Headlines account for up to 90% of the success of any advertising campaign. They are essential to get your emails opened, and your tweets clicked. Learning to write good headlines is one of the main secrets of successful copywriting.

So, which headlines work best, and which are a total disaster?

In decreasing order of popularity, here are the top 15 headlines from past Write Right articles that attracted the most readers. Can you see what they have in common?*

1. How to write a press release
2. Great slogans for business
3. Have you seen my boobs? Lessons about the importance of proofreading
4. How to write headlines, subject lines and tweets that get clicked
5. How to write your own website
6. How to write a press release
7. How to write your ‘about us’ page and personal profiles
8. When an email went horribly wrong
9. Secrets of writing a compelling sales letter
10. 5 bits of copy that went viral and exploded sales
11. “What the ****?!” The power of swearwords
12. What makes a good newsletter (part 1)
13. How NOT to write a networking follow-up
14. How NOT to write a sales letter
15. What NOT to write on your ‘about us’ page

Here are four key learnings that you can apply to your own headlines:

Hints, Tips and ‘How To’s

The majority of the most-read article headlines start with ‘How to’ (headlines 1, 4, 5, 6, 7). If people want to read hints, tips and ‘how to’s, then that’s what you have to give them. The Internet is becoming a resource of free advice and tasters that demonstrate your expertise. Put your information out there, and some of it will convert into sales.

Yes, yes, yes!

It’s not so clear to see, but headlines with powerful adjectives that suggest inside information about generating results work well e.g. “great”, “secrets / compelling”, “exploded”, “good” (headlines 2, 9, 10, 12).

No, no, no, yes.

Turning a negative into a positive is a good approach (headlines 8, 13, 14, 15). We live in a world where people will click a link about ‘world’s worst’ as much as they’ll click a link about ‘world’s best’. You can use this tendency to your advantage. Of course, you end each article with “We wouldn’t do it like this” or whatever, to put a positive PR spin on it.

Cheeky bits 😉

We Brits love a bit of tongue-in-cheek sauce (headlines 3 and 11). This type of headline teases your audience into clicking, but then you must make sure you deliver something of value so you don’t p*ss them off.


Admittedly, this is not the world’s worst-ever headline; it’s just the worst-read of the articles I’ve ever written for Write Right. Throughout 2012, I included a series of interviews with fellow writers, so you could learn from their various experiences. The least-read article was headlined: “Comedy writer profile: Simon Ellinas”. Knowing that people tend to like a bit of humour, I thought you might like to read my Q&A with a comedy writer. But you didn’t. Oh dear, poor Simon.

Please let me know if you’d like help with your headline-writing.

*Sorry, this month there are no prizes for spotting the answers!

I originally wrote this article for Fresh Business Thinking

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