Distilling your article down to the perfect headline is more important than you might think -- a captivating title is absolutely critical to getting eyeballs on your writing. A failed headline is a failed article.
So how does it work? Crafting powerful headlines is part clever copywriting and part psychological manipulation. It’s not about finding the most creative way to say something and it's certainly not about finding a witty cliche. A catchy headline requires a deep understanding of your audience -- an understanding of what will make a reader pause and wonder what’s on the other side of that title.
When drafting your headline, ask yourself how it will capture your audience’s attention. One tried and true copywriting method for this is the “4 U’s rule,” which says that a successful headline must be useful, unique, urgent, and ultra-specific. I’ll first take you through the 4 U’s rule of headline creation and then we’ll see how my title stacks up.
NOTE: Every one of the following four headline characteristics is important, but they cannot all be squished into one title. Instead, pick one of the four adjectives and try to let the others play a supporting role, if possible. A good practice is to come up with four headlines that emphasize different U-characteristics and pick the strongest out of the bunch.
Usefulness is what keeps your audience interested. Your title might draw people in with a unique twist and an urgent message, but it won’t compel them to keep reading if it doesn’t offer an obvious benefit. Your article probably offers a solution or a benefit so make that abundantly clear in your headline.
If I left off the end of my title (“To Get You Clicks”), my article would not suggest the same level of usefulness. You might say, “But that’s so obvious! Of course a catchy headline will get clicks!” And you’d be right. But people aren’t thinking deeply and making connections when they’re skimming over headlines in half a second. Make your benefit clear as day and you’ll get more attention.
Urgency is what makes people open a headline or an email NOW. The strict deadline (50% Off This Weekend Only!) is what makes promotional ads work. Urgency by itself can satisfy the “useful” characteristic, but you want to be careful that you don’t come across as too pushy or salesy.
My title takes advantage of urgency. It suggests that you’ve been wasting your headlines in the past and will waste the one you’re working on right now if you don’t read my article. It's a bit dramatic, but it certainly makes the point effectively (and made you click!)
Specificity is important because it offers a higher level of utility for the reader. However, the drawback of a title that’s too specific is that it doesn’t match with a large enough audience. If I said “How To Write Catchy Medical Headlines That Get Clicks,” it would be a better match for medical professionals but would exclude anyone else who wants to learn about headline creation. You want to get as specific as you can without unnecessarily excluding a key target audience.
Even the number in my headline (4 Psychological Tricks) adds a bit of ultra-specificity that would otherwise not exist. There’s a reason you see this tactic all over the internet, and it's because it works. Psychological tricks are interesting, but 4 of them are more tangible and more intriguing (e.g. “Why not 5 or 3?”)
If your headline isn’t unique, people are going to discount it as just another article sharing the same information. Why would anyone want to read your article if they’ve already seen it before?
My headline has “4 Psychological Tricks” as its unique feature. Without it, you might not have clicked through, assuming that you’d already seen loads just like it. Even the “Don’t Waste Another Headline” bit at the beginning gives this c title a bit of unique flavor.
Remember, the point of a headline is to capture your audience's attention. If your target audience is jaded by a particular type of headline ("9 Weird Tricks...") then that level of ultra-specificity and uniqueness won't work anymore. The 4 U's are wonderful building blocks, but they don't work in a vacuum. Keep tabs on the emotional strings your headline pulls and you'll get a sense for which "U" rule should take the lead.