How to write catchy headlines part 1: Best practices to make your headlines stand out and grab a reader’s attention
As a travel writer, one of the best things you can do for your stories – and for your own career, since this helps you get a “yes” from editors, too – is to write catchy headlines that grab a reader’s attention and make them want to read your story.
After all, you can have the best story in the world… but if your headline doesn’t convey that value to the reader, they might just skip over your article and never read it. And that includes editors, who may just skip over or delete your query if your title doesn’t tell them what you’re story’s about and why they should publish it.
There’s definitely an art to creating an effective headline or title – but, with a few tricks up your sleeve, you’ll get the hang of it in no time.
On your next story, try using some of these strategies to keep your headline concise, informative, and intriguing…
1. Use numbers to give concrete takeaways.
This adds specificity to your headline, and intrigues the reader. For example, change your headline from “Must-try restaurants in San Francisco,” to “9 Must-try restaurants in San Francisco.”
It might not seem like a big difference at first glance… but the most effective headlines are as specific as possible. So if you include a number, your story is more likely to get noticed. This works especially well for list-style or round-up articles.
2. Use emotional objectives to describe your reader’s problem.
The absolute best thing you can do for your reader is to solve a problem for them – and you can address their concerns directly in your headline. Pick up any magazine and you’ll see plenty of problem-solving headlines and teasers on the cover. For example, try something like: “How to save time and money getting to Europe with these online airfare search tips,” or “Where to stay in Paris if you’re traveling alone.” This can help narrow down your story angle while you’re writing, too.
3. Use unique rationale to demonstrate what the reader will get out of the article.
This is a fancy way of saying give your reader a reason why to read the article. This could mean “tips” or “secrets,” or anything else that helps to give your reader new knowledge.
For example, you could tell your reader about “5 Reasons you should visit Iceland,” or “3 Undiscovered Venice coffee shops.”
4. Use what, why, how, or when.
Headlines that start with these words are easy to relate to, and tend to directly answer questions that your reader was already searching for. Examples include: “What to do on a weekend stay in Orlando,” or “When to plan your visit to New England.”
5. Make an audacious promise.
Of course, you don’t want to make a promise that can’t be fulfilled. But, if you have something incredible to share based on your own experience, go ahead and include it! Of course, you’ll need to back it up with great writing in your article, too.
For example: “How a week in the Himalayas can change your outlook on life.”
6. When in doubt, be clear.
Sometimes, it’s tempting to try to be “clever” when you write headlines. To use puns, or other plays on words. Or, to be too general and focus on the experience without giving specific information.
But remember, your reader (or editor) doesn’t yet know the story. So, your headline needs to be clear and tell them exactly what it’s about.
For example, “The perfect beach weekend” might sound like a catchy title… but really, it’s too vague. Is this a beach in the U.S.? Mexico? Malaysia? We have no idea what the article will be about – and for that reason, many readers will skip the story. Try to avoid puns and plays on words, too. Editors can always add these in if they want, but sometimes being too “cutesy” in your title is an immediate editor turn-off. It’s better to be clear and concise.
Keep in mind that you might not be able to make every single headline fit with all of the above tips. But it’s still good to run through this list to see where you can improve. Try to meet at least half of these best-practice tips each time, and your headlines will be much stronger.
And once you’ve gone through the list above, try these quick pointers to put the finishing touches on your headline and really make it shine…
Bonus: Easy Tricks on how to write catchy titles and headlines:
• Keep it short, simple, and to the point – if possible, aim for 8 words or less.
• Be clear about your main benefit – keep the focus simple, and don’t try to include too much information.
• Announce exciting news (News your audience cares about) – for example, a new restaurant, or a new reason to visit a familiar destination.
• Try questions in the headline – “What’s it like to zipline through a Costa Rican jungle?”
• Appeal to your reader’s hunger for knowledge – cultural experiences, historical information, or “10 Things you might not know about Hong Kong” could work well here.
• Tell your audience what to do! – “Visit Tasmania”
• Create the most valuable information resource – “Your complete guide to San Diego restaurants, from a local who knows the best spots.”
Once you’ve gone through and tried the above, move on to Part 2 below for some great headline-creating templates for any time you get stuck. Remember, the point is to stand out from the crowd and help readers to find your articles… and make editors want to buy them!
* * *
How to write catchy headlines part 2: 9 Formulas and templates to create awesome headlines
Now that you have some tips you can use to create effective, appealing headlines that are sure to grab the attention of readers and editors, let’s make the whole process even simpler. To get you started, here are a few formulas you can use.
If you’re ever stuck for an idea, just choose one of these templates, fill in the blanks… and voila! Your headline is off to a great start.
9 Effective headline formulas…
1. Who else wants [something]?
“Who else wants to work less and get paid more?” or “Who else wants to get pampered at an all-inclusive resort in Chiang Mai?”
2. [Number] Secret(s) of [something]
“3 Secret waterfalls on easy day hikes near Chattanooga” or “5 Secrets to booking the cheapest airfare”
3. Here’s how [somebody] [does something]
“Here’s how you can visit London without breaking the bank” or “How to see Cancun from a helicopter”
4. [Number] Little known methods [to do something]
“5 little-known ways to get better pictures when you travel” or “3 undiscovered pizzerias off the beaten path in Rome”
5. [Number] quick solution (or ways) to [something]
“2 quick and easy ways to get from Cambodia to Vietnam” or “5 quick ways to protect your wallet from pickpockets”
6. Now you can have [good thing] and [other good thing]
“Now you can visit Disney, and swim with manatees all in a long weekend – with these Florida tour packages”
7. How to do [something] like [world class example]
“How to get pampered like a celebrity at these budget-friendly Caribbean resorts” or “How to taste wine like an expert with a tasting tour in Napa”
8. All you need to know about [something]
“Everything you need to know about scuba diving in Belize”
9. [Number] [superlative] [something] (15 Must-See Interactive Youtube Ads)
“15 Must-try coffee shops in Portland” or “3 Hikes you must try in Breckenridge”
Of course, the formulas here are just suggestions – you don’t necessarily have to follow them word for word. But see if you can find one that fits your story idea, and you’ll be well on your way to writing stronger headlines, increasing your bylines, and finding new opportunities to work with editors and destinations for amazing travel experiences.
* * *
How to write catchy headlines part 3: A step-by-step process for creating headlines and blog titles your readers can’t resist
Now it’s time to put a little extra polish on the headlines you’re creating. If you feel that one of your headlines or titles is “just OK” and needs a little something to “spice it up,” then run through these steps below and see where you can make improvements…
A Fool-proof Method for How to Write Catchy Headlines and Titles
1. Start with a working title.
Sometimes “analysis paralysis” prevents us from making any progress – by which I mean, just getting something down on paper is the hardest part.
So, even if you’re not quite happy with the headline you created… ignore your inner critic and write it down anyways. Having something to work with – even if it’s not perfect yet – is a great place to start.
If nothing else, just write down the location and focus of your article. For example, “Kid-friendly attractions in New York City.” That headline gives an audience everything they need to know. So start there, and then try the tips below to see if there’s room for improvement.
2. Stay accurate.
Sometimes it’s tempting to exaggerate an experience in order to make a headline more exciting – especially if you’re writing about a popular destination that’s been written about thousands of times before, or if you’re writing about a small, hometown attraction.
However, it’s best to stick to the facts. Put yourself in the readers’ shoes, and imagine you were reading the article in order to plan a visit. Sometimes facts, without over-embellishment, are the best gift you can give your reader.
3. Make it sexy.
a. Have some fun with alliteration.
Alliteration refers to the literary technique of starting the words in a sentence with the same letter (yes, this is the same technique you may have heard about in high school English class!).
Of course, it’s best not to overuse alliteration – but in some cases, it can make a headline more fun. For example, “Beaches, bars, and beers in Bali.” Here, a lot of the words start with the letter “B.”
b. Use strong language.
Try to use “action words,” just like you would when you write the actual article. For example, instead of “Going on a zipline tour of the Peruvian jungle,” you could call your story “Flying through the trees of Peru’s Amazon jungle.”
c. Make the value clear.
Tell the reader what they’ll get by reading your story. For example: “How to save money getting around Eastern Europe.”
d. Make it visual.
Paint a picture, if it makes sense for your headline. For example: “Warm mugs, and smiling faces: Frankfurt’s best stops for mulled cider,” or “Roaring lions and towering giraffes on South Africa’s newest safari tour.”
4. Focus on the “whos,” not the “whys.”
This may work best for profile pieces. For example: “This baker continues a centuries-old family tradition – that’s why it’s the best bread you’ll find in Marseille.”
5. Try to optimize for search and social.
Don’t worry – you don’t have to be an expert in SEO (search engine optimization) in order to make your headline more likely to show up in Google’s search results.
Just try this simple trick – think like a reader, and decide what you would type into a search engine when researching a trip. Titles like “The best barbecue restaurants in Austin” or “The best live music in Denver” can be very relevant and informative.
6. Brainstorm with someone else.
New perspectives and a fresh set of eyes can provide great value – so having someone look over your ideas can be helpful for both your articles and your headlines. See if you can find a partner or a group to help you critique your work – and be sure to critique their work in return.
And that’s it – your complete guide to writing catchy headlines that will get attention and sell your articles. Whenever you get stuck, refer back to this guide at any time.
[Editor’s Note: Learn more about how you can fund your travels and make an extra income with travel writing in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel. Sign up here today and we’ll send you a new report, Travel the World, Sell the Story: A Quick-Start Guide, completely FREE.]