12 Tips For Writing FOMO Headlines Your Readers Won’t Be Sorry They Clicked On

Overwhelmed by too much content online? Who isn’t! The internet is now a gargantuan smorgasbord that feeds us infinite content choices 24/7 (including millions of blog posts published and promoted daily) so it’s no wonder we’ve evolved into time-poor, content-fatigued, and therefore skilled online scanners, who can determine within a split second whether we want to click on something or not.
As we browse the web, social channels and our inboxes in ‘scanning mode’, there are usually two key things that convince us (or fail to convince us) to click on an item of content: An image (which is a subject for a whole other post) or a headline. For the millions of publishers, bloggers and brands competing against each other in an ongoing battle for our limited attention, the challenge isn’t to attract just any random passers-by (especially in the case of paid promotions), but carefully targeted audiences they particularly want to reach. So in an era where online content must be distilled into purposeful, single-sentence promos that compel fussy online scanners to screech to a halt and click – the headline is everything.

In an era where online content must be distilled into purposeful, single-sentence promos that compel fussy online scanners to screech to a halt and click – the headline is EVERYTHING.

The unfathomable quantity of both new and old content throughout the web, coupled with our evolving attention spans – has transformed most of us into content snobs by pure necessity, so if the hook that’s supposed to convince us to click on something doesn’t manage to do it in an instant – we move on to the next item with ruthless indifference. The headline is therefore often the only opportunity for content creators and marketers to convert a quick scan into a click.
While 8 out of 10 people read a headline, only 2 out of 10 will read further, so a blog post’s headline is at least as important to its success as the post itself. Some people argue that it’s even more important, like renowned direct marketer Drayton Bird and legendary ad man David Ogilvy who have both opined that headlines should be written with the Pareto principle in mind (also known as the 80/20 Rule). Headlines, according to them, are so crucial to “selling” your post, that you should be spending at least 20% of your time writing the perfect headline in order to generate maximum readership. Or in other words,

The headline is essentially an advertisement for a post and it needs to communicate a few key things instantly so that it not only appeals to the right people, but that they also feel compelled to click on it for fear of missing out on something that might be truly worthwhile.

The thing is – although a headline is key to delivering people to the destination page, it’s the content itself that interests them, so if the headline fails to deliver on its implied value, people will bounce right off the destination page, which is not only bad for your site’s SEO but it also earns you a reputation as a clickbait offender (not a title any respectable content creator should aspire to!).

Writing headlines that compel the right people to click on them has therefore become both a science and an art. It involves more than just playing around with what “sounds good” (although that’s an important factor): It requires a calculated approach, proven techniques, an understanding of best practices in writing for the web, and a sacrosanct commitment to making sure a headline reflects the actual content that awaits within the post itself, so that readers feel rewarded (and never cheated) for clicking through in the first place.
Here are some techniques and best practices to consider if you want to craft headlines that are effective not only because they’re highly clickable, but also because they prioritize reader engagement post-click:
If you prefer to watch me tell you about my 12 FOMO headline writing techniques rather than read them, check out the video. You can also download the E-book version of this post here.
Relevance is important because it helps readers ascertain very quickly if your post is worth reading. Remember, people’s time is scarce and they are very selective about what they’ll take the trouble to read, so if it’s not immediately apparent to them that the content on the page is exactly what the headline implied it would be, or that there is a clear benefit, reward or other worthwhile reason for reading your post – they probably won’t.
Be specific about the subject matter and the intended audience
When you promote a piece of content, your aim shouldn’t be for the whole world to read it, because let’s face it – it’s not going to interest everyone on the planet. Rather, your aim should be for the headline to appeal to YOUR desired audience, and one way to appeal specifically to them is by being super precise about who the post is for in the headline itself.

“Felix” might write a post titled “The Most Incredible Discovery since Sliced Bread!” and get a HUGE click-through rate, because who wouldn’t want to find out about such an incredible discovery, right?
The problem is, that the bounce rate on that post would likely be phenomenally high, because most of the clickers have no interest in learning about newly-discovered attributes of yeast that can cut the production time of bread by half (yes, “Felix” in this example – owns a bakery). It might be super interesting for baking enthusiasts or chefs, but the non-bakers and non-chef readers would realize within seconds that the post isn’t interesting to them at all, and move off the page faster than you could say “sourdough” (and be quite deflated about it too).
But had the headline read “Bakers rejoice! Newly-discovered yeast properties stand to halve bread production time”, it’s highly likely that only people who care about baking bread would bother clicking through to read the post, and undoubtedly “ooh” and “ahhh” with excitement while reading it.
If you came across a post titled “What you need to know about the top 5 fish everyone loves to eat”, there are several possible angles that may have been used to write the post, but not all of them may apply to you based on your specific interest. For example, it may be about:
1. How to prepare and cook these five types of fish (which would interest people searching for recipes or cooking tips).
2. Tips on how to catch these five types of fish (which would interest fishing enthusiasts).
3. Health benefits of eating these five types of fish (which would interest people who are looking for tips on health, nutrition or dietary information).
4. Interesting trivia about these five types of fish (which would interest people searching for scientific/trivia about fish).
If you write a headline that’s too general, it might be overlooked by the audience it was intended for, because its specific relevance to them wasn’t specified clearly enough in the headline. Or, certain people may click on it because they think the post might interest them, but bounce right off as soon as they realize it doesn’t, which isn’t great for your website’s SEO.
What you need to know about the top 5 fish everyone loves to eat
A more specific way to word the headlines so that each audience would instantly know whether the post is relevant to them would be:
1. For the cooks: “Mouthwatering recipes featuring the top 5 fish everyone loves to eat”
2. For the fishing enthusiasts: “Everything you need to know about where and how to catch the top 5 fish everyone loves to eat”
3. For the health conscious: “Nutritional benefits of the top 5 fish everyone loves to eat”
4. For the trivia buffs: “Interesting facts you may not know about top 5 fish everyone loves to eat”

Headlines that indicate at least to some extent who the post is suitable for as well as what the post is about not only boost the likelihood of a click, but also that the post will actually be read, because the content is relevant precisely to those who clicked through to it.

People are curious creatures by nature, so a sensationalist or ‘juicy’ headline that plays on our psychological fear of missing out (FOMO) on something that’s potentially a ‘must-know’ (a.k.a. clickbait) may well earn the writer a click. But most of us also hate being fooled into doing something we might have otherwise avoided had we been presented with truthful and accurate information, so using clickbait in headlines is generally counterproductive for two main reasons:
1. It almost always backfires, with readers bouncing off the page feeling annoyed and misled, resulting in high bounce rates and low dwell time, which can reflect very poorly on your site’s ranking in SERPs.
2. It can damage your online reputation, because if you consistently write headlines that fail to live up to their promise in the post itself, people may eventually avoid clicking on any headline that is attributed to you as its author or to your blog, ruining your credibility as a reliable source of content.
The more accurately your headline describes the content that awaits readers once they click on it, the less chance they will be disappointed by the content they actually find and the more inclined they will be to spend time engaging with it.
Writers, journalists and reporters have always tried to craft headlines that make people want to read beyond the headline to the article itself. It’s not a new phenomenon that began with the advent of the internet or blogging, and there’s nothing wrong with crafting clickable headlines. On the contrary, knowing how to craft highly-clickable headlines is actually more crucial now than ever before, which is the whole point of this post.

But there’s a difference between writing an irresistible headline that delivers what it implies it will within the article or post, and writing a headline that’s as juicy as possible just so people click on it, but then lets them down with content that’s either totally irrelevant or really bad.

I have personally seen cases where marketers used the term ‘clickbait’ to describe headlines that ‘get clicked’ almost as a badge of honor, ignoring what the word really means and using it nonchalantly as a term that’s synonymous with ‘highly clickable headlines’. But although the term does imply high clickability, it’s wrong to use it to describe a standard we should aspire to, because by definition – it’s a term that implies a shady approach to writing.

Writing irresistible headlines that deliver on their promise is the mark of clever writers with integrity who care about creating a great user experience. Writing irresistible headlines that bait people to click through to irrelevant or poorly produced content (a.k.a. clickbait) is the mark of conniving writers who have no qualms about misleading readers purely to boost page views.

The reason clickbait is always bad is already mentioned in the word itself – because it’s about baiting people to click on something that they may not have clicked on otherwise, had they known the content that awaited them didn’t satisfy their expectations or search intent post-click.
Just because clickbait is so prevalent throughout the internet doesn’t mean that it should be tolerated as an acceptable and irreversible aspect of our reality. Just as marketers need to continue to condemn email spammers who taint the reputation and perception of the email marketing industry as a whole – email being such an effective channel for most modern marketers (and a ‘preferred method of communication’ for consumers) – so too must content creators continue to work towards discouraging the use of clickbait as a writing tactic to lure readers to a piece of content that over-promises, under-delivers or blatantly misleads.
A great content creator is one who can not only create great, worthwhile content (obviously!) but also write a headline that sums it up and “sells” it both irresistibly and accurately – so there’s no chance readers could ever feel like they were duped into clicking it.
Instead of aspiring to write clickbait headlines that almost always get clicked but cause readers to drop like flies once they realize the destination page is a sham, it’s far smarter to write FOMO click-worthy headlines that deliver on the readers’ expectations or search intent with content that’s relevant and useful.
The use of keywords in headlines is arguably no longer as essential as it once was, because Google’s algorithms now look at the content on the page itself as well to determine its relevance to a particular search query. But in some cases, using a keyword or a highly searchable phrase that’s trending among your target audience can work wonders if you want to attract a very specific niche.

Think of a keyword or search phrase as a beacon that helps people zero in on the precise post they’re looking for, and use your common sense to determine whether using it in your headline is likely to boost its appeal for your target audience.

Moz’s Rand Fishkin talks about the importance of considering ‘viral appeal’ versus ‘searcher intent’ when writing headlines. If your goal is to drive lots of traffic on social media or if the subject matter is light-hearted with high entertainment value, then a creative headline written with potential virality in mind will probably be most effective. Alternatively, if you’re offering informative, educational content that people might be specifically searching for and you wanted it to rank highly, then searcher intent should be a top priority and you should consider writing a more search-optimized headline, which includes strategically chosen keywords and phrases.
Be entertaining by upping the level of intrigue, humor or wit.
Many copywriting experts warn against trying to be ‘clever’ when writing headlines, suggesting that using metaphors, analogies, cuteness or cryptic nuances is not as effective as writing something straightforward. But there’s a difference between trying to do all those ‘clever’ things badly (resulting in cringe-worthy headlines that actually turn people off) and doing all of those things really well.

Perhaps inexperienced writers might struggle with this technique (which is totally understandable), so they should stick with other effective techniques instead. But if you’re a seasoned writer who can pull it off with relative ease, then go for it!
A genuinely creative or entertaining headline is a welcome breath of fresh air in a sea of repetitive, dull and predictable titles. Just be sure to keep the intrigue, wit or humor – honest and relevant so it can’t be misconstrued as clickbait.
Leverage urgency, trending topics and newsworthiness.
There are always new happenings and fads popping up in the news or in popular culture, and if they’re relevant to your brand or business, you could potentially leverage those trending topics by creating new posts or (even repurposing old ones) that tie back to your own offering, and generate renewed interest thanks to the timely relevance of the headlines.
If you imply that you have a solution to something by phrasing the headline as a question or as a ‘How to’ tip-style article, chances are that it will be particularly appealing to the people who need that problem solved. But given the sheer volume of content being published all the time, it’s likely that whatever solution you’re offering has probably already been written about many, many times before, so you need to try to find a unique angle for your version and make a point of highlighting this unique angle in your headline.

For example, you could write a post titled “How to set a formal dinner table”, but you’d stand out more with “How to set a formal dinner table fit for a Downton Abbey Crawley”. The Downton Abbey TV series – centered on the aristocratic Crawley family (for whom dinner is always a formal occasion) – was watched by more than 120 million viewers worldwide. So for anyone searching for tips on how to set a formal dinner table, chances are they’ll be more drawn to a post that references the super popular TV show than to a typical headline that sounds just like a hundred other versions of “How to set a formal dinner table”. Even if some of your potential readers haven’t got a clue what Downton Abbey is, the added twist of using it in the headline makes it sound more interesting than it would be without it.
How to set a formal dinner table fit for a Downton Abbey Crawley
Another way to boost the appeal of a headline for a post that offers a solution to something is to highlight a clear (and ideally unique) benefit. For example you could write something like “How to cure a headache with Acme pain relief tablets”, which is relevant to someone who’s got a headache but may not compel them enough to click on it if they haven’t heard of (or have any inclination to buy) Acme pain relief tablets. Or, you could explain the advantage of using Acme pain relief tablets in the headline itself, which may be more compelling because the person with the headache would want to find out more about that unique advantage. For example: “How Acme pain relief’s fast-acting formula can cure your headache with absolutely zero drowsiness”.
Use a numbered list
Love them or hate them – list posts work, probably because in a world of endless content, there is something comforting in knowing that a topic you want to read about has been conveniently summarized for you into a finite and manageable number of facts or tips.

Hubspot’s Dan Lyons consulted “a few shrinks” to weigh in on the psychology behind the appeal of list posts. Some of the reasons they offered include the notion that they restore order in an otherwise chaotic world, or that someone else (who is already knowledgeable about the topic) has narrowed the points down to ‘the most important’ ones you need to know, rather than you having to figure it out for yourself.

The nice thing about writing headlines for list posts, is that it requires minimal effort, because they tend to practically write themselves. Still, if you can apply one of the other tips listed in this post to a standard (and usually plain) list-post title, it could boost its FOMO-factor even more. For example, instead of saying “12 tips for writing great headlines“ (yawn…), you could say “12 ways to write FOMO headlines your readers won’t be sorry they clicked on” 😉
Posing the headline as a question or a statement that suggests controversy or intrigue can really make a reader sit up and take notice, especially if it happens to strike a chord. This tip isn’t always appropriate because not all topics lend themselves to stirring emotion, but if it is appropriate to write a headline that triggers emotion, then it stands a good chance of being clicked by someone who feels strongly about it. For example: “Five experts weigh in on why the Game of Thrones finale was the worst ending to a TV series (ever)”, or “Why the world would be a better place if we all quit social media immediately” etc.
Add an irresistible hint or benefit.
There’s a right way and a wrong way to use this technique. The wrong way is the classic clickbait-style headline that opens with something dramatic or sensationalist, and continues with a shameless hook like “you won’t believe what happened next” or “what happened next will blow your mind”. While many people still succumb to this type of headline, more savvy readers know better than to click on something that will most likely be a predictably trashy read.

But the concept of writing a ‘regular’ headline and then adding a mini-teaser or ‘bonus’ at the end can be extremely effective at piquing people’s curiosity. As long as your ‘irresistible teaser’ refers to something specific in your post without being too cryptic or overly sensationalist, then your headline will be deliciously intriguing while remaining perfectly respectable. For example, “How to bake the ultimate chocolate brownie (HINT: Chocolate has nothing to do with it)”.
If you’ve ever wondered how your headline would fare if it included a statistic backed by research as opposed to not including it, wonder no more. Groove’s Alex Turnbull found the answer by comparing “The Simple Test That Increased Our Referrals” with “The Simple Test That Increased Our Referrals by 30%”, and found that the headline that included the statistic performed 40% better than the one without it. That’s an amazing result!

So, if you’re writing a post that includes relevant data or if there’s an existing research-backed statistic you can reference in your post to help make your point, consider incorporating it into your headline to turbo-boost its click appeal.
Consider the headline's length.
People don’t just scan blog posts, they scan headlines too. There have been many studies on how the length of a headline impacts on its effectiveness, with research showing that people scan not just large chunks of text but also headlines, and that the parts of the headline that resonate most with readers when they’re in ‘scanning mode’ are the first and last three words, suggesting that the ideal length of a headline is six words. But obviously it’s not always possible to limit a headline to just six words, and in any case, recent studies suggest that very long headlines outperform short ones quite significantly:
  • According to a study by SEMrush, “Articles with really long headlines (14+ words) turned out to be the most effective, getting x2 more traffic, x2 more social shares and x5 more backlinks than articles with short headlines (7-10 words)“.
  • And, a Backlinko study based on BuzzSumo data also discovered that Question headlines (that end with a “?”) get 23.3% more social shares than headlines that don’t end with a question mark, and ‘List’ posts (also known as ‘listicles’) are heavily shared on social media. In fact, list posts get an average of 218% more shares than “how to” posts and 203% more shares than infographics.
Although headline length matters, the way it’s written matters most. In my humble opinion, although headline length ‘matters’ in the sense that you don’t want to make it excessively long because it will look and sound ridiculous – and in general “less is more” – what matters most is the way it’s written, because in the end what compels people to click (or not click) is the psychological effect of the technique used to write the headline. It also doesn’t matter whether you see that headline in your social feed, as a subject line in your inbox, or in search results. Humans react instinctively to something that truly interests them so a headline can be highly compelling whether it contains six words or 16.
As Copy & Marketing coach Bnonn Tennant suggests, ”rather than focusing on counting the words, you should focus on “making each word count” (advice I wholeheartedly agree with!).
Headline length is not as important as the way it's written
Next time you publish a post, make sure you aim not only for your headline to turns heads, but also for the post itself to be worth the effort for those who clicked on it.
Feature Image Credit: Photo via Adobe Stock

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Noya Lizor - I'm all about creating standout content that helps businesses grow

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