7 Tips to Create Powerful Headlines that Generate Traffic

Helen Chang
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Writing powerful headlines is stressful for both you and your client. Even the best of the best struggle with it like the famous novelist Salman Rushdie.

Before turning his focus to books he learned under David Ogilvy, the “Father of Advertising”. Rushdie, while working as a copywriter, wrote his award-winning novel Midnight’s Children in his free time. He spent hours debating between 2 titles: Children of Midnight or Midnight’s Children.

He probably developed this habit from David Ogilvy, who would write at least 20 headlines before deciding on one. Why spend so much time on just a headline?

According to Ogilvy, five times more people read the headlines versus the body copy. So, if a great novelist spends hours, and the father of advertising writes at least 20 headlines, you must ask: How much effort do you put into writing a headline?

This may seem excessive, but think of it this way. If the headline does not get people to read the first paragraph, then you've wasted countless hours writing the body copy. Now you know where to invest your time, but it’s not going to be easy.

Understand the Nuances of Powerful Headlines that Generate Traffic

A headline is more than a catchy title. Maria Konnikova from The New Yorker explains headlines as setting the correct tone for the reader. Your reader will get their first impression from the headline. It’s similar to looking at the storefront of a restaurant and deciding whether to go in. If the headline does not appeal to the reader, then they will not continue.

The headline should give the prospect an idea of what they're about to read and what benefit they will receive by the end. When the prospect reads the headline, thoughts and prior knowledge about the subject come to mind. It may also trigger questions.

If they are not addressed in the copy, readers will feel mislead from the headline, which will increase the bounce rate. An article published by Bruce Ecker in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, found deceptive headlines hurts the reader’s ability to recall the details in the article.

Once trust is lost, it is next to impossible to get back.

“The most important headline rule is: respect the reader experience. In this era of clickbait, it’s more important than ever to write a headline that delivers on its promise. …you want the reader to have a good experience...” - HubSpot

This next tip will help you to create powerful headlines.

Save the Best for Last

Business coach Meredith Hill coined the phrase, “When you speak to everyone, you speak to no one.” If your headline is not specific enough, your prospect will not feel like they are being addressed directly. This breaks the connection between you and the prospect, causing them to lose interest.

Instead of using a vague headline that targets an entire audience, write to 20-35% of your total traffic. And these leads will be the happiest with your client’s product or service.

How can you do this? Write your headline last.

Working on your headline last will make easier to:

  1. Remove the anxiety of staring at a blank page and draw inspiration from your crossheads.

  2. Imagine who your audience is and what would interest them the most.

  3. Understand the way your audience speaks and communicate with them using their language.

  4. Get a better idea of how to summarize your article into a perfect headline.

  5. Have a headline to match your copy which doesn’t mislead your reader.

A focused headline has a specific reader in mind, catering to one person. Make sure to give the reader the overall idea of what they're getting themselves into. Stay true to the headline and do not diverge from what the reader is expecting.

Where Is Your Audience and How to Talk to Them to Generate Traffic?

As you may have noticed in the previous tip, knowing your audience and their language is key to creating powerful headlines. This is also affected by where they search for information.

There is a saying, “You shouldn’t use the same headline across all platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest or Twitter.” But do you know why?

Buzzsumo analyzed the same headline across multiple platforms. One result showed people are more likely to click “on a budget” on Pinterest versus Facebook. From this, we can conclude that people looking for DIY’s (do it yourself) favor searching for this content on Pinterest.

Having an article that can reach audiences on all platforms is great. But be sure to tweak headlines and parts of your articles between each platform as well. While one headline may excel on Facebook, it may not have the same result on Twitter or Pinterest. Powerful headlines have to be clear for the audience depending on where it’s posted.

Choose Your Words Wisely

There are several ways you can engage your audience. A thorough study was conducted by Buzzsumo for phrases on different platforms. The top headline phrase "will make you" doubled the amount of engagement (8,961), than the runner up "this is why" (4,099).

They pointed out “emotional phrases were consistently effective on Facebook.” Phrases like "tears of joy,” "melt your heart," and "cant' stop laughing,” give the reader an idea of what they’ll get from clicking on the link. It’s important to notice these expectations - joy, overwhelming emotions, and laughter - are benefits.

Your headline should use emotional words, create curiosity, or find other ways to engage your audience. But one thing they must all have is a benefit.

"The headlines which work best are those which promise the reader a benefit." - David Ogilvy

Reassure the reader that he or she will be rewarded for reading your content. Providing your customers with a clear benefit will give higher click through rates and generate more leads.

Magic Number 25

David Ogilvy writes at least 20 headlines before deciding on the special one. So how many should you write?

According to Upworthy, “#25 will be a gift from the headline gods and will make you a legend.” It sparked a challenge that prompted the response of several articles talking about writing 25 headlines to produce the best one.

There is no scientific evidence proving this is true. However, forcing your brain to work through 25 different headlines helps you access your subconscious mind. Then you will come up with powerful headlines ideas that are more original and interesting.

Some of them may be terrible, but you’ll have gone through enough to see the nuances of every word. Analyzing all 25 as a whole, you can compare the words and decide on which ones to keep, switch, or combine to create your winner.

Remember, if 80% of your dollar is spent on the headline, it’s worth investing your time to write at least 25 headlines.

The Other Important Numbers: 6 to 12

A general rule of thumb says powerful headlines should have between 6-12 words. This can vary depending on which platform you intend on posting. Buzzsumo found 9 and 12 words worked best on Facebook and LinkedIn respectively. This still falls into the 6-12 words but is more specific to each platform. A good balance at 12 words worked well on both Facebook and LinkedIn.

If you intend on generating traffic through Google search, it is important to have a maximum of 65 characters, including spaces. Google will only show up to 63 characters. Twitter increased its character limit from 140 to 280, but the most common number of characters used is still 33.

Keep it short and simple.

Foolproof A/B Split Test

With all the information and new statistics coming out, things may start to sound contradictory. HubSpot ran a test in 2013 on specific words, and found the word “you”, decreased click-through-rates (CTR). The word "why" decreased CTR by as much as 37%. Buzzsumo studies from 2017 showed the most activity came from phrases "this is why" and "will make you". These statistics can get very confusing to consider when creating headlines.

So who is right? HubSpot or Buzzsumo?

This is where A/B split testing comes in handy. Focus on finding out what works best with your audience. Try headlines with and without the use of these specific words and see what gives you the best results. 

You can’t go wrong with A/B split testing. As long as you keep testing, eventually you’ll find your winner.


Having a powerful headline that generates traffic is no easy task, but with these 7 tips in mind, you can do so with less anxiety:

  1. The headline will set a tone for the rest of your article

  2. The first thing your reader sees should be the last thing written on your paper

  3. Understand your audience and how to speak to them

  4. Choose specific words for different platforms

  5. Write 25 headlines

  6. Keep your headline within 6-12 words, and characters depend on the platform

  7. Use A/B testing to find your winner

Start out by using these tips to create powerful headlines. For some more headline tips, you can refer to Dan Lok’s Comprehensive Guide for copywriting.

If you feel this is still overwhelming and would like to focus on your business instead, consider reaching out to a professionally trained copywriter.

Helen Chang

Helen Chang is a passionate copywriter. She has a background in Biotechnology and Biomedical Science. Helen loves creating recipes and researching health and fitness.

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