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5 of the Most-Read Headlines -- And How to Write Your Own

This story originally appeared on PR Newswire's Small Business PR Toolkit

Press release? Done.


Pitch? All written and ready to go.

Headline? Um… no.

For many business owners, writing a headline — that handful of words that goes at the top of your press release, your newsletter, your blog post, or in the subject line of an email — is total agony.

A Fracti survey of 500 top-tier publishers including BuzzFeed, Mashable, TechCrunch, found that 85 percent of journalists decide to open an email based on the subject line.

Related: Who Writes Your Company's Blog Content?

Yet crafting the perfect headline can feel like a complete mystery — even for experienced media darlings.

But it’s not.

There’s a reason why certain headlines sell and certain headlines flop.

And I’m about to break it down for you, line by line.

I’ve plucked out 5 of the most-read headlines in recent history (from this list), to show you why these particular phrases are the cream of the crop. And how you can create your own “most popular” headlines to get your press releases, blog posts, emails, and e-zines opened, read and shared.

Related: Why Your Content Marketing Strategy Needs Real-Time Data

Publication: This Week

Headline: Why Do Smart Kids Grow Up to Be Heavier Drinkers?

This headline demonstrates a surprising connection that you wouldn’t expect — smart kids turning into heavy drinkers.

Immediately, the reader begins to wonder, “Why does this happen?” And in some cases, “Hey, I have / I was a smart kid. Should I be worried?”

It practically compels you to click and find out.

You try it: Why do [group of people] turn out to be [surprising outcome]?

Publication: Lifehacker

Headline: Turn Your $60 Router into a $600 Router

Everyone loves a deal! This clever headline promises the possibility of creating a $600 piece of equipment for a fraction of the usual cost.

Even people who aren’t in the market for a router would probably click, out of curiosity, just to see how it’s done.

You try it: Turn your [inexpensive or unexpected thing] into a [more expensive thing].

Publication: Neatorama

Headline: The 10 Most Magnificent Trees in the World

Ah, escapism! The round-up of beautiful trees promises a refuge from your busy day — before clicking the headline, you can already imagine the stunning, yet soothing visuals.

As a side note, round-ups are a great way to promote one of your products or services — without being too pushy. Just include one of your goods alongside several competitors. (Think: “10 Swimsuits That Will Make You Feel Like A Goddess.”)

You try it: The 10 Most [Adjective] [Name of Thing] in the World.

Publication: The Daily Beast

Headline: Did the White House Pressure General Shelton to Help a Prominent Donor?

Did they?! The reader will immediately want to know!

Using a startling question as your headline is always a strong move.

But you don’t need a Code Red security breach in order to stir up curiosity.

A headline like: “Why are mid-career women turning down lucrative promotions, like never before?” achieves the same result, with a decidedly less dramatic storyline.

You try it: Why is [person] saying NO to [something the person would normally say YES to]?

Publication: The Atlantic

Headline: Caring for your Introvert

This headline tugs at your heartstrings — promising helpful tips on how to care for an introverted child that you love. But this approach doesn’t just work for parents. You can tweak it to speak to just about any audience.

Think: “How to calm your bride-to-be’s frazzled nerves, on the eve of your wedding.”

You try it: How to [calm / motivate / inspire / honor / care for] your [name of person].

For more headline wizardry, check out 5 secrets that copywriting pros use to create great headlines.

Soon, you’ll see that writing a must-click headline is no different than baking a cake:

Related: Create a Company Blog Series

You just need to follow a basic recipe… while tossing in a few fresh ingredients of your choosing.

Happy headlining!

Written by Susan Harrow, a media coach, marketing expert and author of Sell Yourself Without Selling Your Soul (HarperCollins). Her clients include everyone from rock stars to and celebrity chefs to CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, as well as entrepreneurs, coaches, consultants, speakers and authors.

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