Many features can make or break the power of headlines to draw in a reader.

Length Matters

Google usually displays 50-60 characters of a headline, so, regardless of a headline’s length, the beginning needs to be compelling. In general, for English-language headlines, 60-100 characters is the ideal range depending on where your headline will appear.

To break it down further, don’t exceed 34 character in an email headline. This is the number of letters and spaces that will be visible on a mobile phone. Because 55% or more of people read email on phones, they won’t see the rest of the headline.

Facebook headlines should be around 40 characters, Twitter, 71-100 characters, and LinkedIn can range from 80 to 120 characters.

The Numbers Game Influences the Power of Headlines

“10 Ways to Conquer Your Phobias”

According to many surveys, putting a number into your headline makes it more attractive. Some surveys say that 10 is the most popular number; other claim that it’s 7.

Numbers make it appear that the article will provide straightforward and practical information, i.e., a “how-to” feature.

I don’t, however, recommend a title that reads something like “101 Things You Must Do Immediately in Order to Succeed.” The reader knows that she or he is never going to do 101 things immediately and will feel that reading the article will be a) pointless or b) frustrating.

Use Emotional Words

Here are some of the most successful emotional words used in headlines.

  • Free (always a hit)
  • Fun (Who doesn’t want to have fun?)
  • Must-have (What must I have?)
  • Effortless (I need some of that)
  • Special Offer (always tempting)
  • Last Chance (even more tempting)
  • Approved (that sounds legitimate)

You can see a long list of emotional words at this link.

Emphasize the Practical Nature of the Information

Words like “lessons,” “reasons,” “secrets,” “key,” and “trick” are especially successful when combined with a number. “10 Secrets to Transform Your Marriage” could be an effective headline.

I don’t care for the word “hack,” as in “life hacks,” but it deserves to be included here.

Make a Factual Claim

Avoid clickbait, which is an incongruent headline. Clickbait refers to content that deliberately misrepresents or over-promises something. It can be used to entice someone to click on a link that will take them to a web site.

When used in headline content, it attempts to induce someone to read the article.

Readers feel tricked by clickbait. I wouldn’t write a headline that said, “How to Become Irresistible.” You can’t deliver on that promise.

“I Can Teach You How to Plant a Beautiful Garden” or “I Can Help You Cut Your Cooking Time in Half” make reasonable claims for people experienced in these respective areas.

Study Headlines

How better to use your time while you’re waiting on a supermarket checkout line than to scan magazine headlines? Want to see the power of headlines? Look at them through a child’s eyes.

I recall my son reading the bizarre headlines in wonderment. “Mommy, are there really aliens in New Jersey?” (Think what you want of New Jersey – I lived most of my life there, and love the state.)

Although I don’t advocate using these kinds of headlines, it is worthwhile to study the ones that create curiosity.

Also, look at Facebook and LinkedIn headlines to focus on the ones that attract you.

Then practice. Ask others to rate the power of your headlines.

It can take time to write a good headline, but it’s time well spent.

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Pat Iyer - Editor, author, ghostwriter, book coachPat Iyer is an editor, author, book coach and ghostwriter who helps individuals create books that encourages their expertise to shine and advances their businesses. She has written or edited 48 of her own books.