Must-Click Headlines

On average, five times as many people read your headline as read your body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar. – David Ogilvy

This sobering data means that 80% of your subscribers will look at your headline while only 20% of potential readers will click through to read the article.


We’ve all become “scanners” that favor visuals over text. Almost all of us scan our emails, mail, articles, and social media. In a “scan” world, headlines need to grab your attention and make you want to read on. If you blow the headline, the stakes are pretty high. Your article, blog, email, or post won’t, change a mind, get shared, generate a click-through or donation, or recruit an advocate.

Want to have impact? Start by writing irresistible headlines and posting stunning visuals.

In an ideal world, you’re testing every headline and subject line. Who lives in an ideal world? Below we share some top tips, formulas, and extra resources you can start using immediately to write irresistible “must-click” headlines that increase your click-throughs.

What’s a great headline?
A great headline is one that gets the highest click-throughs. A study of what generates the highest click-throughs finds that headlines work best when they:

  • Tap into the needs, wants, hopes or fears of your readers
  • Present a clear and specific benefit to your readers
  • Inspire curiosity in your readers (and the only way to satisfy that curiosity is to click)

Here’s how to write irresistible headlines and subject lines on a consistent basis …

1. Master Formula for Clickable Headlines
This formula alone will make your life easier and your headlines better. Scroll down further in this blog post for valuable targeted formulas for different types of headlines.

2.      Six More Tips to Help You Write Powerful Headlines

  • Write at least 25 headlines for every article before choosing your final headline copy – you’re probably doing this anyway
  • Shamelessly “draft” on hot topics … right now “bracketology” is hot topic. It’s okay, even ideal, to leverage people’s interest or obsession with a salient topic to bring attention to your cause. In fact, people will appreciate a clever tie-in
  • Use Title Case – Test whether using a “sentence case” or “title case” works best for your audience. If you can’t test, then know this: 15 of the top 25 blogs on Technorati use the “title case” where the first letter of every word is capitalized. (hint hint)
  • Deliver On Your Promise. Copy must always deliver on headline promise. Baiting with  misleading headlines, e.g. “Cutest Cat Video Ever” when your content is about predatory lending practices, might work once or twice, but it definitely hurts your click-throughs in the long run
  • Use Keywords – If SEO is key to your new supporter acquisition, lead with your keywords as much as possible. Search engine crawlers pick keywords up from headlines.
  • Added Alliterative Appeal and Single Words Work. Pithy headlines and subject lines are often effective, especially if you have emotive word(s) such as “thorny” “ammo” “bandaged baby” “colon cancer conundrum.” Be sure to follow all other tips if you use a single word or alliteration.
  • There are no new ideas. Just old ideas recycled in new and interesting ways. We shared this theme in last week’s post on how to come up with a new idea: become an astute observer of what is already working and adapt it to work for you. Here’s how:
    • Keep a file of magazine headlines
    • Articles that are shared by your friends 
    • Amazon non-fiction “best sellers” list is chalk full of effective titles

3.  Formulas for Writing Effective Headlines

You can download this formula worksheet from Slideshare.

Download Headlines That Get Clicked from Slideshare

4.  More Resources and Reference Material