15 Fill-in-the-Blank Headline Formulas that Work Online

The rules of print headline formulas don't apply to digital content.
The rules of print headline writing don’t apply to digital content.

With more and more evidence piling up that many online readers don’t get very far in the articles they do click on, and often only scan the headlines in general without clicking at all, it’s never been more important for publishers to get their editors to think in terms of clickable headlines. Luckily, there are formulas that have proven to translate into clickability. When your editors have writer’s block, introduce them to these tried and true, fill-in-the-blank headline formulas.

SEE ALSO: The Art of the Headline: 3 Tips for Headlines That Get Attention

Inquisitive Headlines

The formula: Explain what your readers should be doing by asking if they’re doing it already.

Example A: Are You Getting the Most out of Your Accounting Software?
Example B: Are you Spending too Much on Gasoline?

This formula works because it introduces the subject matter and indicates what will be explained in the article while engaging the reader with a question.

Blank Ways to Blank

The formula: Give a brief how-to list in numerical order.

Example A: Seven Ways to Ask Your Boss for a Raise
Example B: Five Ways to Lose Weight Before Your Wedding

This formula works because it breaks large, often-difficult subjects down into small, digestible chunks.

Reverse: The “Don’t Do” List

The formula: Tell the reader the top things to avoid doing on any given topic.

Example A: 5 Things to Avoid Saying on a First Date
Example B: Never Forget These 12 Items While Going Camping

This formula works because it gives the reader a sense that they will learn the basic things to avoid doing on a topic they care about.

Straight Lists

The formula: List Similar Items in a Specific Topic by Rank or Importance.

Example A: Seven Best Romantic Comedies of All Time
Example B: Five Ways to Save Money for Your Wedding

This formula works because it informs the reader that a much longer list has been boiled down for them to its most important core parts.

Shhhhh! It’s a Secret!

The formula: Instead of a best-of, give your readers “secrets” on how to dominate any given subject.

Example A: 10 Tips to Looking Young Over 50
Example B: 5 Whitening Secrets Your Dentist Doesn’t Want You to Know

This formula works because it gives the reader the impression that they’re getting exclusive information that can’t be found anywhere else.

How-To (With an Obstacle)

quick headline formulas that work online
With digital content, clickability is king.

The formula: Give your readers a tutorial on how to succeed at something in spite of a common obstacle.

Example A: How to Learn to Swim Even if You Hate the Water
Example B: How to Fix the Roof Even if You’re Afraid of Heights

This formula works because it tells the reader they’ll be prepared for whatever problems arise on a specific endeavor.

How-To (Without All the Right Tools)

The formula: Explain how to accomplish something, even if you don’t have the appropriate resources.

Example A: How to Make Money From Home without a Computer
Example B: How to Enjoy New York City with Less Than $100

This formula works because it tells the reader they’ll be armed with the knowledge on how to get more than they should be able to with their current resources.

How To Make the Most out of 365 Days

The formula: Give the reader a seemingly overwhelming task and break down how to accomplish it in a year (or month or week or whatever).

Example A: How to Rebuild a Custom Cadillac in a Year
Example B: How to Write, Sell and Publish a Book in a Year

This formula works because it gives confidence to the reader that he or she will be able to set a goal and stick with it.

Everyone is an Artist

The formula: Announce that by reading this article, they’ll be able to master an “art.”

Example A: Master the Art of First-Date Seduction
Example B: Learn the Art of Sign-Language in 10 Easy Steps

This formula works because it lets the reader know they’ll be empowered to master a difficult, exclusive task.

Get Rid of …

The formula: Tell the reader how to lose something that’s been a perpetual burden.

Example A: Lose the Belly Fat Once and for All
Example B: Get Rid of Shower Mildew for Good

This formula tells the reader that they’ll soon be introduced to a cure for something that’s been ailing them for a long time.

Take Charge!

The formula: Write a bold headline that empowers your readers to take on a daunting issue.

Example A: Take Charge of Your Closet Clutter!
Example B: Bye-Bye Bad Habits – Take Charge of Your Vices!

This formula works because it empowers the reader to learn how to deal with seemingly overwhelming tasks that they may have been putting off.

Piggyback – Group

The formula: Reveal the secrets of an admirable group.

Example A: Workout Like a UFC Fighter
Example B: Wedding Coming Up? Learn to Dance Like a Mambo King

This formula works because it lets the reader know they’ll learn the tricks known only by an exclusive group.

Piggyback – Individual

The formula: Mention an individual who has reached the pinnacle of a certain profession or task.

Example A: Get a Bootie Like J-Lo By Summertime
Example B: Learn How to Invest Like Warren Buffet

This formula works because it tells the reader they will be enlightened with secrets known by the best in their category.


Get your editors to think about writing headlines in a way that will get readers to actually click for the content.

The formula: List mistakes often made during a given task.

Example A: Common Road-Trip Mistakes to Avoid
Example B: Most Common Wedding-Planning Mistakes

headline formulas that work online

This formula works because it tells the reader that the article is based on real-world experience.

The rules that dominated the art of headline writing in print journalism – use the active voice, rarely use more than 10 words, no dangling prepositions – for decades don’t always apply to digital media. With online content, the key is clickability. The greatest article ever written is powerless if it’s trapped behind a stale, underwhelming headline. Don’t be afraid to use boilerplate templates that have been proven winners in the past.

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