Scan. Dismiss. Scan. Dismiss. Scan …click!

This is what your audience is doing today. This is what we’re all doing today. In our inbox, on social media and on blogs, we scan through headlines, dismissing most and clicking a few.

Winning that click depends on the headline, more than anything else. It’s impossible to overstate their importance. We are all judged instantly and ruthlessly by this short set of words.

A great headline isn’t just one thing. A single article may have different headlines in different places. It’s adapted for each context. Do not try to make one size fit all.

So, here’s the checklist for writing great headlines:

1. Make a promise. Be specific.

The key to the click is to understand this: Before any of us click anything, we do a split second cost-benefit calculation.

2. Use power trigrams

But – do not try to trick the reader. Your article must deliver on the promise in the headline.

3. Use numbers

List posts are popular for a reason: they set expectations about the amount of content, about scan-ability and variety; if you don’t like one thing, you’ll be able to scan down and find something else.

4. Ask a question

Question headlines have two benefits. First, they leverage a psychological effect, causing the reader’s mind to take the next step: answer the question …or wonder. The lack of completeness inherent in questions causes tension and interest in readers.

5. Put impact words at the front of your headline

In the mobile inbox, subject lines get truncated after just 45 or so characters. In search results, title tags get truncated after around 60 characters. Podcast titles have the same issue.

6. Write very long headlines

So it’s front-loaded with impact words and benefits, but that doesn’t mean that the headline itself is short. Long headlines are winning, at least on Facebook.

7. Put the keyword first

Using the target keyphrase at the beginning of the title tag <title> and header <h1> gives it “keyphrase prominence” helping to indicate its relevance to search engines.