How to Write Powerful Headlines that Draw Readers

Headlines are the most important part of your post. They are the first thing your reader sees. Lackluster headlines will have readers moving on.

People who depend on headlines to improve sales study their effectiveness in the most minute detail. We know that most church workers do not want a degree in headline science. Nevertheless, we can learn from the people who make their living figuring out what works best. 

We’ll condense their advice. If you want to know more, go to the experts. Here’s one.

Your major goals are to:

  • Pique interest
  • Inform readers
  • Help your readers solve a problem
  • Entertain! No one wants to be bored!

We’ve already covered that headlines should contain key words so that search engines find them. Arranging those words is the next challenge.

Some authorities recommend writing your headline first to help you focus your post. Others say write your headline last to be sure it truly reflects your message. Try both! Write a headline to help you focus and then revisit your headline before you post. Make sure you’ve kept the promise you made to your readers.

Headlines should address the question “What does this blog have to offer the reader?”

Let’s say you are planning to write a post to offer ideas on a common problem for many churches — post-holiday drop in attendance. Let’s figure the key words are some combination of “Church Attendance” and perhaps “Holiday” or “Post-Holiday.” If you are publishing at “Christmas” or “Easter” those words might figure as well.

Here are nine approaches to consider:

PROMISE A SOLUTION (HOW TO)
Does your post solve a problem? Use the words “How to” in the headline.
How to Improve Post-holiday Church Attendance

NUMBERS
Will your post give simple, practical advice? Use numbers. The people who study headlines can prove it boosts readership. They’ve even figured out that the number 7 works best!
7 Ways Your Church Can Boost Post-holiday Church Attendance

UNIVERSAL APPEAL
Certain Words Appeal to Readers. (easy, quick, free, more, better, new, grow, improved, guaranteed, fresh, you and your)
7 Easy Ways to Improve Your Post-holiday Church Attendance Quickly

QUESTIONS
Questions can make good headlines.
Does Post-Christmas Church Attendance Give You the Blues?
or
Church Attendance Down? Where Did All the People Go?

TESTIMONIAL
Will your article include real examples?
How Grace Church Brought Members Back after the Holidays  

AUTHORITY
Will your article quote an expert? Say so.
Archbishop Smith Recommends 5 Ways You Can Improve Church Attendance Year-Round

URGENCY
Your headline can take an authoritative tone.
Failure to Boost Church Attendance Year-Round Challenges Mission Budgets 

EXPLORE THE PROBLEM
Help your readers understand why they share a problem.
7 Reasons Why Church Attendance Plummets after Christmas

BE CLEVER!
Headlines can be a place to have fun! Play on words. Use current hot buttons or old writer tricks like puns or alliteration. Shift the key words to the opening paragraph or perhaps a subhead before the opening paragraph.
Done with Church ’til Easter? Santa’s Making a List!
or
Here’s the Church. Here’s the Steeple. Where Are the People?

As you look at the differences in headlines for the same proposed story, you will notice that the tone of the headline will influence the angle of your story. Remember: Write the headline. Write the story. Revisit the headline to make sure the story keeps the promise made to the reader in your opening words — your headline.

That’s the end of our short primer. Just one more bit of advice:

Don’t be boring!

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About Judith Gotwald

journalist, graphic designer, problem solver
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