What makes a clickable headline

A piece of paper in a type writer which has the word 'news' written at the top.
Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

People will decide whether to click on a story or article based on the headline.

You could write a brilliant article, blog post or press release, but if the headline doesn’t ‘sell’ the content to your target audience, it won’t matter.

Think of all the headlines you scroll past vs what you click on to read.

Headlines are so important that some national newspapers and magazines have specialist writers called sub-editors to create them.

So what makes a clickable headline?

Different styles work for different types of content, but the key is creating some intrigue or tapping into an emotion or need.

Headlines also need to give enough information so that the reader knows what they’ll get from reading on.

Here are four headline examples and a breakdown of how they work:

1. Pique interest news headline

This headline, from the North West Business Insider, tells the reader enough, so they know what the story is about but leaves out certain information to help create curiosity.

It tells the reader that it is a development deal, the size of the deal and where it is. What it doesn’t say is who was involved in the deal, the type of development and the details of the transaction.

To find that information, the reader has to click through to the story.

News headlines are a balancing act. Reveal too much, and there is no reason to click through; reveal too little, and curiosity isn’t pricked.

2. Challenge or surprise headline

Presenting a statement in a headline that is incongruous with common thinking or trend is a great way of getting people clicking to read on.

This headline on a LinkedIn article by Daniel Paulusma creates different levels of intrigue depending on your views of hybrid working.

It appears to challenge the thinking of advocates of hybrid working, potentially highlighting something they’ve missed: Am I wrong? ‘What is the evidence?’

Simultaneously, this headline initially appears to support proponents of office working.

Readers may click through to find information which reinforces or reflects their view. It is natural to gravitate to information that supports our thinking.

But there is another layer of intrigue at play here, if you follow Daniel Paulusma on LinkedIn you’ll know he is an advocate for hybrid working.

In the headline, he appears to be challenging his own thinking, which makes it stand out to those who follow him on LinkedIn.

If you have a content strategy that highlights topic experts in your business, adding in a ‘challenge/surprise’ headline can be a good way to stop the scroll.

However, make sure the article lives up to the statement, even if, ultimately, your position hasn’t completely changed.

3. Build knowledge headline

Identifying potential knowledge gaps and suggesting what readers will learn by clicking through can make a good headline.

This headline, taken from The Guardian website, in using the word ‘truth’, suggests a revelation even for those who think they understand the influencer economy.

An alternative is to suggest a list of information potentially missing from people’s knowledge.

For example, three ways the influencer economy drives business, three failures in the influencer economy, or three things you didn’t know about the influencer economy.

There are lots of applications for this style of headline, here are a few suggestions:

• X facts you didn’t know about…

• X details that are missing from

• X reasons why…

You get the idea, but don’t overuse.

4. Puns or play on words in headlines

Incorporating a play on words or puns can make a headline stand out.

This headline is a pun on tweet/sweet, but most importantly, it still tells the reader who the story is about (Elon Musk), how much he paid and for what.

And that is the key here. Clever headlines still need to work out of context and include keywords for search engine optimisation.

Tabloid newspapers use puns and play on words to great effect in print editions. However, these stories are accompanied by a photo and sometimes a subheading which help tell readers what it is about.

They won’t necessarily use the same headline when the same story appears on their website.

For example, when the first Covid vaccine was approved, one tabloid used ‘The needle has landed’ as its print headline. It was accompanied by a picture of a syringe.

If someone was Googling stories about Covid vaccines, they wouldn’t use the term ‘needle’, so the headline on the newspaper’s website was less playful and included words such as ‘Covid’ and ‘vaccine’.

Final thoughts on clickable headlines:

A good headline creates a connection and answers for the reader ‘what’s in it for me’.

Writing clickable headlines takes practice. Have an objective look at the news stories and articles you clicked on.

What was it about the headline that made you want to read on? How did it hook you in? What emotion did it play on?

If a news story or article isn’t performing as expected, try a different headline.

You can learn by experimenting. If you publish your content across different platforms, try slightly different headlines and see how they perform.

Got a question or comment about this article? Let me know below or drop me an email.

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