How to Craft ‘All Killer No Filler’ Headlines

Paint by Numbers

Using numbers in headlines like top tens, has become a booming trend. Headlines with numbers in them denote purpose to the article, and everybody loves a countdown! Perhaps it brings to mind the good old days of the MTV top thirty? Numbers are easy on the eye because they denote a defined structure to an article. Nowadays time-poor readers enjoy structure and nugget-sized pieces of information.

paint by numbers


Tap Into the ‘Universal Hunger for Knowledge’

Are you writing a general interest or feel-good piece? Then you have permission to be as adorable as a Scottish Fold cat. Try and tap into something I like to call the ‘universal hunger for knowledge.’ This is every human being’s need for love, laughter, inspiration, positivity, and squee (particular during the mid-afternoon work slump).

You may not have heard of squee before. It’s internet slang for the irresistible cuteness factor of certain humans, animals, situations or ideas. Anecdotal experience indicates that feel-good posts tend to be shared more than downer posts.

Take a Pun-t On the Occasional Pun

Using puns and double-entendres in headlines is always fun. The ‘Paint by Numbers’ example above is compelling because it’s quirky and out of context in this article.

So how do you create something punny? This is where you need to summon the darkest reaches of your imagination. Come up with word associations that are ridiculous and odd. Then you need to use your sensible and rational self, to decide whether or not the pun is too risky in its new context.

The mother of the double-entendre


Create a Sense of Urgency

Sometimes the best way to sell the idea of clicking on a post, is by appealing to people’s sense of urgency. Give them the feeling that if they don’t read the article, their life will suffer because of it. ‘Can You Prove You Grew Up in the 90’s?’ Asks Buzzfeed. And that’s just too tempting to leave alone (for anybody born in the 80’s).

sense of urgency
Splintered dreams. Irrational thoughts. Healing with wholefoods. It all sounds intriguing, doesn’t it?


Think of the Audience

A pun-riddled, slightly raunchy headline won’t do well in a corporate or B2B website. However edgy headlines will work for certain literary publications or news sites. Although don’t err on the side of caution and make the headline unbearably dull either. Even in the most corporate of contexts, there’s still room for a pleasurable and juicy headline! When in doubt vet the headline with several others, to make sure you’re all on the same page! Boom-tish!

Sell the Value of the Article

The headline is the mini-sales pitch for what comes after that. It’s the old premise of don’t judge a book by its cover, turned on its head! Time poor people trawling the internet for that tiny nugget of joy, knowledge or je ne sais quoi, will only venture into your domain if you give them a compelling enough reason. Sell the benefits such as ’10 tips on SEO for start ups’, ‘Five ways to save money on electricity this winter’ Although these are missing the clever pun, they are still effective because they sell the value of the article.

Find the Right Superlative

Finding the right superlative is going to make people fascinated and drawn to the article. These words are the thrill factor and energy that otherwise wouldn’t be there. Here are some great ones, although only use them when it’s appropriate: amazing, lush, splendid, brilliant, powerful, valuable. And the more risque: bitchin, kick-ass and bad-ass.

sales words


Sell the News Back to the Audience

Essentially this means you take what’s newsworthy and promote this in the headline. For example: ‘Will and Kate decide to name their baby George’. Remember that certain places, people and current affairs issues are newsworthy. So if you mention this in your article, highlight it in the headline.

Does the Carpet Match the Drapes?

That was another mutant phrase completely reincarnated in a new context! What I mean is – do the contents of the article live up to the fancy headline? A well-crafted kick-ass headline is only as good as the article itself. So it’s crucial for the article to live up to the hype. Otherwise you may find that your blog or website may be overlooked by readers in the future.



And finally, here’s a TED talk about which headlines of today will still matter in 100 years time. A thoughtful and insightful talk on the long term resonance of news from Kirk Citron.


The original version of this article was written by Athena Dennis on behalf of Total Marketing Australia.

Do you have any clever or unique ways to snap up the attention with your headlines? What’s your advice, we would love to know! 

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