Clarity is arguably the most important aspect of any good headline.

Unfortunately, most bloggers and copywriter don’t pay any attention to it. They unnecessary complicate matters, use complex words, misrepresent to get attention, and try to be too cheeky.

As a result, they end up looking quite stupid, to be honest.

Anyway, enough with the bashing.

You see, clarity is very important. It is absolutely stupid to sacrifice clarity for the sake of creativity and cheekiness. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for creativity, but when it comes to writing headlines, follow this very simple rule:

Try to make your headline very clear and easy to understand. Don’t give everything away, but make it clear for your readers.

In this post, I share a few dirty little secrets amazingly simple and actionable tips on how to add more clarity to your headlines.

So, let’s get started.

1. Create List-Based Blog Posts

If online readers are zombies, then list-based posts are the brains they always keep craving for.

According to a study by OkDork and BuzzSumo, list-based posts get an average of 11,000 social media shares. Only infographics performed better than list-based posts.

A chart showing that list-based blog posts get the second highest number of social media shares.

More importantly, it is very simple and easy to create headlines for list-based blog posts. You see such headlines all the time. For instance, BuzzFeed uses list-based headlines so often because it works. Internet users prefer to read headlines with numbers in them. We are going to discuss more about it in the next tip.

Let me tell you another secret.

Don’t be afraid of writing “yet another” list-based post. There aren’t many of them.

When BuzzSumo researched, they also found out that list-based content only make 5% of the total blog posts on the web. This shows that although such posts are popular, not many bloggers are actually using them.

So, use this to your own advantage and publish a few more list-based blog posts.

2. Add Numbers Whenever Possible

Numbers are great.

They tell the readers exactly what to expect, and it brings a lot of specificity and clarity to your headline. Online readers not only click headlines that have numbers in them, but they also feel the urge to read the entire posts.

Let’s compare two different examples

Without Numbers:

  • Growing Email Subscribers: Tips, Tricks, and Proven Methods

With Numbers:

  • 9 Tips I Used to Grow My Email Subscribers from 0 to 10,000 Within 3 Months

See the difference?

Numbers add clarity, and readers prefer headlines with numbers.

Conductor recently did a research with Moz. They tried to find out which headlines are usually preferred by online readers. Most readers claimed to prefer headlines with numbers.

Here are the results of that research.

A research indicating that users prefer headlines with numbers

3. Use Short, Punchy Sentences

Shorter headlines demand less attention from your readers. Such headlines are also easier to understand and, therefore, have more clarity.

This is why it is a great idea to use short, punchy and meaningful sentences in your headlines.

For example, see how Apple did when they launched their iPhone 3G.

Apple's Ad for iPhone 3G

It’s a great headline!

Notice that there are just 6 words in the headline. Those 6 words are also divided into 2 different sentences. By the way, there is a whole science behind creating headlines that have 6 words in them.

Keep reading. I’ll discuss more about it in tip #9.

The subheading is also pretty much the same: 6 words, 2 sentences. But in the subheading, notice that each sentence — in just 3 words — convey a separate benefit. Moreover, both these benefits are really important to their customers.

This headline is almost perfect!

It is short, clear, attention-grabbing, and it is conveying benefits that are most important to Apple’s customers.

4. Break the Rules!

Don’t be afraid to break a few grammatical rules if you need. Clarity always comes first.

Do you want to use a one-word sentence? Sure.

Do you want to start your headline with a coordination conjunction? By all means, do it.

You see, the point is not to be 100% grammatically accurate. It does help but, for the sake of clarity, you can let go some of the common rules. However, make sure that your headline makes complete sense. Clarity is the most important part.

As long as your headline works, brings traffic and increases sales, you have done a great job!

For example, see this classic ad.

John Caples Headline Example

It breaks more than a few rules of English grammar, but it worked exceptionally well. That’s the more important part.

5. Describe Your Product or Blog Post in Detail

Yes, sometimes it is just that simple.

Online readers like to know about a post or product even before reading it. More importantly, they need to know what benefits are there on the other side. This is why when you describe your product or blog post in detail, it works.

For instance, see this awfully simple case study.

Movexa Relief Landing Page Example

See the above image? That used to be the sales page for Movexa. Notice that the headline says “Natural Joint Relief”

Some conversion genius thought that the headline wasn’t clear enough, and it could be improved. He added the word “supplement” in the headline. Yes, just one single word.

See the following image. This is the variation page.

Movexa Relief Landing Page - Variation

One simple word added so much clarity that it increased conversions by a whopping 89.97%.

There are 2 lessons you can learn from this case-study:

  1. Use your headline to explain your post or product. Don’t be afraid of it.
  2. Even a small change can bring great results. Don’t underestimate any thing.

6. Use a Subheading

In the previous method, we focused on the importance of writing more expressive and explanatory headlines, but headlines can be sometimes very restrictive.

I mean, it is difficult to write a 20-word headline and expect it to perform. Also, your headline can’t have more than 55-70 characters because the search engines don’t display more than that.

So if you find yourself restricted, consider using a sub-heading.

I am tempted to once again use the Apple iPhone 3G example here. Its subheading was so good. However, here is another example that explains my point. This is also from a case-study.

JumpBox’s landing page didn’t have a subheading. See the following image. This used to be their design and copy.

JumpBox Headline Example

They later tested their landing page with a different variation. The major difference was that they changed their headline a bit and, more importantly, added a subheading.

JumpBox Subheading Variation

The variation with the headline improved the conversions rate by a whopping 87.61%. Wow!

Sean Tierney, who conducted this test, said:

“The biggest thing I learned from those trials was that for all the debate we had over which design was better, ultimately design was completely eclipsed in importance by clarity/brevity of the message. Reducing the headline from 6 to 4 words doubled the effectiveness of the page.”

This also proves a point that shorter headlines usually perform better than longer headlines. I discuss it more in tip #9.

7. Use the Audience-Referencing Technique

A headline becomes automatically clear when it is specifically targeted to you. The audience-referencing technique is also a great way to draw the attention of your readers.

Basically, the audience-referencing technique refers to the use of word “you” in the headline. It can also mean implicating your target audience.

The idea is that when you refer your target audience in a headline, it already becomes very clear and familiar to them. This is also because our minds are wired in a way that they always seek solutions for our problems. When you specifically target your audience in a headline, it becomes irresistable to them, and they are more likely to click on it. More importantly, as they are the very subject of that headline, it feels very clear and simple to them.

Let me give you an example of how this technique works.

A few researchers in Norway conducted a study using a variety of different headlines on a shopping website. The product was an iPhone 4, and following are the different headlines they tested:

  • For Sale: Black iPhone4 16GB
  • Anyone need a new iPhone4?
  • Is This Your New iPhone4?

The first one was a regular headline that you see all the times. The second headline was based on a question. The third headline was also based on a question but with the added word “your”.

Unsurprisingly, the 3rd option (with the audience-referencing trick) brought the best click-through rate for the website.

Why?

Simply because the audience could relate to it. A simple addition of the word “you” made the headline perfectly clear for them. They could relate to that headline, as they were the very subject of it.

8. Avoid Uncertainty

Uncertainty isn’t good. And it definitely doesn’t have any place in high-quality content or powerful and effective headlines.

It is important to be very firm and definite in the content you are creating. In headlines, certainty and clarity become all the more important. There are no places for words such as “may”, “might”, “possibly”, “probably”, etc.

If you want to add clarity to your headlines, don’t be uncertain.

Also remember that a headline is always a promise to your readers. It means that if they click on that headline they are going to find a useful piece of content and a solution to their problems. If the headline shows uncertainty, it is never going to deliver on that promise.

This is why always remember to avoid uncertainty for the sake of adding clarity to your headlines.

9. Focus On the Right Words

It may seem confusing, but let me explain it.

KISSMetrics once conducted a research on the ideal length of a headline. That research revealed that readers tend to absorb the first three words and the last three words of a headline.

KISSMetrics Research on the Ideal Length of a Headline

So, ideally, your headline should consist of 6 words. However, even if you can’t limit a headline to 6 words, it is important to focus on its first and last 3 words.

In other words, if you structure your headline the right way (by focusing on the first and last three words) you can easily make a headline more clear, simple, and easy-to-understand for your readers.

10. Front-Load the Headline with Superlatives

It is a very common practice to include superlatives in a headline to make it more interesting and clickable on the internet.

These superlatives can either be positive or negative. Positive superlatives may include words such as best, fastest, easiest, hottest, perfect, top, greatest, etc. Such superlative words are used to create a more impactful, strong, and emotional headline.

On the other hand, negative superlatives are used to draw on doubts and fears of your blog readers. For instance, worst, bad, never, nothing, none, avoid, risks, lose, etc. And while we are discussing headline superlatives, here is another tip with you.

According to a research by Outbrain, headlines with negative words performed 30% better than headlines that had positive superlatives.

Anyway, the tip is to front-load your headline with whichever superlative you are using. It makes the headline infinitely clearer. For instance, have a look at the following two examples and see which headline has better clarity:

  • 10 Worst Mistakes Small Businesses Make
  • 10 Mistakes Made by Small Businesses That are Just the Worst!

Obviously the first headline is clearer and simpler, right?

The idea is simple. Move the superlative (whether it is positive or negative) to the beginning of the headline. This will add more clarity to it.

Final Words

A clear and simple headline performs well, has a better click-through rate, and drive more targeted traffic to your website.

Use the tips I mentioned above in this post to add clarity to your headlines. These tips may not make your headlines more gimmicky, but they will make them more effective and clickable.

What is your opinion on that? Please share your thoughts on these tips in the comment section below.