What’s The Most Effective Word You Can Use In A Headline?

Last night, over a very later dinner of Orange Roughy and seafood Alfredo, a question was raised.

What is the most effective word you can put in a headline?

Several words were offered up, with the word free topping the list. I disagreed, though I do believe that ‘free’ has its place. I said that the most effective word that can be used in a headline was contained in the question.

You. Headlines live and die by getting you to react. They are written to engage you, to get you to think, to get you to take action. You simply don’t care what I have to say unless it affects you or can benefit you. Why should you?

So my suggestion is this. When you proof your copy, look for those words like I and mine, and figure out how to replace them with words like you and your. Your readers will love you for it.

If you would like some examples, considered by Jay Abraham to be some of the most effective headlines ever written, keep reading. Below are a few samples from his list of 100 of the Greatest Headlines Ever Written .

THE SECRET OF MAKING PEOPLE LIKE YOU

ARE YOU EVER TONGUE-TIED AT A PARTY?

DO YOU MAKE THESE MISTAKES IN ENGLISH?

WHY SOME FOODS “EXPLODE” IN YOUR STOMACH

YOU CAN LAUGH AT MONEY WORRIES — IF YOU FOLLOW THIS SIMPLE PLAN

WHICH OF THESE $2.50 TO $5 BEST SELLERS DO YOU WANT — FOR ONLY $1 EACH?

DISCOVER THE FORTUNE THAT LIES HIDDEN IN YOUR SALARY

HOW OFTEN DO YOU HEAR YOURSELF SAYING: “NO, I HAVEN’T READ IT: I’VE BEEN MEANING TO!”

IS THE LIFE OF A CHILD WORTH $1 TO YOU?

DO YOU DO ANY OF THESE TEN EMBARRASSING THINGS?

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  1. My fav is “How to” it allows you to capture natural language searches that solve peoples problems.

    How to Defrag a hard Drive
    How to Grow Bigger Tomatoes
    How to Remove Grape Juice from a Carpet

    Of course you can totally juice it up by adding “you/your”

    How to Defrag Your Hard Drive
    How to Grow Bigger Tomatoes in Your Garden
    How to Remove Grape Juice from Your Carpet

  2. DG

    ‘How To’ Was my second choice. Combining the two is almost perfection. ; )

  3. I find that using the word “Google” in a headline tends to get a lot of interest for me.

    Why is that?

    For example, in my latest SEO Theory post I used the headline “Google Broken: Supplemental Pages Not Being Parsed And Indexed”. I’m sure that the fact I put “Google” into the headline will help bring in some traffic.

    It certainly would not have worked as well had I written “You Broken: Supplemental Pages Not Being Parsed And Indexed”. Just makes no sense.

    Your mileage may vary.

  4. DG

    Ahh Michael, surely you could have written. Google is Broken – Why Your Supplemental Pages Aren’t Being Indexed. ; )

    You’re quite right about Google being a draw though. I’ve seen entire articles written on a subject in which Google is only mentioned in passing, yet ‘Google’ ends up in the title for some reason.

  5. Never ask a question in a headline that the reader can answer with a ‘No’.

    In fact never ask a question like that anywhere in your copy.

    Once the reader answers with a ‘no’ the discussion is over.

    And if you want examples of good headlines that make people want to buy – check out headlines you see on newspaper posters. In three or four words those guys can make people want to buy their paper to read the story.

    I rarely buy the newspaper but I couldn’t resist this headline yesterday

    Panic! King Tide Surges

  6. Or I could have written: “Google Broken: Your Supplemental Pages Are Not Being Indexed” … oh, wait. You just suggested that.

    Maybe: “Google Broken: Got Supplemental? Where’s The Index Love In That?”

    Wait, that asks two questions.

    Maybe: “Google Broken: How Your Supplemental Pages Don’t Help You — Free Ringtones Content For Scraper Blogs”

  7. Hi Stuart!
    Just to the point in the first part!
    But I don’t agree to you when you say us to follow “headlines on newspaper posters”….
    These are two different media..and have different readership base and psyche! You as a web page viewer is different from you as a Web page reader!

  8. to add to my last comment:
    you as a web page reader is different from a newspaper reader!

  9. With all due respect Roy people are neither newspaper readers nor web page readers until they see something that makes them want to stop and read either the web page or the newspaper.

  10. Ricardo Nuno Silva

    Interesting discussion going on here :-)

    There are several relevant topics discussed in Jakob Nielsen’s “Alertbox” semi-blog, dealing with the lasting conflict “teasers vs findability”:

    1. Microcontent: How to Write Headlines, Page Titles, and Subject Lines

    http://www.useit.com/alertbox/980906.html

    2. Use Old Words When Writing for Findability

    http://www.useit.com/alertbox/search-keywords.html

    Finally, an example of a newspaper where paper headlines are adjusted for web findability:

    3. Spotlighted Links

    http://www.useit.com/hotlist/spotlight1999q234.html

    May 26, 1999: USA Today should be much applauded for using different headlines in their printed newspaper and on their website. The requirements for online headlines are very different than in print. For example, a story on two headline writers for portals has a print headline of “Twosome tells wired world what’s news” (cute, but useless as a hypertext link) and “Bringing news to the wired world” as the link in the list of technology articles (see entry for May 19). The Web link is not a perfect headline for the article since it’s too generic and doesn’t hit at the issue of headlines or compressed writing. There is an odd dual goal of attracting readers to the article while still protecting users from clicking on anything they won’t be interested in (every time you trick people to click to something they don’t want, you erode your brand and reduce the chance that they will click again)

  11. DG

    There’s definitely a decision to be made when crafting titles for findability versus interest. Thanks for the links Ricardo.

    I usually error on the side of ‘informative’ which may be boring but at least it is accurate. And really ‘clever’ headlines tend to annoy me, but that’s just my taste.

  12. Great article and timely advice. Thank you.

  1. 1 Friday Night Link-o-rama » Small Business SEM

    [...] So, it was cool to see copywriting-related posts this week. Dean asks and answers the question, What’s The Most Effective Word You Can Use In A Headline? And Neil Patel puts together a short list of 5 Sure-Fire Social Media Headline Formulas That [...]

  2. 2 SEO Theory - SEO Theory and Analysis Blog » Blog Archive » You will love these guaranteed proven free easy 100 quality links

    [...] Ghost recently asked what’s the most effective word you can use in a headline?. That took me back a few years. In fact, many people have studied the phenomenon of words that [...]




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