Easy ways to come up with the best headlines

by Kath Walters

I was stuck for a blog post this week. I stumbled across a cool tool made by HubSpot, called a blog topic generator. It’s really very clever. So I put in the words “content marketing”, and I got this: “How to solve the biggest problems with content marketing”.

Then I Googled my headline and I found quite a few headlines just like mine. Not exactly the same, but close enough to make me look like a not-very-original blogger.

Thinking of a good headline is really hard, and it’s really important. Even if it’s brilliant, only two in every 10 people will click on it, the stats tell us.

This was the very first time I had been tempted to cheat. Really.

So when I realised how many headline help tools there are, I thought of good ways to use them so you think of fresh ideas and angles, but don’t get left red-faced.

  1. Headline Wizard. This is the hardest one to use (and it’s really ugly). You have to do the most work. If you are slipshod, you get really weird results. However, probably has the best potential for original headings. This is one I generated for this blog post. “How to generate great headlines, and make your readers click.”
  2. Portent. It’s cool and funny, and the best thing about it is that it teaches you more about how to generate headlines as you go. But there is not much control. You just put in your topic. Here’s what I got: “Why do people think headline help tools are a good idea?”

  3. Upworthy is actually a parody of a headline generator. Use it as a cautionary tale. For example,  “You will do a double take when you see what an autistic teenager found”.

  4. HubSpot topic generator. This really is a good way to think of ideas – it sparked this post, for example – but my advice is not to take it too literally. Here’s one that I got: “The Biggest Problem With Headline Tools, And How You Can Fix It”.

  5. Copyblogger isn’t going to do the work for you. But they have some fantastic advice, like using magazines like Cosmo to inspire you. And they also have the world’s best e-book about writing headlines.

  6. Content Row’s linkbait generator has four settings – fun, controversial, shocking and list. Here’s what I got: “How a headline help tool can make you filthy rich”. I’d have to just change the angle of this story, but maybe you’d prefer that.

  1. Have something to say. It’s a fail if you write a great headline, but the story doesn’t deliver.

  2. Use headline tools before you start writing to stimulate ideas, and get the creative juices flowing.

  3. Don’t take them too literally. Substitute words, play around.

  4. Learn the principles of good headlines and blog topics from the generators.

  5. Study the headlines that make you click.

  6. Google your headline before you use it. If it’s taken, go back to the drawing board, but remember headline writing is, and always has been, a formula. No need to reinvent the wheel.

Here are my favourites from the headlines shortlisted for last year’s Walkley awards for excellence in journalism (this year’s are not announced until October).

Brad Clifton, The Daily Telegraph, “Forgivings and a funeral”

Erik Jensen, The Saturday Paper, “Budget’s lifting also separates”

Paul Whittaker, The Daily Telegraph, “Cardinal spin”, “The Grapes of Bof”, “Palmersnorus”

And here is a list of “headline fails” that I found hilarious and hope you do too.