If you plan on writing another headline, you need to read this.

I’m Tired Of Hurting People by Wise Kumagoro on DeviantArt  http://bit.ly/NZamaS

Phew! You clicked the link to get to the article. Cool :-)

You’re reading the second line, which means the first line did it’s job. YES!

Now we’re at the third line which means I should probably get to the point huh?

Ok, here goes…

Headlines are Changing

Saying information moves quick is an understatement.

Upworthy understands this.

Lifehacker gets it too.

They write headlines that grab attention and create a “curiosity gap” within a microsecond.

Is it Bad to Shutdown My Computer Regularly or Leave It On All the Time?

Am I Crazy, or Did A Politician Just Respect Our Intelligence?

Sure beats “5 tips to…” or “7 Highlights from…” Doesn’t it?

Gary Vaynerchuk calls it the stream economy. I call it standing out in 2013.

Mind The Curiosity Gap

In 1949, Neuropsychologist Donald .O Hebb made an observed that “humans seek moderate levels of uncertainty, which are more pleasurable and less averse than either high or low levels of uncertainty.

George Lowenstein then built on this foundation in 1994 by applying the “curiosity gap” principles to education by basically stating that students are more likely to learn about things they are curious about.

His research shows that human beings are motivated to learn more about their environment and will instinctively seek uncertain situations “in which they can solve problems, as evidenced by the popularity of puzzles and mysteries.”

When you apply this methodology to headlines, it’s no longer as simple as “Ask a provoking question.”

It’s about weaving that provoking question into the headline, even if the headline itself isn’t a direct question.

Looks look at this at work.

Here’s a sample of the top 4 most clicked articles I’ve tweeted in the last 30 days according to my Social Flow.

Consider Chris Brogan’s “Marketing and Communications are No Longer Just About Talking Well.”

This headline doesn’t ask a direct question, but it does make you ask “Well what’s it about NOW?

It’s not an earth-shattering question, but it’s enough to spark your curiosity. Which according to George Lowenstein’s research, gets you primed and ultimately more receptive to what Chris has to say.

One that’s a little more complex is Brian Solis’s “Silicon Valley is Not a Place, It’s a Movement…and It Has a Story Behind the Storytells you a little story all on it’s own and  gets you to click.

The story look looks something like this: It breaks common perception (Silicon Valley is not a place), Inspires (it’s a movement) and Intrigues (Story Behind The Story)

Really, none of this is happening on a conscious level.

Going back to what Gary Vaynerchuk was saying about the “stream economy”

Imagine how fast your streams update. Now imagine what it would be like if you consciously processed everything in there.

Impossible right?

So what do we do instead? We scan.

If a headline engages your brain in the microsecond your eyes gloss over it, you’re more likely to click.

And clicks are often the start of a beautiful friendship, wouldn’t you agree?



    • Tommy says

      Too true, but it’s important to realize that too much misleading will burn your readers outand cause long term damage. And for most people (not saying you though Hashim) curiosity headlines are harder to write because what they’re writing about in the first place isn’t something people would be curious about.

      do me a favor, send me your next blog post before you publish it, and I’ll see if I can help out with it ok :-)

  1. says

    Very nice post Tommy. And I really dig the photo choice… I am pinning that shit! (hope the S bomb is OK)

    Like Brian above, I got to this post via a Brogan tweet… but I am glad I did. Prob would hav seen in my feed at some point as well.

    I agree that blog post titles are crucial… but I sometimes feel duped when I click on some kick ass title, and the content blows. (your post is not on that list btw)

    I think that the “7 reasons why” etc kind of posts still have game, but you can not rely on them to always work… much like what you recommend will not always work either.

    I think at the end of the day, it comes down to your audience, your target market and the information that they want, need and crave. At the end of the day, measure your results and do what works best for you. Your stats are your stats based on the audience that you has come to know and like what you kick out.

    Thanks for sharing the GaryVee video… had not seen that one yet, but did see him live at Inbound12 and he spoke on that topic, and I think he is on point with the “stream economy”.

    Great post man!


    • Tommy says

      Thanks Doc, your comment was the shit ;-)

      I haven’t seen the live at Inbound12 is there a video?

      What it comes down to is a matter of expansion and getting deep. This style headline obviously will burn people out if used too often, just like the :7 reasons why: can make people’s eyes gloss over when used all the time. I think what’s the most important is to make sure things are varied.

      We get so afraid to experiment once we hit a groove, and I think it’s the most dangerous thing as online creators we can do. We get acclimated to one system, then some asshole comes along and shakes that shit up.

      If we keep a varied approach, we can attract a varied audience, create more interesting conversations, and always keep everyone on their toes. Not because they’re afraid, or glossed over, but because they’re stimulated and truly “engaged”.

      • says

        Haha… thanks Tommy! =)

        Now that is a great reply, and agree 100%.

        As for the video, they are supposed to release one soon. I recorded with my iPhone from the front row half of it, in 3 different clips. Was considering posting to YouTube.

        His Keynote was the shit!


  2. says

    Are you kidding me Tommy?!?! This is what you call good advice?

    See? I can do it too in the comments. Sort of. Loved this post. Just what the doctor ordered. The content on my blog is quite different and does grab readers attention but I really struggle with my titles. Every now and then I get some wood on the ball, but not as often as I would like.

    This is definitely some good food for thought. I’ll check back in next week and let you know if it makes a difference! Thanks :)

    • Tommy says

      Lol Now that’s funny stuff right there.

      The trick is not to do it all the time. Think of it like expansion, then digging deep with your audience. If you keep a healthy balance of both, you’ll fare just fine.

      Mind shooting me a draft of your upcoming post when it’s ready? Tommyisastrategist@gmail.com, I’ll do what I can to help you build up that gap :-)

  3. says

    Good point Tommy

    I picked up on your article because I’m in the middle of, (you’d never guess lol), writing headlines at the moment. So it literally spoke to me. I’m like, okay, I should at least know what you have to say because it’s what I’m doing right now. It’s like what Derek Halpern was saying in his customer coma piece.

    It’s very insightful. I think The Dark Knight Rises did it very well in their trailers. They could have had all the explosive sounds and those subwoofer bass tones underneath whilst folks were running for their lives and bridges were being destroyed. No. They had the lightest, pin drop of a sound, so airy, like there was no sound at all, all while Batman’s Gotham city was being raised to the ground. It’s so unusual, because no movie trailer does that. They want you to hear “BANG, SMASH, EXPLODE” to get a feel of the movie. The Dark Knight Rises had none of that, and it made me feel, okay, now I have to go the cinema to at least hear the explosions, because I certainly wasn’t getting that in the trailer.

    I think that counts as an information gap, but on an auditory level too. I think you could reverse it, and cut the visual feed in videos, and just leave sounds to direct the viewer. Scary to pull off, but a great idea! no?

    Great post. I love it when posts chain-off idea bursts!

    • Tommy says

      I love the TDKR example! That’s perfect!

      And the scene in the movie where most of Gotham is getting blown to bits kept the audio to a minimum, which I think, made that whole scene even more unsettling, wouldn’t you agree?

  4. says

    Well, I read it because it is coming from you. Then I read it because it was kinda like a warning. To me the headline was giving a warning that if I did not make time to read the article I would miss something important about headlines. Something very important. To me nothing motivates people more than even a small amount of danger.

    • Tommy says

      Danger is one of the biggest motivators for sure, we just have to be sure not to abuse it. Keeping our prospects coming to you out of fear all the time can’t build a healthy relationship.

  5. says


    I like the post, but I have to concur a little with the first comment. What got me to click on your article was 1. It was tweeted by Chris Brogan 2. The title. The title was really secondary. No offense, but I’ve been following Brogan for a while, so his tweets grab my attention by virtue of the source. Truth be told, had I not known that Chris or Brian Solis had written the two articles you noted above as examples, I didn’t think either one was compelling.
    I also don’t necessarily think that numbered lists are dead, simply because the ‘7 ways to..’ headlines are dependent upon what follows those words. When I see them, I still think that I’ll be getting concise, bullet point content that’s small-dose helpful. That, or I’ll be able to tell that it’s junk with a quick scan. This is all coming from someone who considers himself very much on the follower side of the coin and is typically on the lookout for guidance from the experts.
    But, I must also admit that what makes headlines jump at me the most when their from an unknown source is typically a question. The curiosity that you note above is undeniable. When it’s piqued the right way, I click.

    I’ll be following and thanks,

    • Tommy says

      Oh Brian,

      I noticed you just subbed to my list… You’re in for a wild ride my friend.

      Source is important, absolutely. And you’re here because I piqued Brogan’s interest, which was also no accident.

      I don’t think numbered lists are …dead persay, I just don’t think the majority of publishers use them well. I’ve managed to have some of my best success with a numbered list. But even that uses the “curiosity gap” I’m talking about in this post.

      What we’re talking about isn’t the tactic itself, but the intangible that lives under the surface.

      Glad to have you on board! Thanks for stopping by :-)

  6. says

    Too many catchy headlines are turning into disappointments. I’d rather have a headline reflect what the article is about than one that misleads me. I’ve started losing respect for some of the publications that repeatedly do this and stopped reading them them.

    • Tommy says

      Meryl, you raise a very good point!

      Hopefully, this article wasn’t one of them.

      Ultimately, this kind of catchy headline has to deliver, otherwise the website will only be met with eyerolls. Do you think if there were more substance in the articles, this would work better for you?

    • Tommy says

      Mind the curiosity gap.

      Headlines like “7 tips to a ___” don’t really stand out in such a busy place.

      Instead, your headline should drum up some instinctual desire to click. Yes, this has always been the point of a good headline, but with the speed at which headlines are thrown at you, the application of the technique is very different.

      When I look at my Social Flow reports, I can see that the headlines that get the most clicks aren’t the ones that are just “asking thought provoking questions” but rather have the reader asking themselves a question. For Example

      Marketing and Communications Are No Longer Just About Talking Well http://bit.ly/OBEblP
      was at the top of the list,

      followed by “What if your most ambitious, well crafted strategy simply… fell apart? http://bit.ly/ORfTnY

      then “Silicon Valley is Not a Place, It’s a Movement…and It Has a Story Behind the Story http://bit.ly/OGcZ5v

      Each of these make it’s reader ask themselves a question, which then compels them to click.

      with the first headline you may ask “Well what is it about?”

      The second you ask “That would be terrible, What would I do?”

      and the third does something a little more tricky – it breaks common perception (SV is not a place) inspires (it’s a movement) and intrigues (story behind the story)

      Consider the headline to this article… what about it got you to click?

      See what I mean?