We talk a lot about creating great content which engages its target audience and creates the right impression. But, let’s be honest, it’s all in vain unless you get the headline right. If you fail to capture the reader’s attention, they’re not going to make the click, let alone get all the way to the call to action.

It’s like brewing the world’s tastiest beer, only to sell it in a plain can. You’ve got to make readers feel like they need to see the story (we use this broadly) behind the headline. But you’ve also got to ensure you’re using the right words so that your headline performs well in search engines and stands out from what competitors have written.

So, how do you write a unique, attention-grabbing, search engine-optimised headline? We have devised the following nine-point headline checklist:

1.       Bring out the power words

To write a knockout headline, try to include a power word or two. Power words are said to trigger a psychological or emotional response in people, making them extremely effective. With hundreds of power words to choose from, you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding one that makes your headline irresistibile.

2.       …But stay within 60 characters

If you don’t want Google cutting off the end of your headline when displaying your content in the SERPs (search engine results pages), keep within its limit of 60 characters.

3.       Write an SEO title

If you find 60 characters too restrictive, you can create a shorter SEO title specifically for Google instead – and keep your longer headline on your website.

4.       Look at your competition

Search for your focus topic and check out the competition. Then it’s about coming up with a headline that’s not only unique but packs a harder punch than what’s already out there.

5.       Get a number in there

Breaking headlines up with numbers aids scanning, which might explain why people are naturally drawn to digit-led ones, be it a killer stat or a ‘Top 7/ 15 Steps to…’. Odd numbers have been proven to grab attention more than even numbers, possibly because it suggests the facts have been dictated by the nuggets of information out there, rather than shoehorning one in to get it to an even number like 10. 

6.       Give yourself some options

If you’re struggling to commit to one headline, give yourself some options and see which one you settle on. Better still, put your headline options out to colleagues and ask them to pick the one they’re naturally drawn to.

7.       Include your keywords

If you want your content to rank high (of course you do), you need to make sure that your focus keyword and phrases – identified during your keyword research – feature throughout, including your headline.

8.       Take inspiration from clickbait

Yep, that’s right. Clickbait is only clickbait when the headline doesn’t deliver, leaving readers angry and disappointed. But if you can stay on the right side of clickbait, you can create a sense of anticipation and then go on to deliver on that promise. Check out these classic clickbait examples for some inspo!

9.       Be specific

To avoid slipping into clickbait, be as specific as possible: give the reader a sense of what they should expect. Get straight to the point and don’t beat around the bush – tell readers right from the top how your content meets their needs.