Why 25 is the magic number for headline success

Did that headline catch your attention?

If it did, that means we’re already applying the valuable lessons we learned at Camp Tech’s Writing Killer Headlines workshop, a precursor to their Writing Killer Web Content session. Hosted by content marketing strategist Jordan Behan of Narrate Creative, the event considered what it means to craft killer content (and especially headlines) for the web.

Behan opened the seminar by saying that “a truly great headline is not just clickbait, it’s a promise you make to the reader.” With this statement in mind, here are our key takeaways from our time with Jordan and Camp Tech. And we promise we’ll explain the reasoning behind the number 25 before we’re done.

1. Content is key

As important as a catchy title is, you need to recognize from the get-go that a headline is only as strong as the content behind it. Behan shared with us five of the most famous headlines of all time, some of which you might recognize:

  • “Diana Dead”
  • “Beatle John Lennon Slain”
  • “The First Footstep”
  • “War on America”
  • “Hitler Dead”

There’s nothing particularly flashy or creative about these headlines. But, what they’re describing is interesting and important, meaning readers will be drawn to these stories naturally. Of course, we’re not always able to cover the most eye-catching stories possible, but it’s important to remember that if a story is well-written and engaging, it will attract readers.

2. Keep your audience in mind

As Behan mentioned in his introduction, a headline has to fulfill a promise to your audience, not trick them into reading something. After all, you don’t want to lose their trust. On the same topic of respecting your readers, it’s important to keep them in mind when writing your headlines. Think to yourself: Does this answer a question my readership might have? Am I speaking in their language? In Behan’s own words, “craft your headline for an audience of one,” so that the content resonates with them.

3. Lists are effective…in moderation

At Quietly, we love lists. Love ‘em to bits! While we could come up with many, many reasons why we love them; Behan came up with three:

  1. They’re easy to write.
  2. They’re easy to read. You always know what you’re getting and how long it will take to read.
  3. They consistently drive clicks, especially on mobile.

Now wasn’t that digestible? That said, all good things come in moderation. When deciding whether or not to make list-based content, consider whether this style of article fits within your brand. Even if it does, you want to vary your content so that your readers don’t become fatigued. This means challenging yourself to write headlines that don’t include numbers (i.e., “# reasons we love lists” can become “Why lists are the future of content”) and considering an optimal ratio for your company or content.

4. Use data, timing, and mystery

While you don’t want to make any false promises in your headlines, you can add some suspense to intrigue your readers. The best way to do so is to include information that makes them want to read more. Usually, this is in the form of data (like numbers and facts) or quotes (like those from a celebrity or well-regarded expert). For example, if you have a great piece of data that says that “50 percent of Quietly’s female readers have never read a list-based article,” use that in your headline! Similarly, a quote like “I’ve never read a list-based article and I never will” from a known content marketing specialist, might be a great headline in and of itself.

5. The Upworthy effect

This is where the number 25 comes in. At the end of the workshop, Behan described the “Upworthy Effect.” If you’ve ever been on Upworthy, you know how intriguing some of their headlines can be. This viral site has the highest number of Facebook shares per article by domain and despite creating only around 225 stories a month on average (BuzzFeed produces ~3,200 and HuffPost ~18,000), it is the third most viral site on the net.

So how do you achieve Upworthy– or BuzzFeed-style success without becoming Upworthy or BuzzFeed? The key is to write 25 headlines for every article before choosing the best one. Many of these will be awful. Others will be just plain weird. But by undergoing a bit of a brain dump, you’ll be more likely to find the perfect headline to intrigue and excite your reader. They say practice what you preach, so here are our 25 headlines attempts for this article:

  1. Writing killer headlines
  2. How to write killer headlines
  3. The one trick to writing a great headline
  4. Iteration is the key to crafting killer headlines
  5. 6 tips to make your headlines slay
  6. Diamond in the rough: finding your perfect headline with 6 simple tips
  7. The one tip that will make your headlines killer
  8. The perfect formula for a winning headline
  9. Killer headlines don’t write themselves, but you can write them with these tips
  10. Headlines are key to success. Here’s how to write a great one
  11. Headline, write, repeat: tips for writing killer headlines
  12. Headline bootcamp: tips for writing a winning headline
  13. Winning headlines need practice
  14. Writing killer headlines isn’t as hard as you think
  15. Headline block: break through with these tips
  16. Killer headlines in 6 steps
  17. Writing a great headline needs practice, but doesn’t need to be hard
  18. Headlines are hard—make them simpler with these tips
  19. Headlines don’t have to be hard: tips to help you write killer ones
  20. Practice makes perfect, headlines included
  21. 25 is the magic number: how to write killer headlines
  22. Why the number 25 is the magic number for headline success
  23. Lucky #25: what this number can teach you about headlines
  24. Forget lucky #7: why 25 is the key to a killer headline
  25. Headline hell: we’ve written 25 headlines and this is all we have left

Of course, we’d never run some of these, but the act of getting 25 ideas down on paper helped us discover some ideas and concepts we wouldn’t usually think of.

Twenty-five headlines might seem a lot at first, but it’s the act of forcing yourself to think outside the box and get to that number that can lead to some great things. Jordan notes, however, you can scale back once you’ve mastered the art of headlines, but we think 25 may be the magic number after all.

Image: Ruslan Grumble/Shutterstock

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