5 Headline Rules to Improve Engagement with Your Online Content


5 Headline Rules to Improve Engagement with Your Online Content

According to my English teachers, there are four types of essays:

  1. Narrative
  2. Descriptive
  3. Expository
  4. Persuasive

It’s a piece of knowledge stuck in the back of my mind. Yet, I never use this type of writing in the online world.

In truth, writing for the internet isn’t about making a lengthy argument, or telling a long story. It’s not about using a five-paragraph essay to persuade a customer to buy our products.

We’re living in the age of the micro-moment. Consumers expect to ask a question and get an answer.

The goal of marketers now is to earn trust with a few words and as little time as possible. And oh, what fun it is.

But pump the brakes. You don’t get to tell your story or make your case if the consumer never opens your door. Or, in other words, clicks your link.

Hi students, welcome to Headline 101.


Rule #1: Stop the Scroll

Your first goal when writing online content is to stop the scroll. This is because step one to a sale will always be engagement.

This is not a new concept that came about with the introduction of social media and smartphones. Let me give you a different example of stopping the scroll.

For this millennial, I vividly remember my parents stopping to browse the magazine stands in the grocery store. My mom would flip through Cosmo while making sure I couldn’t see it. For my father, he would shamelessly browse celebrity gossip magazines.

The same thing that gets my 65-year-old, six-foot-five father to stop in his tracks to find out how Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel make it work, gets a person in need of insurance to read your content.


Quick and easy-to-scan headlines.


Rule #2: Write Your Headline for 1 Person

When it comes to content creation, understanding your audience is a foundational factor. If you’re writing a headline, that becomes even more important. Why?

Let’s use a scenario and a couple of examples to explain this.

Let’s say you’re writing a blog post about the necessity of specific auto insurance for people who commute to DC from neighboring states.  This topic is targeted towards an already specific audience.

Your headline should capture the attention of that targeted audience.

Here’s a worst-to-best list of headline options for this blog post.

Worst: Car Insurance for Commuters

Informative, but so, so vague. So, let’s get more specific.

Not Bad: Car Insurance for DC Commuters

More specific, but still very broad.

Best: Car Insurance for DC Commuters: 2020 Local Coverage Requirements

We’ve now hit the sweet spot. You’ve provided a year to add relevance. You’ve provided context to who the blog applies to. You’ve even added in some context about what the subject of the blog will be. Adding the world coverage requirements stresses the importance of obtaining auto insurance for DC commuters.

More importantly, we’ve taken a broad general-audience headline and added context to target a specific audience.


Rule #3: Get to the Chorus

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were masters of engagement. Petty wrote songs for many popular recording artists by following the rule, don’t bore us, get to the chorus. And he meant it, too.

The chorus is the hook. In Tom Petty's famous song, Breakdown, everyone remembers the chorus. For many, it's the reason why they listened to the song in the first place.

A headline should be short and sweet. Scannable and impactful. Avoid unnecessary words and use audience targeting keywords.

Here are a couple formulas to help you draw attention.

These are just a couple of headline formulas. For more, Instapage offers a free e-book with more than 200 headline formulas to choose from.


Rule #4: Write the Content First

Before you write your headline, fully flush out, and finalize your content. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing an email, ad, blog post, or video script.

A headline is essentially a catchy summary. So, how can you summarize what isn’t written?

Read your content, identify the benefit or subject of the copy, and plug it into one of the formulas listed above.


Rule #5: Test, Test, Test Some More

Don’t write one headline for your content. Write 10 headline options.

Show them to your co-workers and get a fresh set of eyes. At ITC, we like to take a vote on which ones we like best. The headline is the first thing your audience sees.

However, if you want to improve your headline crafting skills, A/B testing needs to become a part of your daily routine. A/B testing is not just an email practice!

Social media publishing tools like Hootsuite, Sprout Social allow you to A/B test. This tool would allow you to create two headlines and see which performs better with your audience.

Hootsuite was nice enough to write an article on A/B testing with the tools you already have.

A poor headline could be the difference-maker from being the last thing the consumer sees and a sale. Make it count.

Many people pay very little attention to headlines. But, they are one of the most important factors in creating engagement with your content. An engaging headline encourages consumers to stop at your insurance agency website. Attention to this small detail can stop the scroll and generate more leads for your insurance agency.

About the Author

Zach Weeks

As Content Marketing Specialist, Zach Weeks manages and implements ITC's marketing efforts, spanning customer communications, social media, content, and email marketing. He has a bachelor's degree in editing, writing, and media from Florida State University. Zach enjoys sports writing, competitive gaming, and spending time with his family and pets.

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