concentrate more on commenting and social interaction. I don’t entirely buy that. But nor do I buy into the idea that you should write your content with Keywords uppermost in your mind.

  8. Love this compelling topic! I’ve been stumped in making my book review headlines compelling! I’d love to see even more examples! I’m not sure I understand the brackets suggestion. I’ve been using the book title followed by a colon followed by the word “review”…..why is a bracket better??

  9. I will be thinking about my headline all the time…. Even after writing one, I will change it again…. Those people are amazing who can write catchy headlines…

  10. I’m sorry, I don’t read headlines. I follow about as many blogs as I can keep up with and I read all their posts even if I don’t always comment (or press Like). In passing – I always click through to the blogger’s site, so they get a click, rather than just read the email.

    • I like the idea of just clicking so there is a benefit to the blogger even if you don’t have much to say. I suppose that’s why some people use the like button

  11. Here’s one of my pet peeves (and I admit this is probably just me), but I HATE headlines that tell me what I should do. “Books everyone should read right now”–nope. I won’t even skim that post. My mother always told me I was too headstrong, but then she was always telling me what I should do . . .

We're all friends here. Come and join the conversation

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: