One easy content fix to turbocharge your engagement levels.

Written by Marcus White

Your content is good. You spent hours researching it, took the time to nail your customer pain points, then carefully perfected each design element and line of copy. So why is it sat gathering cyber-dust while mediocre articles on the same topic go viral?

The answer is simple: you probably didn’t spend long enough on your headline. We’ll walk you through why headlines need just as much, if not the most, attention when creating content. And we’ll show you the simplest and most effective technique for driving fascination through your headlines.

Why do we use content marketing?

First, it’s important to consider why content marketing is such a popular marketing strategy. Producing high-quality content is a proven way of generating social media traction, website traffic and sales leads. And if you can regularly deliver useful content, you’ll establish credibility, build trust with your audience, and keep them coming back for more. From there, the best content producers become respected authorities within their fields.

But none of this will happen if nobody engages with your content in the first place. Knowing the content audiences want is one thing – but catching their eye and making them click is a skill in itself. You need to know the ‘fascinations’ that make your audience tick and captures their interest against a sea of competition. That’s why the headline is key to getting the clicks your content deserves.

Why a headline is so important

Headlines sell newspapers – and they sell your content too. Of course, writing a good headline alone doesn’t guarantee engagement and conversions. Your content still needs to have value for your customers. That’s pretty much a given though, considering the overwhelming amount of content online (70 million posts a month on WordPress alone).

Whether content is good or bad, the headline is always its face. It’s the part people can see on search engine results, social media shares, and URL links within emails. This is especially important for gated content that’s hidden from the audience – as the headline (and executive summary) needs to convince a prospect to part with their data. Once you’ve got your content in front of your audience, reading the headline is pretty much the only interaction you can guarantee. That’s why they matter the most.

The psychology of headlines

People read differently online. When we read a book, we’re usually in it for the long haul. We’ve read the blurb on the back and decided it’s worth investing our time. The writer has a chance to set out their stall, dazzle us with all of the points they wish to make, then finish with a triumphant flourish. Web writers don’t get that luxury.

Forget the books and covers cliché – web content is definitely judged on headlines. Readers scan for headings and determine in a matter of seconds whether they’re going to click and commit their time. People scan the body text for subheadings too, searching for the part they need. An impenetrable block of text will send most web users panicking for the back button.

This type of reading is called an ‘F-shaped reading pattern‘. Most people’s eyes will scan horizontally (reading the heading) then slowly drift down vertically, scanning for subheadings and reading those too. So, how do we make headlines count? The secret is creating fascination.

The not-so-secret formula for fascination

‘Fascinations’ is an old copywriting term – but it’s a useful one. It means teasing out the fascinating element of a service or product. That golden thread which catches the reader’s eye and makes them want to pull it and find out more. We can actually boil fascinations down to a simple formula:

Specific Benefit + Instant Gratification + Curiosity = Fascination

It’s all about finding the value within your content, then teasing the reader’s curiosity and promising them an instant reward. And if you’ve written something that truly addresses a customer pain point, finding the fascinations within your content should be easy. Read on for a concrete example on how to turn an okay-ish headline into a fascination.

Finding the specific benefit

Let’s say you’re a design expert and have written a blog on helping your customers get better results from their email campaigns. There’s nothing majorly wrong with the below headline. It’s a little wordy, but it uses direct address and gives an accurate promise to the audience. However, is it really going to ring that fascination bell in the reader’s brain?

Proven design techniques to help you get more from your email campaigns.

What’s the true value someone is going to take away from the blog? Why is the reader doing an email campaign in the first place? Adding in a specific, tangible benefit makes the offer to click a lot more tempting. Using numbers, or stats (accurate ones of course!) is an added bonus. The below headline is better with a specific benefit, but there’s still plenty to do to make it fascinating.

Proven design techniques to help you get more from your email campaigns.


Proven design techniques to help you get 50% more ROI from your email campaigns.

Instant gratification: the power of now

The key with fascinations is to make it seem like the reader doesn’t have to do much in order to get the benefit. That’s what makes the instant gratification part of the formula so important. It’s the difference between ‘I’ll read it now’ and ‘I’ll save it to my favourites for later and never look at it again’.

For example, I know an in-depth copywriting guide might have some useful info in it… but I might be too busy to look at it right now. Maybe one day. But not today, or tomorrow either. However, a specific actionable tip that I can start using in my work straight after lunch? I’m in! See the impact of an instant promise in our example below.

Proven design techniques to help you get 50% more ROI from your email campaigns.


Three quick design tips to help you get 50% more ROI from your email campaigns.

Curiosity captures the clicks

Finally, we need to evoke some curiosity. There’s nothing wrong with our example headline as it stands. It’s just a touch bland and gives too much of the game away. If it doesn’t flick that little switch that makes a reader want to know right now, their click has probably been lost to another piece of content.

See how our final example teases out the information. We’ve made the reader a promise. Do this quick and easy thing, and you’ll get this amazing benefit. There’s a little embellishment and jazzing up of the language in there to catch the eye – but the promise is genuine and still reflects the original headline.

Three quick design tips to help you get 50% more ROI from your email campaigns.


Three simple tweaks – a massive ROI boost (+50%) to your email campaigns.

Avoiding the clickbait trap

With great copywriting power, comes a little responsibility. Unfortunately, fascinations are sometimes used disingenuously and appear in the form of dreaded ‘clickbait’. These writers might get a quick win, but there’s no faster way to ensure a user never returns to your site. Nobody likes their time being wasted.

Avoiding an accusation of clickbait headlines is simple – make sure your content actually delivers what your fascination promises.

Quick-fire fascination tips

  • Write a lot of fascinations. Upworthy make their writers do 25 headlines for each piece of content (perhaps excessive – but it’s worth writing at least a few)
  • Test! A/B test different headlines to see how they did and apply lessons to the next time. Don’t publish content and forget about it
  • Keep fascinations shorter where possible. It makes them more scannable plus they won’t get cut off in Google searches
  • Be mindful of SEO. Your main page’s headline is called a H1 for SEO purposes, and Google pays particular attention to it. Add a keyword if it feels natural – but focus on making them genuinely fascinating rather than keyword stuffing, and you can’t go too far wrong

Now over to you…

A fascination doesn’t have to be a headline. They can be tweets, sentences within blogs, or even hand-scrawled notes on an envelope (as the grandfather of fascinations, Mel Martin, famously used to do). You can incorporate them into all of your written content.

Now it’s time to try out some fascination-style headlines of your own. Most importantly though, keep an eye on those engagement numbers – and watch them improve.

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