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Ask HN: How to write great headlines
22 points by grep on June 27, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 18 comments
"According to David Ogilvy (one of the greatest ad men ever), five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy of your advertisement. It may be the only chance you get to make a statement." Source: urbachletter.com

The statement is right for any business. Knowing how to write great headlines for your articles and post is as important as the content.

How do you become good in this "art" ? Do you have any book recommendation, blog posts, tips ?

Study mashable. They use a bunch of patterns that are simple, direct, enticing, appeal to ego/self-improvement (for men) or create an emotional response (for women). Apparently this works superbly w/ their ADD social media targets.

1. "Top X ways to [blah]"

2. "HOW TO: Find the greatest [blah]"

3. "[blah] will save you time/money"

4. "[apple product] [blah]"

5. "X finally becomes cool"

6. "X + Y = [blah]"

7. "World's cutest kittehs: [blah]"

8. "[Big company/other trusted/loved/hated party] [blah]"


These kinds of posts is a reason I hate reading mashable. Well, not really hate, but prefer other blogs over them because the content is of lesser quality.

Agreed but HN readers are not their primary targets. For an INTJ the key to mass marketing is to understand why patterns that you don't like work on people unlike you.

P.S. I'm not sorry for not using another pattern on you.

Test your headline with a short Adwords campaing to find out what version works best. Tim Ferris did this for his book "The 4 hour workweek"

http://www.smartpassiveincome.com/read-this-post-to-find-out... Increased conversion rate from 0.3% to 4% in only on hour by adding the words get/download in a max 80 signs ad.

List of Call to action phrases:

    * Get…
    * Download…
    * Click Here to…
    * Press the…
    * Enter your…
http://www.beaconlearningcenter.com/documents/972_01.pdf Don't throw away the junk mail:

1. Guilt: “Because of the way blah blah blah has been treated, you owe it to them to help.”

2. Patriotism: “The American way of life may disappear if you do not support us on this.”

3. Greed: “You could earn 10,000 dollars just by sending us 10 dollars. Don’t miss out on this opportunity. Act Now!”

4. Compassion: “For just 36 cents a day you could help this starving child.”

5. Snobbery: “You are among the few hand selected people to receive this special offer!! “

Other Resources:



Here's a process that's worked for me:

1. Lay out a few general themes you think will resonate with the user/reader.

  - What problem does this solve?

  - What's the end result?

  - What's the most interesting nugget of info here?
2. Write a few headlines for each of your overarching themes.

3. Take each and edit for clarity. This usually (but not always) means choosing simpler words and shorter phrases.

4. Finally, take your best headline from 2-3 themes and split-test them to see which is most effective.

With this process you'll get data to help you write better headlines and you'll gain a deeper understanding of your user/reader.

I am not sure for a blog or article, but since you are asking on HN, I for one would like to see less sensationalism and more straightfoward, objective summaries. Less "linkbait".

Read copywriting books:

  -David Ogilvy
  -John Caples
  -Claude Hopkins
  -Eugene Schwartz
Many of these have large sections devoted exclusively to writing headlines.

Better Headlines thru... Cosmo and Twitter?

This is going to sound stupid, but if you really want to learn how to write for the internet, read Cosmo. Yes, the magazine with the quizzes and the sex tips. Their headlines are excellent, if somewhat insulting to intelligent people.

The other thing is that it's great for learning to connect headlines back to quantitative results, so you can see what works and what doesn't. For instance, tweet a link once a week w/ a different headline and a shortened link, and track the click-thru against the headline. This is a great way to learn to write headlines.

Also check out Neil Patel's blogging and copyblogger. Both of those should be read at both the content level (ie what is he actually saying) and at the meta-level (ie how does he use his headline? What sort of structure does he use?)

http://www.infomarketingblog.com is a good place to start. The author is a copywriter who aggregates successful ads (e.g. the ones with measurable results, that get used again and again). I've read it from start to finish a couple times.

Start with this one, which answers your question at length:


Read "Made to Stick". Here's a summary of the book:

Sticky ideas:

1. are simple 2. are unexpected 3. are concrete 4. are credible 5. elicit emotion 6. tell stories


Next, google "Linkbait titles" and spend a few hours reading the top 20 results or so.

Reading it now actually. Wow, great book...!

Practice, practice, practice.. it's the 10,000 hour thing, but magnified. Back in the dot com boom, I was first a writer and then an editor and yet while I excelled with the writing, my titles sucked and were always rewritten! A decade later, I'm finally getting some great headlines now and then and I've been trying hard.

http://www.copyblogger.com/ is an interesting read on that topic.

Spend some minutes thinking about how people talk/search about your topic then include some keywords in the title. It does help if what you want is traffic.

Get a blog and a Twitter account and just start. Soon enough you will discover what works

Well you could read David Ogilvy's book... or you could ask a bunch of hackers who don't generally pay that much attention to such things.

Just an idea.

Thanks for the book suggestion!

On your idea: this is on HN homepage, so it appears the bunch of hackers could be actually paying more attention to such things than you seem to believe.

Yes, and the answers are either pure (crummy) tactics ("X Crazy Cat Pictures!") or sensible book recommendations which barely get any votes. It turned into a "wahh I hate when people use these tactics on me, I am a super brain and I don't like that they work" brouhaha.

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