The most effective headlines are the ones that promise something to the reader. What do I mean by promise? The perfect headline must guarantee news, a revelation, insight, or explanation in exchange for reading the content. Don't write a vague headline that doesn't give the slightest inclining to what your story will be about. (Although, sometimes vague headlines pique curiosity and lure in more readers if done correctly.)
Your headline and content also needs to be easily found so it can be read. So if it's online, it must be easily searchable. Of course, we know that easily searchable translates into major keywords. Headlines are the perfect place to insert top searched keywords. You can get an idea of what those are by visiting sites such as google.com/trends. But remember, your readers aren't stupid. They are going to notice if you stuff the headline and body with useless keywords just to increase search rankings. Don't insult them and assume readers won't notice your repeated use of the word target and Justin Bieber in one phrase. They will. You can only use the same words so many times in a small grouping of words.
Of course, this means you should keep headlines short. Otherwise, they wouldn't be headlines. Although you want to make sure you send a message that summarizes the story through the headline, you need to do it as concisely as possible. In my experience, the most effective headlines tend to be 12 words or less. Once you exceed that readers may tend to lose interest. However, you can get around it by using short words and breaking your headline into multiple lines.
Examples of effective headlines
- How to : How to headlines go straight to the point so readers know exactly what they are getting when reading your content (i.e. How to lose weight without giving up carbs)
- List or reasons why : List or reasons why headlines are used when your body consists of a bullet points, tips, or features written in the form of the list. This type of headline is almost always a winner. (i.e. 10 jobs that didn't exist 10 years ago or 5 Ways to get him to propose)
- Testimonial or recommendation headline : The testimonial or recommendation headline instantly proves your content has value from an outside source. It almost guarantees your readers won't be disappointed. (i.e. "Drinking orange juice is the best way to stay healthy, "Dr. Oz.)