catchy cats eyes

Since about the middle of the twentieth century our society became obsessed with headlines. They are everywhere: on the magazine covers, newspapers, most of the news stations start their program with headlines. If you want a story to get noticed it has to be announced pompously in all its glory.

In blogiverse writing arresting eye-catching headlines is beyond obsession, it’s a matter of life or death of your article. If you’re not yet convinced about it, then 7 Compelling Reasons Why Your Headlines Need To LEAP Off The Page will surely make you think more than twice before you hit that Publish button again.

So what’s the secret formula to writing captivating headlines? You’d think that after reading all those how-to guides from gurus like Copyblogger and Modern Life we should be all PROs by now. But we’re still getting glued to another article on how to write headlines and search Google for answers and feverishly click on articles like How to write headlines even a corpse would read.

Then there’s also that nagging question on everybody’s mind: Do you write your headlines first and the article follows or should you come up with the title later or at the end? Check out the discussions on David Airey’s blog on Do you start or end with a headline. As you can see you shouldn’t just follow Brian Clark’s advice to Always Write Your Headline First, but apply it to your particular case. If you’re dawned with a perfect headline before writing the actual article, then of course, go ahead and use it. But never miss the chance of going back and re-evaluating your initial title before finalizing it.

Among those comments Aaron’s point stood out in my memory:

In the media headlines are normally written after the article. That’s not to say that the journalist won’t write with a headline in mind and put a headline to their work, but as soon as it gets to the editor the headline will be reviewed and probably rewritten by someone else.

Very often I start my articles with a title, save it in my drafts and get back to it later, completing into a full article. On a few rare occasions do I stick with the original title, usually it evolves based on the actual content and the direction my article ended up taking afterwards. Take this post for example – here’s the evolution of my headline:

  • Untitled (how do you come up with titles, after you finish the post, before you start, or in-between? How would you title this post?)
  • How To Come Up With Eye-Catching Titles
  • Writing Headlines That Catch Your Eyes
  • Secret Formula To Writing Headlines That Catch Your Eyes

How would you title this post?

Just like in programming there are two completely opposite approaches in writing the code: top-down and bottom-up, each one comes with its own advantages and drawbacks, and depending on the task you chose one or another or come up with a mixed solution.

The Secret Formula

So what’s the secret formula of success in writing mesmerizing headlines that stand out among millions of other headlines. Well, the secret is in the title of this post: Writing Headlines That Catch YOUR Eyes. Your own eyes, not search engines, not your readers, not diggers, but your OWN eyes. Why? Because YOU are using search engines to find certain answers, YOU too are reading hundreds of blogs in your RSS, YOU too click on only catchy headlines on Digg or other blogs. How do YOU make your choice on which article is worth reading, which headline has caught your attention? What do you base your decisions on? Who’s brainwashed and trained better than YOU are on how the eye-catching headlines look like? Who knows your blog’s audience better than you?

So go ahead, read what others teach you about writing magnetic headlines, learn from pros, magazine covers, newspapers, but in the end YOU will be the one making the final decision on what would be the best headline for your article. And to help you with that, here’s a handy list of things to keep in mind:

  1. Try coming up with several variations for your headline
  2. Search Google for some keywords in your headline and compare the resulting titles with your own. Which one of your variations would stand out in those search results?
  3. Go to Digg and scan the popular articles. Would YOU notice your headline there?
  4. Launch your RSS reader and compare your headline with hundreds of other blog headlines. Would your headline invite YOU to click on it?
  5. Enroll some help from your family or friends: ask them to look at your headline variations and pick the one that catches their attention without knowing what the article is about.
  6. Get away from your article and headlines for awhile and come back later, look at your title variations once again as a stranger and pick the one that catches YOUR eyes.
  7. If YOU don’t find any of your headline variations attractive enough, trust your gut feeling and re-write the title until YOU are happy with it
  8. Practice does wonders, so don’t despair if you didn’t get the perfect title for your article this time, next time will be much easier and better.

What’s your secret formula to writing eye-catching headlines?

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9 Insightful Bits in response to “Secret Formula To Writing Headlines That Catch Your Eyes”

  1. That’s a great round-up of various articles on headline-writing, Vivien. And I really appreciate mine being included. Thank you.

    I do tend to come up with a headline idea very quickly – it helps to give the article a sense of direction. Often the headline will be tweaked after the article is written, just to make it a bit more grabby.

    Mind you, it’s worth remembering that the content has to live up to the headline. It’s all very well hooking readers in with a great headline, but there had better be the content to back it up otherwise we could find ourselves with disgruntled and dissatisfied readers.

  2. Great article, Vivien, and thanks for mentioning my post.

    As for my secret formula, I think for me, and many others, it’s simply to practice and learn. I reckon that even the experts continually question the headlines they finish with.

    One of the wonders of WordPress is that you can change your article headlines even after publishing, and not harm any possible link-backs you might’ve already gained, via the ‘post slug’ option.

  3. The 8 points at the end were very helpful. #2 was my favorite

    Two of the things I struggle with most when coming up with titles are time and relevance. Sometimes I have a title I like better and others tell me to go with it but I feel it somehow misleads the reader.

    Case in point: Some months ago I was doing a google blogsearch for the phrase ‘baseball card blog’ and a post about midway down the first page caught my eye. It was titled ’6 Lessons Britney Spears Can Teach You About Blogging’. I clicked on it because I wanted to see why this post would come up based on the search phrase. I ended up subscribing to the feed because I enjoyed the commentary and writing style. It was one of those make money online blogs. It has since become a ‘me too’ like John Chow blog so I unsubscribed. All that said I have never forgotten about that post because how it stood out and why it was on the first page of a google search for a totally unrelated query.

  4. I like #5 where you enlist the help of family and friends. They can definitely help give you a different perspective.

  5. Vivien

    I absolutely agree with you, Rory. Whenever I come across such articles with exciting and promising titles but with a content delivered not as it was expected, it was very frustrating for me – “and that was it? I’ve wasted my time for this – for nothing?”

    David, that’s another handy tip – to get back to the old articles and re-write the headlines, but keeping the slug. Rory also mentioned that on his blog. Have you personally done that on your blog?

    Joey, glad you found the 8 points helpful. Perhaps you should try writing an article on your blog and naming it “7 Lessons Lindsay Lohan Can Teach You About Collecting Play Cards”. :-)
    just kidding, but I see your point, that’s why I mentioned that “corpse would read” headline in my post.

    Ronald, that’s why they say that two heads are better than one – it always helps to look at thing from a different perspective.

  6. Hi Vivien,

    I have previously changed headlines on my blog, but keeping the slug intact. I think that anyone with a blog can agree that it’s a constant editing process – information needs updating, you might prefer to word things differently etc.

  7. I’ve never seen anyone approach writing headlines like this Vivien. I like it!

  8. Vivien

    Yes, David, I agree that blog requires regular editing. I’ve personally never changed the old post titles, but I think I’ll do that sometimes. There are a few articles that I would’ve titled differently if I was writing them now.

    Thank you, Lauren – “this Vivien” – haha :-)

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Hi, I'm Vivien. Thanks for visiting my Inspiration Bit. I often find myself scouring the internet looking for either answers to many questions I have or websites that inspire me, sites that I can learn from. On what topics you might ask — any topics that interest me, anything from web design to typography and art, from blogging to entrepreneurship, from programming to open source.
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When I'm not blogging, I design web sites, teach, play with my daughter and try to balance family, work, friends and a somewhat active social life on