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Contrary to popular belief, the first thing people notice on your website isn’t the pretty pics or graphics. It’s the text.

Or, more specifically, it’s the big type on your page, like the headlines. Online readers look at headlines first, according to The Poytner Institute’s eye tracking studies.  But here’s the tricky part: your headlines have about one second to grab a reader’s attention.

Overall, 80 percent of viewers will read your headlines, but only 20 percent will continue reading the rest of the text, according to various studies. Therefore, you’re killing your conversion rates with ho-hum headlines. How big of a difference can a headline make? Upworthy co-founder Peter Koechley told Moz that traffic to his website can vary as much as 500 percent, based solely on the headline.

But writing effective headlines takes lots of practice.

Check out these links the next time you write a headline. Write a few using these resources, then write a few you came up with on your own, then analyze to see what stories performed better. Comment on this story afterward and let us know your results, or send us your own headline-writing tips.

  • Score your headline with Advanced Marketing Institute. You’re looking for an EMV (emotional marketing value) score of at least 30 to 40 percent. The pros crank out headlines with a 50 to 75 percent score. (On a side note: the original headline to this post, “Tips for Writing Headlines that Convert” scored a surprisingly low 16.67 percent. However, the current headline got a 60 percent score. Adding words like “how to” and “superior” increased the score.)
  • CoSchedule also published a list of CopyBlogger’s “power words.” This list of words was used to write this headline.
  • Brian Clark, founder of Copyblogger, has a list of 50 trigger words for multimedia headlines. “The value of your content and/or your offer is what ultimately matters,” Clark writes. “And yet the words you use to demonstrate that value and present that offer will determine to what degree people take action.”
  • John Morrow, CEO of Boost Blog Traffic, put together a list of 317 power words that can elicit emotion. You can find those words here, but read the entire post, particularly the section about Winston Churchill and how he used power words.
  • As always, Neil Patel of Quick Sprout has a great piece on writing headlines that convert, covering every possible angle. It’s a bit lengthy but well worth the read.
  • You can also find lots of headline templates, but, as Copyblogger says, use them at your own risk. In other words, you can’t force the issue. This set of headline templates and this set all come from Copyblogger, while these come from Amy Harrison. These headline templates come from digital marketing expert Pauline Cabrera.
  • Johnathan Dane, founder of KlientBoost, put together his own resource list for writing headlines. From landing page headlines to questions you should ask when writing a headline, Dane has covered a lot of ground in this post.

meniceJake Rigdon is the executive editor at Nimble Media, a content marketing firm based out of Toronto. You can reach him on FacebookLinkedInGoogle+Twitter or by email at jake@nimblemedia.ca.