10 Ways to Exploit Human Nature and Write Amazingly Appealing Headlines

10 Ways to Exploit Human Nature and Write Amazingly Appealing Headlines

Sucks, doesn’t it?

You know how important headlines are. You know the success of your blog hinges on your headlines. And you know that yours aren’t getting the job done.

Your blog posts just sit there collecting e-dust because your headlines barely get clicked.

So what are you doing wrong?

What are your headlines missing?

Well, chances are your headlines don’t exploit your audience’s human nature enough.

If you want your headlines to connect with your audience, you need to exploit their drives, their instincts, and, at the risk of sounding cynical, their utter self-absorption.

In fact, if you want to write better headlines, you should take lessons from those who exploit human nature on a daily basis — con artists, sleazy politicians, and anyone who manipulates people to further their own agenda.

You just have to be careful not to cross over to the dark side.

Let me explain…

Why You Must Write Headlines Like a Skilled Manipulator (Even If That’s Not Your Style)

Con men will say whatever you want to hear to get inside your wallet. Sleazy politicians will make any false promise and tell any half-truth if it means they’ll get your vote.

These skilled manipulators know exactly which buttons to push to get people to do what they want. They’re rotten scoundrels — and you, my friend, could stand to be more like them.

“What? I don’t want to be a scoundrel! I don’t want to manipulate anyone!”

Relax. I’m not saying you should.

As bloggers, we’re not in the market of manipulation — but we are in the market of persuasion. And there’s only the finest of lines between the two.

Think about it. The goal for both is to convince people to do what you want them to do. Con men want you to give them their money, while politicians want you to give them your vote. You want people to click your headlines and read your posts.

The only difference is that manipulation implies a degree of deception, while persuasion does not.

It’s no wonder the success of both relies on pushing the right buttons.

Want to find out what those are?

Keep reading.

How to Push the Right Buttons and Make Your Headlines Irresistibly Clickable

We all respond when certain buttons are pushed.

When we lose someone we love, we cry. When something pisses us off, we raise our voice. And when we open a bag of Cheetos, that sucker is empty ten minutes later.

It’s not exactly the same for everybody, but no matter how we respond, we will respond.

It’s in our nature.

And if you want to write headlines that appeal to your audience and get them to respond with a click, you need to know how to push the right buttons.

So let’s find out how to push those.

#1. Promise to Grant Their Wishes


Okay, this one’s familiar, right? You’ve probably heard your headline should offer the reader something they want.

But as familiar as it is, too many bloggers get this one wrong. They focus their headline on something they want their audience to want, or something they think their audience should want.

When you use this appeal in your headlines you have to ask yourself, “If I asked my audience what they wanted most right now, would anyone give this as an answer?”

Compare these, for example:

  • 10 Crucial Steps to Writing a Stellar Business Plan
  • How to Write a Business Plan That Makes Investors Beg to Give You Their Money

At first glance, the first one doesn’t look half bad. But if you asked an audience of entrepreneurs what they wanted most right now, would anyone answer, “I want to write a stellar business plan”?

Doubtful, right?

On the other hand, they might well answer that they want investors to fund their business.

That’s the difference.

Questions to Ask:

  • What does your audience want most of all right now?
  • Where does your audience want to be in the future?
  • What do they want to have? Who do they want to be? What do they want to accomplish?
  • What are some smaller goals your audience could achieve today/ this week / this month that would bring them closer to that future?
  • What are some immediate problems your audience wants to have solved?

Examples:

  • How to Write a Business Plan That Makes Investors Beg to Give You Their Money
  • How to Get Your Beach Body in Shape and Rock Your Bikini This Summer
  • 10 Ways to Turn Unruly Kids into Well-Behaved Little Angels

#2. Give Them a Scapegoat


“It’s not your fault.”

Those are four words everybody loves to hear when they feel like they’ve failed or made a mistake.

Because let’s face it, we all hate feeling like a failure or screw-up. Our egos would much rather shift the blame elsewhere so we can keep feeling good about ourselves.

So when your headline offers readers a valid excuse for not achieving their hopes and dreams, they’ll eat that up like warm chocolate pie.

Questions to Ask:

  • What is your audience trying but failing at?
  • What are some outside forces that hold your audience back?
  • Who or what can your audience blame for their lack of success?

Examples:

  • Why Investors Are Petrified to Fund New Businesses Right Now
  • How Supermarkets Brainwash Us into Buying Junk Food
  • 10 Ways Class Overcrowding Is Killing Your Kid’s Grades

#3. Point the Finger of Blame


You can also take the opposite approach. Instead of pointing the finger at someone else, you can point it at your reader. You tell them their failures are all their own fault.

This appeals to the same basic desire as before — the desire not to feel like a screw-up. We’ll do anything to avoid mistakes and get things right because we want to avoid making fools of ourselves.

If we’re doing something wrong, we want to know so we can fix it.

Questions to Ask:

  • What common mistakes does your audience make?
  • How is your audience holding itself back?
  • What mistakes do they already suspect they’re making?

Examples:

  • 10 Clear Warning Signs Your Business Idea Sucks
  • 7 Common Dieting Mistakes That Make You Gain More Weight Than You Lose
  • How Pushy Parenting Can Hurt Your Children’s Grades

#4. Call Upon Their Tribal Sense


We are social creatures with an instinctual drive to belong. We don’t live in tribes in the same way our ancestors did, but this drive still exists in us nonetheless. These days, we use personal attributes to define which tribes we belong to.

For example, you might be a man, 40-something, married, entrepreneur, father, and theater fan. Or you might be a woman, 20-something, single, blogger, writer, and book lover.

These are all different kinds of “tribes” you might be part of. Calling one out in your headline will get the attention of anyone who feels like they belong to it.

But that’s not all. You can also use tribes to which your audience aspires to belong — the ones they wish they were a part of but aren’t quite yet. For instance, if you aspire to be a six-figure entrepreneur or best-selling author, any headline that mentions these tribes would get your attention too.

Questions to Ask:

  • Which labels and attributes would your audience use to describe themselves?
  • To what groups does your audience aspire to belong?

Examples:

  • 20 Startup Secrets from Top Silicon Valley Companies**
  • 7 Shocking Facts Every Dieter Should Know
  • 15 Everyday Things Skinny People Do Differently
  • 7 Scary Thoughts Only Dads Will Understand
  • The Single Mom’s Guide to Getting Regular Me-Time

*Notice how this headline states both the tribe the audience belongs to (Startups) AND the tribe they aspire to be part of (Top Silicon Valley Companies).

#5. Scare the Living Crap Out of Them


Fear and anxiety are powerful emotions. Everyone has experienced them at some point in their lives. They’re primal instincts that can override our brains and make us forget about everything else around us.

So imagine the power of a headline that stokes your readers’ biggest fears and anxieties.

Is their worst nightmare coming true? Are they right to be afraid? They’ll have to click to find out.

Questions to Ask:

  • What is the worst possible future your audience can imagine?
  • What are they afraid will happen if they [do X]?
  • What do they fear is already happening?
  • What situation does your audience dread finding themselves in?

Examples:

  • 10 Pitching Mistakes That Make Investors Laugh Behind Your Back
  • 15 Exercise Routines That Will Ruin Your Feminine Curves
  • 7 Warning Signs Your Kids Are Having Unprotected Sex

#6. Put Their Worried Mind to Rest


While scaring the daylights out of your readers is fun, it’s not the only way you can use fear in your headlines. You can also take the opposite approach.

Just like your mom used to do when you were scared as a child, tell them there’s nothing to be afraid of.

Promise they can avoid the situations that cripple them with anxiety. Promise they can keep their nightmares from coming true. Promise they can take their desired actions without the disastrous consequences.

If your headline promises to relieve their fears, they’ll want to find out more.

Questions to Ask:

  1. What is your audience worried about that they shouldn’t be worried about?
  2. How can your audience prevent their fears from coming true?
  3. What situation does your audience dread that you can make less scary for them?

Examples:

  • How to Raise Money for Your Business (Even if You Suck at Pitching Investors)
  • 12 Exercises That Burn Off Fat Without Ruining Your Curves
  • 5 Cringe-Free Ways to Teach Your Kids About Safe Sex

#7. Help Them Be Lazier


Let’s face it. If given the choice, we want to get stuff done quickly and easily, so we have more time to relax and do the things we enjoy.

Unfortunately, we often get stuck with tedious or complicated tasks that take a lot of time and effort to complete.

Can you help your audience simplify or fast-forward through those tasks? Use this promise in your headline.

Questions to Ask:

  • What does your audience find complicated?
  • What’s a recurring task your audience finds tedious?
  • What’s a recurring task that takes up too much of your audience’s time?
  • What’s a recurring task that your audience wishes they could skip?

Examples:

  • Can’t Stand Bookkeeping? Use This App to Get it Done on Autopilot
  • 10 Simple Paleo Hacks: A Cheat Sheet for the Overwhelmed Beginner
  • How to Soothe a Crying Baby in 15 Seconds Flat

#8. Confirm Their Worst Suspicions


Have you ever watched a movie where you guessed the twist before it happened? Didn’t it make you feel smart for seeing it coming way before anyone else?

That’s the emotion we want to evoke with this appeal. Everybody loves having their suspicions, theories or opinions validated with some cold, hard proof. Let’s face it, we just love being proven right. (It beats being wrong!)

So when a headline promises to give us that validation, we want to know more. Because having uninformed opinions is one thing, but having facts to back them up — that’s catnip.

Questions to Ask:

  • What does your audience suspect is too good to be true?
  • What activity does your audience suspect doesn’t actually work?
  • Who does your audience suspect is lying to them, and what about?

Examples:

  • Why the Four-Hour Work Week Is a Foolish Pipe Dream
  • 10 Fad Diets That Never Lead to Lasting Weight Loss
  • 7 Lies Colleges Will Tell About Their Graduate Employment

#9. Demolish Their Conventional Wisdom


Breaking with conventional wisdom is a powerful way to grab attention.

When everyone repeats a certain idea, we’re prone to accept it as true. And the more we see an idea repeated, the stronger our belief in that idea becomes. At some point, we treat these beliefs as common sense.

But we don’t always get it right, do we? And when you can point out how everyone else got it wrong, you’ll shock people out of their comatose state.

They’ll either be curious to find out whether you can back up your claim, or eager to prove you wrong. But in either case, they click.

Questions to Ask:

  • What conventional beliefs does your audience hold that are flat out wrong?
  • Which established methods are holding your audience back?
  • What preconceptions does your audience have that hold them back?
  • What commonly peddled advice is misleading your audience?

Examples:

  • 10 Reasons You Should Ship a Shitty Product
  • How to Lose Weight on a McDonald’s Diet
  • Why You Should Never Force Kids to Finish Their Plates

#10. Hate on Your Common Enemies


You may have heard this phrase before: The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

And it’s true. Shared animosity is a powerful unifier.

So when your headline takes aim at someone (or something) your audience hates, they’ll feel like you’re on their side. They’ll want to find out what you have to say because, as mentioned before, people are always looking for confirmation.

It’s a powerful appeal, but try not to become an outright hate-monger. Remember, we’re trying not to cross over to the dark side!

Questions to Ask:

  • Who does your audience hate?
  • What groups of people does your audience hate?
  • What companies does your audience hate?
  • What products does your audience hate?
  • What activities does your audience hate?
  • What situations does your audience hate?
  • What events does your audience hate?
  • What else does your audience hate?

Examples:

  • How to Silence Those Uppity Investors Meddling with Your Business
  • 10 Reasons Why Dieting Is Torture Worse Than Waterboarding
  • Parents Must Finally Unite to Destroy All Legos

Exploit Human Nature and Get Your Headlines Clicked

As a blogger, you know that understanding your audience is key to your success. But that goes deeper than understanding their unique struggles and interests. You must also understand their very nature.

You must know what makes people tick. You must know what drives them. You must know which buttons to push to make them click your headlines.

Go through the list above and answer all the questions. That will give you a list of topics to write about.

Put each one in a headline template, add a power word or two, and you’ll end up with amazingly appealing headlines.

If you push the right buttons, your audience can’t help but respond.

So go ahead and push those buttons.

About the Author: Robert van Tongeren is the former Associate Editor of Smart Blogger. He has also helped countless of our students get published on big blogs like Huffington Post, Tiny Buddha and Fast Company. Want to shape up your headline skills fast? Sign up for his free weekly headline repair.

35 Comments

  1. Ryan Biddulph
    May 24, 2018 @ 08:25:44

    #6 is my fave Robert. Why? Blessed relief! We all seek relief. Sometimes I hit pain points but I wish not to leave it at that. Following up with a benefit for blog post titles helps folks feel better. Aren’t we in the business of helping folks feel better? I think so 😉

    Thanks for sharing dude 🙂

    Ryan

    Reply

    • Robert van Tongeren
      May 24, 2018 @ 08:48:44

      You’re very welcome, Ryan.

      I’m not sure I completely agree we’re in the business of helping folks feel better though. It’s certainly a huge aspect of what we do, but I think we’re in the business of improving people’s lives. And while relief is certainly pleasant, a little tough love can be quite effective as well from time to time 😉

      Reply

  2. Linda Ugelow
    May 24, 2018 @ 11:09:57

    I love this list. I feel like headlines are one of my weak links. The recommendations you’ve so thoroughly listed here are applicable across the board from blog titles to email subject lines and course names. I’m going follow your instructions and uplevel my titles. Thank you!

    Reply

    • Robert van Tongeren
      May 24, 2018 @ 12:38:28

      Yep, very observant, Linda. You can (and should) use these appeals to human nature in many different areas of your marketing.

      Reply

  3. Mary Ann Rollano
    May 24, 2018 @ 12:59:32

    This is great. I think I need to go to my site and re-write all of my headlines!

    Reply

    • Robert van Tongeren
      May 24, 2018 @ 16:33:41

      Hah! It’s worth a shot 🙂

      Reply

  4. Alison Ver Halen
    May 24, 2018 @ 15:34:08

    Thanks for the great tips! I would argue that a number of these could work just as well in the body of the article, once you’ve gotten your readers to click on the link.

    Reply

    • Robert van Tongeren
      May 24, 2018 @ 16:34:35

      Yep, they certainly could 🙂

      Reply

  5. Ajaib
    May 25, 2018 @ 07:49:06

    Thanks for great psychological tips Robert. Good and tough research you have done to give the abstract wisdom. Will definitely keep these advises in mind while writing future posts.

    Reply

    • Robert van Tongeren
      May 25, 2018 @ 08:37:09

      You’re very welcome, Ajaib!

      Reply

  6. Keri
    May 25, 2018 @ 08:41:29

    Your points and examples for writing headlines that resonate with readers are exceptional, Robert. I’m not surprised you’ve worked closely with Jon Morrow in the past.
    There’s carryover potential for whatever we’re persuading people to do or consider. Especially for their benefit. Excellent ways of tapping into how people think.
    I may create a handout from your points.
    ~Keri

    Reply

    • Robert van Tongeren
      May 26, 2018 @ 09:31:47

      Thank you, Keri. I appreciate your kind words 🙂

      Reply

  7. Cathy Hutchison
    May 25, 2018 @ 18:55:30

    You have such a gift for practicing what you preach. Seriously, this is high value for me, and I can implement immediately. Thanks for pouring the work into making this great.

    Reply

    • Robert van Tongeren
      May 26, 2018 @ 09:32:25

      Thanks, Cathy. Happy to hear it’s useful for you 🙂

      Reply

  8. Nikola Roza
    May 25, 2018 @ 21:08:45

    Hi Robert. Great article!
    I love reading about how to write magnetic headlines. Because I feel it’s an art you can never get too good at.

    Also, you pitting side by side con men and content marketers is spot on.
    What unites them? Influencing people.
    What divides them? Deceit vs persuasion.
    Perfect!

    This also reminded me of something Machiavelli wrote: “a smart man learns to from his successful enemies. So he can take what works ,use it in his own manner and win in the end”.
    Don’t look for this quote- it’s me paraphrasing:)
    Thanks Robert!

    Reply

  9. Robert van Tongeren
    May 26, 2018 @ 09:34:27

    That is a great quote (even if it is paraphrased ;)). Thanks for sharing, Nikola.

    Reply

  10. Karan Sharma
    May 26, 2018 @ 10:11:15

    Really amazing. Check out the latest and amazing makemytrip coupons and offers now.

    Reply

  11. Emenike Emmanuel
    May 26, 2018 @ 20:26:27

    My goodness!

    Robert, you deserve an accolade for this amazing piece of content.

    I’m implementing right way in my next blog post.

    Thanks so much for sharing.

    Emenike

    Reply

    • Robert van Tongeren
      May 28, 2018 @ 08:08:05

      Thanks so much for your kind word, Emenike. Glad you found this useful 🙂

      Reply

  12. Empritkaji
    May 28, 2018 @ 18:05:21

    It’s good article and so useful….thanks

    Reply

  13. Apolo Jossias
    May 29, 2018 @ 04:34:15

    I am not an english speaker (I am from Mozambique, by the way) but this article was very easy to read and understand for me. It’s so clear and well written that I am reading it over and over again. It’s more like an excert of a bestselling book. Amazing. Thanks for sharing, Robert.

    Reply

  14. Mathew Adams
    May 29, 2018 @ 05:21:05

    Great article Man,

    I guess I wanna revamp all my guest post titles. Indeed, it’s ever a point of crisis to hit amazing post titles. You made it plain. The way you scatters examples speaks a lot. Thanks for your ideas.

    Reply

  15. Mike Jones
    May 30, 2018 @ 02:06:42

    Hey Robert,

    Considering post titles, I used to check my competitor’s title before drafting mine to get an idea. Sadly, I always struggle to get something unique and impressive titles. I used to think that I missed having the post titles what my competitor’s had.

    Instead, here you have presented useful ideas to generate attention-grabbing titles. Almost you have covered most familiar title formats in the form of examples.

    Thanks really.

    Reply

  16. Shubham Maddeshiya
    Jun 01, 2018 @ 11:33:50

    You have such a gift for practicing what you preach. Seriously, this is high value for me, and I can implement immediately. Thanks for pouring the work into making this great.

    Reply

  17. segun
    Jun 02, 2018 @ 14:58:11

    I really like the post especially the one that says you should put a worry mind to rest

    Reply

  18. DNN
    Jun 03, 2018 @ 10:04:29

    One thing I really like about the internet and content marketing is you can make all the mistakes you want in the beginning of your side hustle journey to becoming a “side hustle millionaire,” and make mistakes in grammar, spelling and punctuation and still get traffic from Bing, Google & YaHoO!. Moreover, if a blogger or content marketer who’s dedicated to becoming a future “side hustle blogging millionaire,” then they’ll naturally improve their writing automatically.

    Reply

  19. Yolanda
    Jun 04, 2018 @ 20:13:33

    Hi Robert

    Wow! This is by far the best article I’ve read on headline writing. Thank you!

    I personally create a lot of content that disrupts (sparks new ways of thinking) and breaks from conventional wisdom. I’m now going to try out your other recommendations.

    I’ll be sharing this far and wide.

    Reply

  20. SMN Zaman
    Jun 05, 2018 @ 05:23:21

    Hi Robert,

    What a great read it was.

    You’ve crafted a nice post combining all the secret sauce to creating irresistible headlines.

    Have learned a lot.

    Thanks for creating such an amazing content for the audience of SmartBlogger.

    Reply

  21. Steph
    Jun 05, 2018 @ 15:23:01

    As someone who is newbie to blogging, this info is JUST what I need! Thank you so much for posting this 🙂 — I’m still working on my blog (haven’t launched it yet).

    Reply

  22. Shahriar Hossain
    Jun 07, 2018 @ 00:58:41

    What a great article!. I am bookmarking it to read it again. It seems like a very interesting topic to write about. Your posts is really helpful for me.Thanks for your wonderful post.

    Reply

  23. Medicomart
    Jun 09, 2018 @ 04:29:30

    It was a great post very nice.. Thanks for great psychological tips Robert. Good and tough research you have done to give the abstract wisdom. Will definitely keep these advises in mind while writing future posts.

    Reply

  24. Moss Clement
    Jun 09, 2018 @ 04:37:21

    A promise-driven headline works like magic, Robert. Everyone needs something to hold on so a promise headline is effectively telling them “there’s something for you in there.” Inasmuch as I love it, I also like to create a headline that triggers curiosity. This type of headline moves readers to want to know more.

    Thanks a lot for this amazing post.

    Reply

  25. Warker
    Jun 17, 2018 @ 05:42:23

    you are sharing the best tips of the blogging

    Reply

  26. anaya
    Jun 20, 2018 @ 03:53:03

    Yes I completely agree with the post headline writing really convert a lot

    Reply

  27. Lincon
    Jun 22, 2018 @ 02:42:50

    you explained the whole thing in a very nice way, which can be very helpful for people who want to do this kind of work. Simplicity is very important for any content and your content got it, really helpful for me. Best part in here is no rubbish talk.

    Reply

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