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Top 12 Headline Templates and Why They Work

Award-winning writer Kathy Widenhouse has helped hundreds of nonprofits and writers produce successful content and has gained 600K+ views for her writing tutorials. She is the author of 9 books. See more of Kathy’s content here.

Posted 7.1.24

Oh, that I had a magic bullet for writing headlines! They’re the gateway into my content. Write a great one and people click, read, view, comment, and engage. But write a fluffy or inconsequential headline and readers pass right over my masterpiece without a notice.

So you can imagine my distress when I searched for “top headline templates.” Among the results were …

  • “100+ Secret Headline Templates to Skyrocket Your CTR”
  • “283 Headline Copywriting Templates You Must Have”
  • “101 Headline Formulas that Capture Attention”

As I read this list, I got discouraged. The sheer numbers in these headlines make my head swim. For me, combing through hundreds of options to find the perfect headline template sends waves of despair through my fingers to my keyboard.

Don’t misunderstand — I’m not bashing writing formulas and templates. I use them. I write about them. Templates make writing easier, and I’m all about making content writing simple.

Headline templates work ... and there's a reason why

But when I use a writing template, I need to understand why it works. Otherwise, I fear becoming a version of AI. You know — the writer that churns out formulaic content that others have already spouted, just because someone else said it’s the way to go.

Fortunately, psychologists have researched why people click, read, view, comment, and engage. As I studied those masters, I came to understand at least 12 principles of persuasion that work with words. Can you and I put those truths to use in headlines?

Yes. And it turns out that these principles are the underlying key to why the top headline templates have earned a solid reputation.

The reasons why the top 12 headline templates work with Word Wise at Nonprofit Copywriter #WritingTips #headlines #WritingFormulas

Top headline templates based on 12 principles of persuasion

1. The principle of anchoring

As you and I make decisions, we rely heavily on the first piece of information that comes our way. That reference point — the anchor — influences our next decision.

This anchoring bias, according to Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahnemann in a study reported in Science, affects choices we make like where to spend a vacation … what groceries to buy … even which headline to click on. Words like top, first, premier, fundamental, original, basic, key, essential — they serve as anchors for your reader.

  • Headline template: “Top # Ways to …”
  • Headline example: Top 12 Headline Templates and Why They Work

2. The principle of authority

You hear about a new medication for treating hair loss. Which captures your attention?

  • The headline that touts the medication’s study by Harvard scientists
  • The headline that says, “There’s a new medication to treat hair loss”

The one endorsed by experts and authorities, right? Humans are reassured and persuaded by credible sources.

  • Headline template: “[Expert’s Name] Best Tips for …”
  • Headline example: 20-Year Freelancer’s Best Tips for Writing Headlines

3. The principle of commitment

“Hard work makes things happen.” Your dad isn’t the only one who espouses that maxim. It’s a truth demonstrated through the ages. Show the principle of commitment in your headline. Demonstrate to readers how they can take small steps and make progress.

When people see they can achieve a goal they act accordingly, says Robert Cialdini, Ph.D. He outlined the principle of commitment in his bestseller, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. That explains why “7 day challenge to …” and “3 first steps to …” headlines pull in readers.

  • Headline template: “Start Your [Topic} Journey With …”
  • Headline example: Start Your Writing Journey By Mastering Headlines

4. The principle of consistency

Along with commitment, says Cialdini, people have a strong desire to be consistent with their past actions. Use your headline to point out their existing beliefs. Doing so shows you identify with them — and moves them to consider your argument because they want to maintain consistency.

  • Headline template: “You Believe X, So Why Not Y?”
  • Headline example: You Use Recipes When You Cook, So Why Not Use Templates When You Write?

5. The principle of contrast

Compare. Point out a gap. Show distinction.

The principle of contrast is not just key in the fields of art and design, but also writing. When something is different, it stands out. Use your headline to emphasize the difference between two items. Or demonstrate how one idea is more attractive than another and highlight its benefits.

  • Headline template: “See Why X Is Better Than Y …”
  • Headline example: Why These 12 Headline Templates Outperform Others

6. The principle of curiosity

Humans have an innate desire to fill gaps in their knowledge, says behavioral economist George Loewenstein. His research suggests that curiosity functions similarly to other human drives. Hunger, for example, motivates eating. When content teases new information or implies that there are answers to burning questions, it triggers curiosity. 

  • Headline template: “The Secret To …”
  • Headline example: The Secret to Using Headline Templates Successfully

7. The principle of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out)

Other people are having more fun … landing better jobs … learning about the best place to live!” Social media has raised our awareness of what others are doing, creating a drive to be in the know. The principle has been popularized as FOMO — the Fear of Missing Out.

The phenomenon, explains Andrew Przyblylski and his research team, is rooted in a unique type of fear: fear of regret. We don’t dare miss out on potentially rewarding experiences. Readers are motivated if they sense a potential lost opportunity — the chance for a unique deal, investment, event, or even fear of not acquiring a piece of helpful information.

  • Headline template: “Everyone’s Talking About …”
  • Headline example: Don’t Miss These 12 Headline Templates

8. The principle of inspiration

I’m a writer, so I understand The Great Headline Writing Anxiety firsthand. Writers desperately want information that addresses that challenge. What are your reader’s emotional triggers? Before you write your headline, spend time drilling down your audience’s feelings, fears, and needs.

Content that addresses strong emotions is more likely to be read, viewed, shared, and remembered. So wrote Jonah Berger and K.L. Milkman in the Journal of Marketing Research. Use your headline to identify your reader’s emotions and then address happiness, anger, worry — and any other of a host of emotions — with a headline soaked with inspiration.

  • Headline template: “A Personal Story of Triumph in …”
  • Headline example: These Headline Templates Restored My Faith in Writing Formulas

9. The principle of reciprocity

When your neighbor invites you to a Sunday afternoon barbeque, you may feel obligated to return the invitation a few weeks later. That’s the principle of reciprocity, says Cialdini. When you receive something, you’re more likely to give something back.

Transfer that principle to the practice of writing headlines. Offer your reader something at low or no cost … and he is more likely to return the favor with a click, read-through, share, or comment. Note: be sure your offer has value, or your reader will feel cheated once he delves into your content.

  • Headline template: “Free Guide To …”
  • Headline example: Try These 12 Tip Headline Templates for Free

10. The principle of scarcity

Your finger hovers on the mouse, poised on the photo of that yummy pair of jeans you’re certain would look fantastic on you. Then you notice a bit of text: Just 3 left. That seals it. You click “Buy.”

You can tout scarcity in quantity, time, insight, or availability in your headline. Short supply is a big motivator for readers. Like FOMO, scarcity is rooted in fear of losing an opportunity. But scarcity adds another layer: exclusivity. A scarcity headline shows that an opportunity is only for a few or that just a handful are available.

  • Headline template: “Exclusive Insights on …”
  • Headline example: Special For Today’s Writers: Top Headline Templates

11. The principle of social proof

People have been jumping on bandwagons for eons. Today you recognize that activity as the result of social proof. It’s human nature to assume others know more about a situation or problem than you do. Use your headline to show what others are doing … what’s popular … what’s highly recommended.

  • Headline template: “Tried and Tested [Topic]”
  • Headline example: The 12 Headline Templates That Account for Most Opens

12. The principle of urgency

Like FOMO and scarcity, urgency is rooted in fear. Its distinction, however, is a deadline. Urgent situations require immediate action. A time limit in your headline makes more readers click, read, and decide.

  • Headline template: “Last Chance to …”
  • Headline example: Check Out These 12 Headline Templates BEFORE You Write Your Next Article

The secret to using headline templates successfully

You may see slight variations in these headline templates and the headline examples shown here. There’s a reason for that. A template is simply a pattern. That makes a headline template just a pattern to follow as you write.

But it’s not the word patterns that make these 12 headline templates so successful. Instead, the principles behind the patterns are the true templates.

The real magic bullet for writing headlines? Pattern them on principles of persuasion. And your readers will click, view, read, engage, share, and comment.

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