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How to Write Sexy Headlines: 5 Insider Secrets [2024]

what can you do to make a headline more compelling

What can you do to make a headline more compelling?

That’s the million-dollar question.

As legendary advertiser David Ogilvy once said, “On average, five times as many people read the headlines as read the body copy.”

It’s important to get your reader’s attention, otherwise you’ve wasted your time and money on the ad or content.

You see, headlines are like movie trailers.

They set the tone for what’s to come.

If your ‘trailer’ isn’t captivating, you can’t expect people to be engaged and eager to want to watch the film.

And as they say, you never get a second chance to make a first impression..

In this article, I will reveal the 5 secrets on how to write great headlines.

Secret #1: Use psychological biases to write successful headlines

If you’re not grabbing your reader’s attention with a powerful headline, you’re wasting your time and money. 

Your headlines are the gatekeepers to your content.

And if you want people to read what you have to say, you’ve got to come up with headlines that’ll catch their attention.

One of the things you can do is tap into the power of psychology

Brain hacks to steal your reader’s attention

Did you know the human attention span is shorter than that of a goldfish? That’s right — we’re battling goldfish for the title of “Most Distracted Species.” 

But despite that fact, our brains are wired to respond to certain triggers. 

And when it comes to headlines, you can exploit these instincts to make your readers stop and read. 

So how do you reel them in and make them notice your headline?

Here are some psychology levers you can pull to tap into this hack.

#2 – Use curiosity gaps

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Capitalise on your reader’s natural curiosity by creating headlines that leave them eager to learn more. 

Our brains are constantly seeking new information and experiences.

Let’s take a look at the headline: “The Countries Where It’s Easiest To Become A Self-Made Billionaire”

This headline is a great example of how to use curiosity gaps to your advantage.

It’s engaging, promising, and taps into the reader’s desire to make money.

And most importantly, it creates a gap in their knowledge, which leaves them eager to find out more.

Curiosity gaps can be used in any industry; you just need to get creative.

I know what you’re thinking — this kind of stuff doesn’t work for lawyers or financial consultants.

But it does. You just need to think outside the box. 

You can’t be overly ‘salely’ in those niches. It’s more challenging than that.

It’s much like giving a general compliment to someone without meaning it.

Nobody likes fake compliments.

But if you tailor the compliment, be more specific and deliberate, they’ll usually receive the compliment with genuine appreciation.

So, how can you use curiosity gaps in your own headlines? 

Start by thinking about what your reader wants to know and what will make them curious. 

Offer a glimpse of something new and unknown, and promise to reveal more in the article.

And don’t be afraid to be creative. 

Curiosity gaps don’t have to be serious or formal. 

You can use humour, puns, or play on words to make your headline more interesting. 

Just make sure that your headline reflects the content of your article.

And remember to make sure that you’re not overpromising or misleading your reader.

#2 – Harness the power of negatives

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Source: asweetpeachef

Words like “best,” “greatest,” and “biggest” are the go-to choices for attention-grabbing headlines. 

But let’s not overlook negative superlatives. 

Words like “worst” and “least” can pack an even mightier punch. 

Why? Because they’re the unexpected twist.

The curveball that catches your reader off guard and leaves them itching to know more.

And there’s another angle to this.

Negatives are a masterful way to tap into people’s deepest insecurities. 

“Don’t,” “stop,” and “avoid” can work like magic.

Because everyone’s got that nagging voice in the back of their mind.

Whether there’s something they should quit doing before it’s too late.

Take a look at these headlines and see how negatives work their charm:

  • “The 5 Worst Mistakes You’re Making with Your Diet Right Now”
  • “Stop Sabotaging Your Finances: The Money Habits You Must Avoid at All Costs”
  • “The Least Effective Exercises You Should Never Waste Your Time On”

Notice how these headlines make you curious about what you could be possibly doing wrong?

Next time you’re crafting a headline, don’t be afraid to embrace the dark side. 

With the right touch of negativity, you might just find the right balance that you need to get clicks.

Use emotion and intrigue to lure them in like a siren

People are emotional creatures.

If you can summon strong feelings with your headlines, you’re on the right track. 

Here are some ways to create emotionally-driven headlines.

#1 – Identify your target audience’s pain points

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See, you need to understand the problems your readers face. 

That way you can craft headlines that directly address those concerns.

For example: 

  • Are You Making These Common Mistakes That Sabotage Your Career Growth?

This may resonate with people who are currently looking for a promotion in their company.

To uncover the kinds of insights that help you understand their pain points, I highly recommend filling out a marketing persona.

#2 – Highlight the benefits or outcomes

Here’s what you can do to make a headline more compelling.

Focus on the positive results your content offers.

And then inject emotional language to make the benefits more appealing. 

This will create a sense of desire and motivate readers to learn more.

An example of this would be: 

  • Unlock Unstoppable Confidence with These [INSERT Life-Changing Techniques]

#3 – Leverage the fear of missing out (FOMO) bias

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Source: CleverTap

I want you to picture this.

You’re strolling down the street and minding your own business.

And then suddenly you spot a crowd of people outside a store. 

They’re buzzing with excitement, and now you can’t help but notice the big sign in the window. 

It says, “Limited Time Offer”. 

At that moment, you’re filled with curiosity and you just have to know what’s going on inside.

You enter, and it’s something you’d be interested in buying. 

On a normal day, you’d likely pass up the offer, but since it’s for a “limited time only, while stocks last”, and the place is crowded, you decide to buy right there on the spot. 

That is the power of urgency and exclusivity.

When you craft your content, consider infusing it with a sense of urgency or exclusivity. 

Give your readers the impression that they’re getting access to a limited opportunity. 

Nobody likes being left out or feeling like they’re missing out on something good.

This strategy taps into your reader’s fear of missing out (FOMO) bias, compelling them to take action. 

#4 – Tell a story

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When you weave a story in your headlines, you’re not just selling your content.

What you’re selling is an experience. 

And who doesn’t love a good story?

Stories tug at our heartstrings and draw us in, making us feel like we’re part of something bigger. 

So, what can you do to make a headline more compelling?

Simple. 

Just incorporate elements like a character, conflict, or resolution.

From there, you can watch as your headlines transform into magnetic, emotion-driven narratives.

Take this example for a spin: “From Couch Potato to Ironman: The Inspiring Journey of a Man Who Conquered Laziness”

Okay I admit that was a bit tongue in cheek.

But imagine your reader, worn down by the daily grind and desperately seeking motivation. 

They stumble upon your headline and, lo and behold, there’s a story they can (maybe) relate to. 

It’s about someone who overcame obstacles, found their inner strength, and changed their life for the better.

That story speaks to their own struggles and dreams, and it’s what’ll keep them coming back for more.

Make your reader feel like they’re the centre of the universe

Let’s be honest. People love to read about themselves. 

So, why not give your readers what they crave by making them feel like the star of the show?

You see, when you speak directly to your reader, it’s like you’re having a one-on-one conversation. 

It’s intimate and personal, and it makes them feel like your content was tailor-made just for them. 

And let me tell you, that’s an incredible feeling.

Take a look at these headlines, for example:

  • Are YOU Guilty of These Common [Sales Blunders]?”
  • Discover the Hidden Leak in Your [Website] That’s [Draining Your Hard-Earned Cash]

These headlines talk directly to the reader, making them feel like the article was made for them. 

And let’s be honest, who doesn’t want to feel like that?

Lure with numbers

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Source: Codeless

Believe it or not, numbers have a certain magnetic charm.

They can make even the most mundane headlines stand out like a neon sign on a dark night. 

Numbers work well in headlines and titles because they give readers a sense of predictability.

Numbers aren’t just for maths geeks, you know. 

They’re a powerful weapon for crafting headlines.

In fact, according to a research done by CXL, about 30% of blog readers prefer posts with numbers in their headlines.

It’s because headlines with numbers do three things really well:

  • Grab attention.
  • Ooze credibility.
  • And tap into our brain’s natural affinity for order and structure.

So, how do you make numbers work for you? 

Just use specific numbers or lists in your headlines to make them pop and promise real value.

Here are some examples:

  • 5 Foolproof Strategies to Double Your Sales in a Mere 90 Days
  • 13 Insider Marketing Tactics That’ll Send Your Profits Through the Roof

Notice how these headlines use numbers to pledge a precise outcome or a specific amount of information? 

That’s what makes them so interesting and easy to digest.

When you harness the power of numbers and incorporate them into your headlines, you’re making your content stand out.

Plus, you’re also tapping into the psychological reasons that make them so effective. 

Secret #2: Writing techniques for headlines

Now that you understand the psychology behind writing effective headlines. Are you ready to learn the art of crafting them?

If you want your headlines to grab attention and persuade your audience to keep reading, you must use  the right writing techniques. 

Use verbs that make you want to act

Powerful, vivid verbs can transform a humdrum headline into an attention-grabbing masterpiece.

So, use action-oriented, dynamic verbs that make your reader feel like they’re part of the story. Passive or weak verbs won’t cut it. 

Choose verbs that evoke a sense of action and urgency, inspiring the reader to take action.

Get inspiration from these verbs:

Unleash

There’s something liberating about the word “unleash,” don’t you think? 

It shows images of releasing something powerful, wild, and untamed. 

It’s like a ferocious lion or a roaring sports car. 

Use this word to inspire your readers to take charge and unleash their full potential.

Example: 

  • Unleash Your Creativity with These Game-Changing Headline Writing Tips

Revolutionise

Now, here’s a word that packs a punch. 

“Revolutionise” promises dramatic change and groundbreaking innovation. 

If your content offers a new approach, this verb could be your ticket to headline gold.

Example: 

Revolutionise Your Content Strategy with These Irresistible Headline Techniques

Ignite

When you hear the word “ignite,” you can practically feel the heat of a roaring fire or the spark of a freshly struck match. 

Use this verb to convey a sense of passion, energy, and enthusiasm that will light a fire inside your readers.

Example: 

  • “Ignite Your Audience’s Interest with Headlines That Sizzle”

With these three, surefire verbs, you can transform your headline from bland to engaging. 

Of course, there are countless other action words just waiting to be discovered. 

But these should get you started on your journey to headline-writing nirvana.

  • Transform
  • Accelerate
  • Skyrocket
  • Disrupt
  • Amplify
  • Maximise
  • Elevate
  • Supercharge
  • Captivate
  • Optimise

Choose words that pack a punch like a heavyweight champion

First off, you’ve got to ditch those wimpy, overused words like “interesting” or “nice.” 

They’re the featherweights of the word world, and they won’t win you any title belts in the headline game.

Instead, go for the heavyweight contenders — those emotion-triggering words. 

To get you started, here’s a list of power words you should be sprinkling into your headlines like fairy dust:

  • Amazing
  • Jaw-dropping
  • Shocking
  • Heartbreaking
  • Exciting
  • Irresistible
  • Secret
  • Exclusive
  • Unbelievable
  • Urgent

These words will make your headlines practically beg for a click or share.

Now, let’s talk about putting these words into action. Look at the difference between these two headlines:

  • Interesting Ways to Improve Your Garden
  • Revolutionary Gardening Hacks Guaranteed to Ignite Your Green Thumb

The first one is about as exciting as watching paint dry. 

But the second one uses  power words like “revolutionary” and “ignite,” and it makes you want to dive right in and start digging up your backyard.

Here’s another couple for you to look at:

  • Nice Tips for Saving Money on Your Next Vacation
  • Insider Secrets to Scoring Luxury Travel on a Shoestring Budget

I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather uncover those “insider secrets” and learn how to travel like a high-roller without breaking the bank.

In a world where attention spans are shorter than ever, you’ve got to make every word count. 

So, step into the ring and start crafting headlines that pack a punch. 

Your readers and your click-through rates will thank you for it.

Devices that turn your headlines into works of art

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Source: Marketing Examples

Sprinkle your headlines with rhetorical devices.

These are alliterations, rhymes, or puns that make headlines memorable and engaging. 

Let’s explore some of these techniques to make your headlines more eye-catching.

#1 – Alliteration

Repeating the same consonant sounds at the beginning of words adds a melodic rhythm to your headlines, making them roll off the tongue. 

Example: 

  • Cleverly Craft Crave-Worthy Content with these Creative Tips.”

#2 – Rhyme

Rhyming words create a playful vibe and a sense of harmony that can make your headlines stick in readers’ minds. 

Example: 

Write, Ignite, and Delight: The Ultimate Guide to Powerful Headlines.

#3 – Pun

Don’t underestimate the power of a well-placed pun. Injecting humour into your headlines can pique interest and keep readers smiling. 

Example: 

  • Headline Hacks: How to Write Great Headlines that Tickle the Brain and Tease the Eye.

Sentence structures that keep them guessing

Keep your readers on their toes with unexpected sentence structures. 

Break the mould of standard headline formats and use these three to pique curiosity.

Questions, statements, and cliffhangers.

Let’s have a look at some sentence structures you can use to create engaging headlines: 

#1 – The question headline

  •  “Are You Making These Common Writing Mistakes?

This type of headline taps into our curiosity and desire to improve.

#2 – The “How to” headline

  • How to Write Great Headlines That Sell

This type of headline promises readers a solution to a problem or a way to achieve a desired outcome. 

By using the phrase “How to,” you’re saying that your article contains information that readers can use to improve their lives or solve a problem.

#3 – The list headline

  •  “10 Proven Headline Formulas to Boost Your Click-Through Rate

Lists are a popular and effective way to organise information and make it easy to read. 

What makes this appeal to readers? 

It creates a sense of structure and organisation. 

#4 – The contrarian headline

  • Why You Shouldn’t Follow the Rules When Writing Headlines

This type of headline challenges conventional wisdom and goes against the grain. 

People are interested in the contrarian stance. Let’s face it, we’re curious about things that are not aligned with what we believe. 

Secret #3: Mistakes to avoid

You’ve got most of what you need to make your readers stop in their tracks. 

But before you hit that publish button, it’s important to avoid a few common pitfalls that could sabotage your headline.

I’ve seen my fair share of headlines — both good and bad. 

And let me tell you, the difference between a headline that hooks your reader and one that sends them running for the hills can be razor-thin. 

So, if you want to write headlines that are irresistible, you need to avoid these common mistakes at all costs.

Clichés 

  • New Year, New You.” 

It’s a classic cliché that we’ve all seen a million times. 

Old phrases like this have been beaten to death, and no one, not even your sweet, innocent grandma is going to fall for them. 

They’re predictable, boring, and they’ll make your headlines blend in with all the other mediocre content out there. 

Instead, aim for something fresh, something that grabs your reader’s attention and makes them sit up and take notice.

Take the “New Year, New You” example. 

What if we flipped it on its head and said “Unlock Your Inner Potential in the New Year”?

It’s a fresh take on a classic idea and will grab your reader’s attention much more effectively.

Clickbait

Ah, the bane of the internet. 

Clickbait headlines promise one thing and deliver another. 

It’s basically tricking people into clicking through to your content. 

It’s like a bad one-night stand. 

No one wants to be tricked, and they won’t stick around for long if they feel like they’ve been duped. 

So, avoid using clickbait tactics and focus on crafting headlines that are truthful and accurate.

Don’t be a tease

While clickbait is all about tricking your reader, a tease is a little different. 

A tease is a headline that makes a promise, but doesn’t deliver. 

Your reader will feel let down, and they won’t stick around for long. 

Length

Size does matter when it comes to headlines, but not always in the way you think. 

Sure, longer headlines can give you more room to play with, but they can also be overwhelming and difficult to digest. 

On the other hand, short, punchy headlines can be eye-catching, but they need to be long enough to give the reader what they are looking for if they’re going to be effective. 

How to know which one works best?

The answer is simple: experiment and test.

Start by writing several headlines for each piece you write, with varying lengths and styles. 

Some can be short and punchy, others can be longer and more descriptive. 

Then, track which headlines perform the best in terms of clicks and engagement. 

Over time, you’ll start to see patterns and be able to identify what works best for you and your audience.

It’s also important to keep in mind your target audience and the platform you’re using. 

For example, headlines that work well on social media might not work as well in an email newsletter. 

Another tip is to pay attention to your competition. 

See what other headlines are being used in your industry and what makes them effective. This will give you a good idea of what’s working and what’s not.

Secret #4: Analysing successful headlines

Breaking down successful headlines

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This headline is a classic advertising headline used since the early 1900s.

There are three reasons why it worked so well.

Firstly, the unexpected and intriguing headline instantly captures attention.

It makes one wonder about the story behind the laughter and the piano playing. 

Secondly, the headline resonates emotionally.

It’s tapping into the relatable human experience of being underestimated or dismissed. 

Lastly, its simplicity and catchiness render it memorable, crucial for effective advertising and marketing messages. 

Let’s take a look at another headline. 

This one is from Gary Halbert, a copywriting legend.

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This headline is laser-focused and promises a specific benefit to the reader. 

It speaks directly to a common desire to make money, quickly.

When you offer a solution to a widespread problem, you’re more likely to get the reader hooked.

Now,  let’s talk about the language used in this headline. 

It’s powerful, authoritative, and exudes expertise. 

The words “maximum money” give the impression that the author knows the best ways to make a lot of money.

And “minimum time” implies that the methods are quick, efficient, and effective.

But the real cherry on top? 

This headline is short and memorable.

 It’s the epitome of simple yet catchy, leaving you wanting to find out more. . 

How to apply proven techniques without feeling like a copycat

Applying proven techniques without feeling like a copycat is not hard, but it does take a bit of creativity and understanding of your target audience.  

Here are a few tips to get you started.

Think about what your reader wants

What’s their biggest problem or desire? 

What will make them want to click on your headline? 

Once you know that, you can craft a headline that speaks directly to them and offers a solution to their problem.

Next, tap into your reader’s emotions 

Make them feel something. 

Whether it’s fear, excitement, or curiosity, a great headline elicits an emotional response that makes them want to read more.

And finally, find the sweet spot for your headline’s length

Whether it’s short or long, use powerful language that communicates with your audience. 

Keep it simple, yet catchy. 

The more you make it relevant for your reader, the more likely it is to stick in your reader’s mind and make them want to learn more.

But here’s the thing, you don’t have to copy the headlines word for word. 

Take inspiration from successful headlines and make them your own. 

Add your own twist and make it unique to your brand. 

As long as you keep these key elements in mind, you’ll be well on your way to creating headlines that are irresistible to your target audience.

Secret #5: Tools for creating headlines

We’ve covered the psychology, technique, mistakes to avoid, and even analysed successful headlines.

Now, it’s time to take your headline writing to the next level. 

Tools that will make you a headline pro

I’ve put together a list of the best tools out there that will help you analyse your headlines, generate ideas, and fine-tune your language. 

Here are a few resources that some of the top copywriters use:

CoSchedule headline analyzer 

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This tool gives you a score and suggestions for improvement on your headline. 

You can see how well it will perform based on factors such as word balance, length, and emotional impact.

Hemingway editor

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This tool helps you simplify and clarify your writing. 

It will highlight areas where you can improve sentence structure, reduce adverbs, and make your headlines more concise.

It also tells you the reading level of your headline. It’s always a good idea to make sure your headlines are within a 6–9 grade reading level.

Tips for making writing tools work for you

Now that you know about these amazing resources, it’s important to remember that the tools are there to work for you, not the other way around. 

Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you use them:

  • Start with a clear understanding of your target audience and what they want to know. The tools can help you refine your message, but they can’t do the heavy lifting of figuring out what your audience wants to hear.
  • Don’t rely solely on the tools. Use them as a guide, but always trust your instincts. Your own voice and perspective are what make your headlines unique and compelling.
  • Experiment and have fun. Try out different combinations of words, and don’t be afraid to get creative. The tools are there to help you, but you don’t have to follow their suggestions blindly.

Examples of lead-generating headlines

So, what do irresistible headlines look like in action? 

Here are a few examples of headlines that were created with the help of these tools:

  • How to Make an Extra$500 Every Month with This Easy Side Hustle
  • The Ultimate Guide to Mastering Time Management
  • Unleash Your Inner Chef: Easy Recipes for Busy Weeknights

As you can see, these headlines are clear, concise, and all contain a power word.

They draw the audience in and make them want to keep reading. And with the right tools, you can do the same.

Writing irresistible headlines is not rocket science, but it sometimes requires a little bit of know-how and the right tools. 

You’re now ready to go write some headlines

There you have it; the 5 secrets to writing lead-generating  headlines that will make your content stand out from the crowd. 

Now it’s time to put your knowledge into practice. 

Don’t be afraid to experiment and try different techniques to see what works best.

And remember, the real test of a headline is in the results it produces. 

So, track and measure your success and adjust accordingly.

And here’s a little secret I’ll share with you. 

Writing irresistible headlines is not just a skill, it’s an art. 

It requires creativity, curiosity, and a deep understanding of your audience. 

From their deepest desires, fears, to their aspirations. 

So, let your imagination run wild and create headlines that inspire, provoke, and resonate with your readers.

So, go ahead and write some headlines that will make your competitors jealous. 

Because in the end, it’s not just about writing headlines that sell.

It’s about writing headlines that connect and build relationships with your readers.

Josiah is a multi-award-winning digital marketing consultant and former journalist for the Australia Times. He now helps 6-7-figure brands as a Fractional CMO to generate predictable leads and sales growth.​

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