What Are Headline Formulas All About? The Complete Guide

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80% of people read headlines, but only 20% read the rest of the content. So it’s vital you get headlines right. You must give people a reason to click and read on.

Using headline formulas is the most effective way to write better headlines. Here, we’ll teach you about their impact, share tons of examples you can emulate, and, ultimately, show you how to use headline formulas to bring in more engaged readers.

How Do Headline Formulas Work? 

Headline formulas are blueprints for compelling headlines that are proven to generate clicks. They comprise the structure of a headline split into distinct elements. As such, headline formulas act as a guide for copywriters to create effective, enticing headlines every time. 

A simple headline formula looks like this: How to [Achieve Result] in [Number] Simple Steps. Naturally, you replace the elements in brackets to fit your content, creating headlines such as “How to File Your Tax Return in 7 Simple Steps” or “How to Fix a Zipper in 12 Simple Steps”.

Why Are Headlines Important?

You’d be wrong to think a headline is just the cherry on top of your content sundae. It’s way more significant than that. Whether it’s on social media, the “Related Content” box at the end of a blog post, or the search engine results page, the headline is the gateway to your content. And it must be compelling enough for users to click through.

What’s more, headlines are important for SEO purposes. If you want your content to rank well, your headline needs to be clear, explanatory, and relevant to the content in question. Take a look at this example of a low-quality page from Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines:

Screenshot from Google's search quality evaluator guidelines with emphasis placed on "the title of the article is misleading and does not reflect the actual content of the page".

Note how one of the reasons for the poor rating is that “the title of the article is misleading and does not reflect the actual content of the page.” This indicates the value Google places on clear and relevant headlines.

Why Do You Need Headline Formulas?

You’ve seen how important it is to get headlines right, and headline formulas are facilitators in this respect. In content marketing, it’s important to find what works for your audience and utilize it to keep driving key performance indicators (KPIs) up. To put it simply, if you find a headline formula that gets you a ton of traffic, why wouldn’t you apply it to other pieces of content of the same type? 

That’s why some companies have a bunch of similar headlines on their blog – they’ve found what works for them. Check out these examples from Shopify’s blog:

A screenshot of blogs from Shopify's blog web page.

As you can see, Shopify uses large numbers to hint at the value of the piece and the current year to express the content’s relevance. These are the bookmarks of the headline formula and the middle is all about a goal relevant to its target audience.

Using headline formulas also gives rise to feelings of familiarity and trust. People are more likely to click a headline that feels familiar even if they don’t know the company or blog it’s on. Furthermore, people will subconsciously recognize certain headline formulas, understanding exactly what they’ll get if they click. 

For example, when they see “[Number] Ways to [Achieve Result]” they know they’ll have something they can skim through and pick out the most relevant information. As opposed to other formulas that might indicate a more in-depth, thoughtful read; or a straightforward, actionable guide, etc.

What Are the Characteristics of a Good Headline?

Ensure your headlines have these qualities:

  • Unique – When you use formulas, you risk producing cookie-cutter headlines. Be original to stand out in a saturated space.
  • Clear – Your headline should represent what’s within the content; otherwise, users will simply bounce. This is not good for SEO, nor is it good for achieving your marketing goals, e.g., getting people to read through your content and sign up for your newsletter or convert in some other way.
  • User-Focused – The best headlines express the value of reading what’s within. Consider “10 Christmas Craft Ideas” versus “10 Christmas Craft Ideas That Kids Will Love”.
  • NOT Emotional/Sensational – Users are wise to these tricks and the data proves it. BuzzSumo’s study found formulas with “Will Make You + [an emotional response]” are no longer popular. 

What Is the Best Formula for Writing a Headline?

Alas, there isn’t one best formula for writing the perfect headline. Different formulas match different types of content. The formula you use depends on the structure of the piece, the angle, audience preferences, your performance metrics, and more. 

As we’ve touched on, you can create your own headline formulas to reuse according to what’s worked for you in the past. Head to your analytics tool and find the content that has the best click-through rate.

But if you need some inspiration, here are several useful formulas to suit different scenarios and hypothetical examples of how they might be used:

“How to” Variations

  • How to [Achieve Result]: The Beginner’s Guide – “How to Do SEO: The Beginner’s Guide”
  • How to [Achieve Result] [Adverb] – “How to Cook Rice Quickly”
  • How to Use [Product/Tool/Item] to [Achieve Result] – “How to Use Adobe Illustrator to Make a Logo”


  • Stop [Negative Action] – “Stop Fretting About Your Finances”
  • [Positive Action] Today – “Improve Your Mental Wellbeing Today”
  • [Number] [Actions] That’ll [Achieve Result] – “11 Meditations That’ll Bring You Peace”


  • [Keyword] 101: The Complete Guide – “Dropshipping 101: The Complete Guide”
  • What Is [Keyword] and How Do You Do It? – “What Is Football Golf and How Do You Do It?”
  • [Keyword]: Explanation, Examples, & Strategies – “Copywriting: Explanation, Examples, & Strategies”


  • [Long-tail Keyword]? – “Why Are My Teeth Sensitive?”
  • How Do You [Achieve Result]? – “How Do You Start a Blog?”
  • Which Is Better: [Action/Tool/Product/Idea] or  [Action/Tool/Product/Idea]? – “Which Is Better: Linux or Unix?”


  • How [Company/Person] [Achievement] [Data] By [Method] – “How Coffee Co. Increased ROI 400% By Investing in Analytics”
  • [Keyword]: What the Data Says – “Property Investing: What the Data Says”
  • [Number] Statistics that Prove [Claim] – “37 Statistics that Prove the Value of Employee Training”


  • [Number] [Examples/Rules/Strategies] You Need to [See/Know] – “23 Graphic Design Principles You Need to Know”
  • The Secret to [Result] – “The Secret to Better Project Management”


  • The Best [Items/Methods/Ideas] Backed By [Discipline] – “The Best Sales Strategies Backed By Psychology”
  • [Number] [Topic] Methods Recommended by Experts – “14 Home Organization Methods Recommended by Experts”

What Are the Best Examples of Headline Formulas in Action?

We’ve put together some of our favorite headline formula examples, examining why they work so well and how you can use them to formulate your own headlines:

How to Set Up and Get the Most Out of Your Apple Watch – Wired

A screenshot of a Wired article with the title, "How to Set Up and Get the Most Out of Your Apple Watch".

This is a nice variation of a “How to” headline. It’s clear and explanatory – you know what you’ll learn when you read the post. 

What takes it to the next level is the way it addresses a user pain point. The reader will get more here than they might in other basic tutorials. They’ll not only learn how to set up the Apple Watch but how to tweak the settings to make it work according to their needs, which would certainly compel a reader to click on this post over another.

Here’s a breakdown of the formula: “How to [Action] and [Enhancement] [Product/Item]”. Use it to create headlines such as “How to Book and Upgrade Flight Tickets” or “How to Cook and Get the Best Flavor from Vegan Cheese”.

Link Building: Definition, Importance, Qualities, & Ideas (CoSchedule)

A screenshot of an article from CoSchedule Blog with the title, "Link Building: Definition, Importance, Qualities, & Ideas".

This is certainly a high-level, SEO-driven pillar post. The way the headline is framed tells search engines it’s a broad and comprehensive introductory guide.

It starts with the keyword then there’s a list of what the reader will find within. If you want to do something similar, pick a main overarching topic as the keyword. You can get into the nitty-gritty details in other posts.

CoSchedule could re-use the formula “[Keyword]: Definition, Importance, Qualities, & Ideas” over and again. You could tweak it to match the main information users want to know when they use your search term, e.g., “Curly Hair: Styles, Products, & Hair Care Tips”. This shows both Google and the reader you cover all the main sub-topics.

3 Methods I Used to Run 800 km and Stay Injury Free (James Runs Far)

A screenshot from James Runs Far showing an article title, "The Monthly Mileage: Dec 2018 - 3 Methods I used to Run 800 km AND Stay Injury Free".

This is a beautifully formulated headline that’s super compelling. First, it’s actionable—you’re going to learn three methods here. Second, it adds proof. The blogger states they used these methods to achieve a result. Third, it uses impressive data to lure the reader in. And fourth, it addresses an extra reader pain point.

You can use this latter idea to add intrigue to your headlines. All you need to do is use the word “Without” and bring in an oft-cited roadblock for the topic. Here’s a basic example, “7 Ways to Start a Business Without Funding”. If you wanted to emulate the above headline’s formula, you’d use “How I Started a 6-Figure Business Without Funding”.

Plant-Based Umami: The Secret to Creating Delicious, Vegan Food (Delish Knowledge)

A screenshot from Delish Knowledge showing an article title, "Plant-Based Umami: The Secret to Creating Delicious, Vegan Food".

This headline is chock-full of surprises, piquing the curiosity of the reader. We start with a keyword which is, of course, a good idea for SEO. But this keyword, “plant-based umami,” is also surprising semantically as umami is traditionally associated with a meaty flavor. Similarly, “delicious” isn’t a word always associated with vegan food (even if it can be true). Using the phrase “The Secret to” further makes this a compelling headline. 

If we break it down, we get something akin to “[Keyword]: The Secret to [Adjective] [Result].” If you wanted to create a headline with the same effect as this one, you’d need to choose a concept that’s unique or surprising but not overly paradoxical or sensational. For instance, “Cleaning with Coca-cola: The Secret to a Stain-Free Toilet”.

What Is a Good Email CTR? (+ 6 Pro Tips on How to Increase It) (Databox)

A screenshot of an example headline that combines great approaches to create a winning formula. The headline reads, "What is a good email CTR? (+6 pro tips on how to increase it)".

This is another headline that combines a bunch of great approaches to create a winning formula. It’s straightforward – there’s a simple yet important question that’ll be answered within the article. But it’s the words in the brackets that add gravitas to the headline. 

When Databox says “6 Pro Tips,” they mean it literally. The company sources expert quotes and professional advice for all of its content. Use a similar phrase in your formula without the receipts, and you’ll leave readers disappointed, making for a bad user experience.

You can create a similar headline to the example, such as “What Is the Best Flea Treatment for Cats? (+ 7 Tips from Vets on How to Prevent Them)”. This takes it a step further by naming the type of expert rather than using a phrase like “pro tips,” which every content writer throws around haphazardly these days.

How Long Should A Headline Be?

Length plays a part in creating a good headline. One reason is Google cuts off a headline after 50-60 characters, as in this example:

A screenshot of a Google search showing a headline for an article, "What is Umami? Understanding The Science & Flavor Of This...".

With a too-long headline, words are lost, meaning you don’t see all the information. You can always use a long headline at the top of the page but make the title tag (that the search engines pick up) a shorter version.

Buzzsumo’s study of 100 million headlines shows the ideal length is 11 words and 65 characters based on engagement. Their evidence also suggests headlines are getting shorter and snappier over time.

But, of course, there are numerous studies that aim to answer the question of how long a headline should be. You don’t need to take one study as gospel. 

What we recommend is conveying all the information you need to get across in the shortest way possible. This is because you need enough words to make the headline clear, compelling, and relevant. But you must keep it as succinct as you can because of content fatigue. Social media scrollers, for example, aren’t going to pause to read lengthy headlines.

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