Copywriting

4 simple steps to writing catchy headlines

These days, the internet is littered with content. Reading everything that comes across my screen would be a tall order. Which is why I base my decision to read an article or blog post on the following:

  • Do I like the writer? Some people I’ve followed a long time and will read no matter what they write about.
  • Does the site consistently publish good content? For example, Vice always puts an interesting spin on things.
  • Did someone recommend it? If so, I’ll almost always take a moment to read it.

Everything else out there has to compete for my attention. This isn’t just me on my high horse. Other people are the same.

According to a Moz study, 80 percent of people won’t read past the headline. That means for every 10 people who visit your site, only 2 of them will stick around to read that blog post you poured your hard work into.

A catchy headline can make all the difference. It can easily make that number 3, 4, or even 5 out of every 10 visitors.

Getting those extra clicks can go a long way in getting you more traffic and email subscribers.

Today, I want to share 4 steps to writing catchy headlines. Follow these and watch your blog posts instantly get more clicks, shares, and likes.

Step 1: Frontload the work

Our CEO and founder, Ramit Sethi, has a concept that he calls frontloading the work. In short, it means that if you do more of the unsexy work upfront — work that most people aren’t willing to do — you can reap disproportionate rewards later.

This concept also applies to writing catchy headlines.

The editors at GrowthLab love to use a tool called BuzzSumo. What’s great about this tool is that it lets you identify high-performing content for any topic or competitor.

Let’s say we wanted to research content on “writing headlines.” This is what BuzzSumo spits out:



BuzzSumo analyzes popular content on any topic.

As you can see, the second result is a news story. For GrowthLab’s purposes, it’s not relevant. The third result wasn’t that popular, so we’ll look mainly at the first result.

We see that “6 Tips for Writing Headlines that Drive Traffic” is an article from Social Media Examiner that got a lot of engagement.

Now we can latch onto that to create something that has a good chance of being popular.

For me, “tips” implies a smorgasbord of advice that might not have any logic to it. Which is why we decided to write this article as more of a how-to. We want to make a promise to people upfront, “Hey, read this article, and by the end of it, you’ll have a great headline.”

We could’ve also flipped the Social Media Examiner post into a negative emotion and wrote an article “6 Headline Mistakes That Kill Web Traffic.”

The point is this: You don’t have to take a wild guess at what’s going to be popular. By following the anecdotal evidence, you can improve the chances of writing a blog post that resonates with people.

And there’s no excuse to skip this step. BuzzSumo lets you try the tool for free. You get a daily limit on the number of terms you can research, and you won’t see all the results. But for a solopreneur, this is more than enough to get started.

Step 2: Draft multiple headlines

Professional content and copywriters always draft multiple headlines for anything they write. Upworthy drafts a minimum of 25 headlines for every single post they publish. That’s insane!

But if you think about it, their business depends on getting clicks and page views. So it’s worth every ounce of effort for them.

Thankfully, if your goal is to build a base of loyal email subscribers, you won’t need to write that many headlines. But writing multiple ones is still a great habit to get into.

This gives you the best chance that one of them will be a winner.

Here are 5 formulas that’ll help you easily crank out a few headlines.

  1. The classic “how to” – Example: How to write catchy headlines
  2. A list post – 4 simple steps to writing catchy headlines
  3. Ask a compelling question – How do some blogs always create viral content?
  4. Tell a story – I wrote 5 different headlines as an experiment. You won’t believe what happened next…
  5. Give a command – Use this headline formula to get more clicks, shares, and likes

Note: If you’re running a site, you have to decide what types of headlines feel on-brand. Headline #4, “I wrote 5 different headlines as an experiment. You won’t believe what happened next…” has a clickbait feel to it. I know the editors at GrowthLab would never run something like that. But other sites would have no problem with that — it works for them.

Just because something is popular and it works, doesn’t mean you have to do it. That’s the beauty of running an online business. You get to build a different kind of business.

Step 3: Test BEFORE you hit publish

Now we’re getting closer to having a catchy headline that gets clicks. The next step is to test your efforts before you go live with anything.

This will boost your chances of success.

For that, we have a tool called the EMV Headline Analyzer. You can plug in any of your headline options, and it’ll give you a score on how strong it is.

Here are the results on my efforts from above:















And according to the EMV Headline Analyzer:

Most professional copywriters’ headlines will have 30%-40% EMV Words in their headlines, while the most gifted copywriters will have 50%-75% EMV words in headlines.

A perfect score would be 100%, but that is rare unless your headline is less than five words.

As you can see, I’m in the gifted copywriter category since I created a headline that has a score of 50%.

All joking aside, you can see that three options were head and shoulders above the rest. But part of this assignment was to make sure the words “catchy headline” are in the title. Unfortunately, that takes the headline with a score of 50% off the table. (I tried variations with the words “catchy headline,” and they scored low.)

“How to write catchy headlines” scored the second highest, but here’s where your intuition comes in. Technically, it’s a strong headline, but it’s not as, well, catchy as the next highest-scoring headline: “4 simple steps to writing catchy headlines.” In the end, we decided to go with that one.

Another reason a headline might get the axe is because it isn’t conversational enough. It doesn’t matter how high a headline scored, if it doesn’t sound like a person would say it, we won’t publish it.

Again, these are our guidelines for publishing. Other sites might be okay with robotic headlines. Your site. Your call.

Now that you have a strong headline you can finally hit publish. But this is just the beginning. Which brings me to my next point.

Step 4: Track your own results

Frontloading the work and testing your headlines is great, but you’ll find it only gets you so far. Different audiences can be fickle. After publishing multiple blog posts with various catchy headlines, you start to get a pulse on your readers. You know what types of content will resonate most with them.

For example, I don’t think it’s an accident that Nerd Fitness has an abundance of success stories on their site. And I don’t think it’s an accident that personal development blogger, Mark Manson, has posts on 10 life lessons from surviving my 20s, as well as 10 life lessons to excel in your 30s.

They simply focused on publishing great content, with great headlines, tracked their results, and doubled down on what worked best.

Now that you have the lessons from this post, you can do the same.

GrowthLab’s Ultimate Guide to Email Copywriting