Posts Not Turning Heads? Try On 25 Headlines to Find Your Best Fit, Every Time

Apr 9, 2016 | Blogging Tips & How-to, Featured Posts by Holly Jahangiri, Social Strategy for Writers

Kevan Lee gave us 30+ Ultimate Headline Formulas for Tweets, Posts, Articles, and Emails. Or 30+ templates for headlines that make us click, even as we roll our eyes…

Click-baity, Upworthy-style, BuzzFeed-type headlines work, because they have the backing of human psychology. These headlines whet the reader’s appetite and tug at the brain until we’re compelled to read. Sure, there’s a little echo of “Hah! Made ya look!” but if the post delivers on the promise, we’ll grudgingly do it again next time. “Curiosity killed the cat; satisfaction brought it back.” And in an Internet saturated with “content,” writers might do well to consider the psychology when crafting catchy, clever titles for books and blog posts. We can easily outfox ourselves with a clever turn of phrase.

Human psychology is a powerful thing. If sex, fear, and death sell products, then fear of dying while lovemaking ought to be a winning formula. The headline should promise a way to avoid that fate; the content should deliver on it. Advising abstinence won’t work, because for most people, fear of not having sex probably trumps the fear of dying during coitus. For some fascinating analyses of subliminal cues in advertising, see Sex and Death in the Ice Cubes. As writers, we know the power of symbolism and metaphor. Consider the title of this post – what fears am I using to pique interest, here? What rhetorical devices are used?

Things to keep in mind when writing titles or headlines:

Lee suggests following Upworthy’s practice of brainstorming 25 headlines, then voting on the best ones. “Twenty-five headlines for each post? You must be kidding. I barely have time to blog. I have books to write!” Consider this: If only 1/5th of the people who read your headline (or your book’s title!) are likely to click and read your content on average, why would you not put as much time and effort into writing the perfect headline as into crafting the perfect prose for your post – or your book? How many times have you looked at an Upworthy headline and tried, unsuccessfully, not to click it?

Granted, “She Runs Away from the Creepy House at Midnight. What Happens as She Teeters at the Cliff’s Edge Will Leave You Speechless – with Laughter” probably isn’t a great title for a gothic romance. Could be shorter, punchier. Maybe laughter’s not appropriate for this particular cliff-hanger. Think about it for a while. Mull it over. Jot down another twenty-four. One’s bound to work out, even if 3/4ths of them are silly.


Holly Jahangiri is the author of Trockle, illustrated by Jordan Vinyard; A Puppy, Not a Guppy, illustrated by Ryan Shaw; and the newest release: A New Leaf for Lyle, illustrated by Carrie Salazar. She draws inspiration from her family, from her own childhood adventures (some of which only happened in her overactive imagination), and from readers both young and young-at-heart. She lives in Houston, Texas, with her husband, J.J., whose love and encouragement make writing books twice the fun.


  1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

    If you don’t want to be like the boy who cried wolf, though, don’t get into the habit of promising more in your headline than you are delivering.

    Same thing with book descriptions. I know a writer who writes wonderful descriptions – you just HAVE to try at least the Look Inside feature – but I hate his stories. Every one.

    Unfortunately, he has me questioning descriptions now!
    Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt recently posted…Pride’s Children Kindle Countdown US, UKMy Profile

    • HollyJahangiri

      Oh, yes. Don’t promise more than you deliver. I did say that! Nothing worse than deception, because who’s going to buy a second book from an author they don’t like OR trust?

  2. Stephanie

    I do have problems coming up with good titles. Thanks for the info!

    Good luck on the rest of the challenge! We’re doing “I’ve Got The Music In Me” this year on The Road We’ve Shared. – looking at how important music is in the Down syndrome community. I hope you’ll stop by and see/hear!

  3. Mitch Mitchell

    You know my position on titles, aka headlines. I hate misleading titles, titles that don’t deliver what’s promised, and obvious clickbait that has nothing to do with the topic of an article. I admit that most of the time I’m bad at titling things… so there’s no way I’m even bothering with trying to come up with more than one title most of the time. lol
    Mitch Mitchell recently posted…There’s Power In Positivity – By Kelvin RingoldMy Profile

    • HollyJahangiri

      Well, the good news is, psychology doesn’t apply to search engines. So if you can’t get clever, just opt for meaningful.

  4. fim

    It’s interesting, but I often use a headline (subject line?) that is a title of song, or lyrics from the same, though it usually is connected, in some way. But I’ve also used strange word/non-words, in my subject. I don’t know if it gets me more views, or reads, but it entices me LOL

    Good idea, when I have the time, to look for headlines.

    • HollyJahangiri

      If amusing yourself is the primary goal, you’re rockin’ it! LOL I think if you can be genuinely YOU – AND apply some of the psychology here – you’ll hit on your own winning formula. But there is some science behind why these “click-baity” headlines work, and why clever doesn’t always win the day. NOT that I’d ever urge anyone to adopt a 100% click-baity, non-clever, PsyOps approach to blogging. First, it would annoy the fool out of most of our readers. Second, we’d get bored with it, ourselves, soon. Leave it to those sites we love to hate, even as we can’t stop our twitchy index fingers from clicking. But it never hurts to KNOW this stuff and add it to the toolbox.

  5. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

    I find most of my titles have the basics; but then the headline/title itself can be manipulated into just six words, or three important ones, an article or two, and then three more important words.

    It’s worth looking at a headline with the ‘rules’ in mind to see if you can’t improve it a bit.

    I also remember to think as someone who doesn’t know the content of the post: does this title tell them what to expect, or do I need to put some nouns in there.

    It doesn’t take long to take your placeholder and spiffy it up a bit.
    Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt recently posted…One way to read Pride’s Children for free: KOLLMy Profile

    • HollyJahangiri

      That’s right! Thanks, Alicia. I know many of us have an urge to rebel against the “science” in favor of the title we WANT to put on a post (or a book) and sometimes we SHOULD win that argument in the name of art. But sometimes, when the art isn’t the focus, we should consider using all the “tricks” in the book. I mean, I HATE it that I can’t resist the compulsion to click those obviously click-baity headlines. But then again…

      I figure it’s not just me! 🙂
      HollyJahangiri recently posted…Checklist for Blogging: 27 Steps to a Winning Author PlatformMy Profile

  6. Julian Wang

    Thanks for the titles, But only title is not enough you should add image to get attention of the readers.

    Along with this try to find out best timing for your tweet. So you can get maximum audience for your blog post.

    You can also try : to generate seo friend title for your blog post. 🙂
    Julian Wang recently posted…Easy Way To Switch Chromecast WiFi networkMy Profile

    • HollyJahangiri

      Hmm. Current headline scores a 61. “Psychotic, Sexy Images Motivate Readers to Share” would score a 67. If you ever wonder what folks are doing wrong in social media, it’s probably trying too hard to game an algorithm.


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