We hate the unexpected.
We know someone or something is lurking to steal from us or take advantage of us.
Unconsciously fear probably more influential than something positive or rewarding.
We don’t want to lose anything we value.
Loss aversion is a powerful motivator.
We worry. We’re fearful.
More importantly, we act on that fear. We will go to great lengths to protect what we value and avoid losing it.
We just act.
We are more alert. We try to understand what’s around the corner.
We prepare insatiably to protect ourselves.
We vigilantly wonder if we are missing something that could come back to bite us.
Your job is to trigger the loss aversion emotion.
Use fear and mistake headlines.
Your readers will instinctively jump into action. Your headline will stop them in their tracks and compel them to dig into your content.
Think about what and who are threatening to your readers.
Armed with that intelligence, you can write a headline that they cannot resist.
I’ve broken out the following 16 fill-in-the-blank headline templates into two sections – Fear headlines and Mistake headlines.
They are related, but different headline styles. You’ll learn exactly how as we dig deeper.
Just like the how-to headlines templates guide, you are going to start with an exercise.
This exercise helps you brainstorm the key words and phrases that are really going to bring out an emotion in your reader.
FEAR EXERCISE: Prepare your ideas on what and who your audience should really be afraid of. Get to the heart of their worries and fears. Find their emotional triggers to write the most impactful fear headlines.Answer the following questions with a list of 5-10 responses for each:
- What are the valuable things that your target audience afraid of losing?
- What realistic threats are there?
- Who are the antagonizing people or groups that are making the threats?
Now you’re ready to rock!
11 Fear Headlines that Trigger Action
1. How Safe Is Your Something Valuable from Threat ?
You instinctively (and quite vividly) can imagine a threat by just reading the template, right?
This headline generates a double shot of fear:
- Watch out!: You feel the threat to something you value and show from whom or what the threat is coming.
- You’re still not safe: “How safe” implies there are likely new threats you’re not aware of.
- How Safe Is Your Website from Hackers?
- How Safe Is Your Home from Flooding?
- How Safe Are Your Stocks from the Falling Euro?
- How Safe Are These 10 College Campuses from Bad Neighbors?
2. # Warning Signs That Something Bad
This headline template taps into and heightens people’s tendency to worry.
It highlights a problem like most fear headlines.
Then it implies that you can avoid it… if you know what to look for.
Your readers can’t help themselves but read on to find out.
You can also elevate just how serious this threat is by adding the number of “warning signs.”
- 5 Warning Signs That Nobody Will Show Up to Your Big Holiday Party
- 4 Warning Signs That Your Tire Pressure is Too Low
- 10 Warning Signs That a Layoff is Coming
- 7 Warning Signs That You at Risk of a Heart Attack
3. Warning: Something Bad
We have all been pre-conditioned to heed a warning.
But this headline template is different than the previous “warning signs” headline style.
The word “Warning” alone tells a potential reader that there is a clear and present danger right now.
Now that’s creating a sense of urgency!
If the threat is critically important to your audience, then they will take one look at your headline and drop everything to read your article.
- Warning: Your Identity Has Been Exposed
- Warning: Don’t Buy That TV
- Warning: This Stock is Going Lower
- Warning: These 5 “Health” Foods Can Make You Fat
4. # Little-Known Risks/Factors That Could Something Bad Your Something Valuable
Warnings are good, but the unknown is really scary.
How can we protect ourselves and what we value, if we don’t know if we’re missing vital information?
This headline template compels your audience to read your advice to learn about the unknown threats and how to fight back.
This headline also adds an emotional twist by using “little-known”.
This simple phrase directly implies to each and every reader that they don’t know the facts.
This is personal.
And worse, someone else has the inside scoop.
Your audience instantly thinks, “I’m going to lose.”
They have to read on.
- 10 Little-Known Risks That Could Derail Your Job Offer
- 7 Little-Known Factors That Could Kill Your Cell Phone Reception
- 12 Little-Known Factors That Could Explode Your Grocery Bill
- 9 Little-Known Risks That Could Ruin Your Next Trip to Europe
5. The Shocking Truth about Something Valuable
Now you are exposing that secret to your readers.
You become the trusted source of the truth when using this headline template.
You see this on the news and in the tabloids constantly. They use it because it’s a headline your readers can’t ignore.
They want the truth!
Pro Tip: Only use this headline template when you actually have a shocking truth to expose. Most of us are not investigative journalists. Your “shocking truths” may be a bit of an exaggeration.I recommend that you don’t over use this headline style. It is much more important that you keep your reader’s trust in you.
- The Shocking Truth about Your Child’s School
- The Shocking Truth about Closed Door Meetings
- The Shocking Truth about TV News
- The Shocking Truth about Gym Memberships
6. The Great Goal/Thing Hoax
Calling all conspiracy theorists!
No indirect implications here. This headline template directly states that the reader is being duped.
A “hoax” is pretty strong statement.
However, you can come right out with the truth if you have proof that something is not right and your readers need to know about it.
You may also tack on additional information about what valuable insights your content contains.
This extra info may diminish the shock impact of the “hoax,” but it is perfect in the event that your content is more solid advice than investigative heroics.
- The Great Clean Energy Hoax
- The Great Organic Food Hoax
- The Great Doping Hoax: What Are Pro Athletes Really Hiding?
- The Great Facebook Hoax: Who’s Really Turning Likes into Sales
7. Audience Alert: The New Goal/Thing Scam to Avoid
This headline template directly calls out a “scam”, similar to the previous “hoax” headline.
Scams are a direct attack. That word alone grabs a reader’s attention.
But what makes this headline style a must-read are three other elements:
- It identifies your reader. They think, “Hey, that’s me. I better pay attention.”
- The threat is “new”. You’re breaking a story and telling your readers about it first.
- You promise a solution. You not only identify the scam, but offer how to avoid it.
- College Grad Alert: The New Credit Card Scam to Avoid
- Homebuyer Alert: The New Mortgage Scam to Avoid
- iPhone Owner Alert: The New Wifi Scam to Avoid
- Shopper Alert: The New “Deal of the Day” Scam to Avoid
8. Can We Really Trust Person/Company/Product?
There are many people, organizations, brands, or natural occurrences that are perceived to be bigger than us.
Social norms say that we have to “trust” or “rely” or “count on” these things to be good to us.
But what they are actually the threat?
They may squash us like a bug.
We want to be in control. We want to protect ourselves from the big guys.
What makes this headline template so effective is it confirms our fears are likely real and it offers a way to help keep you safe.
- Can We Really Trust Big Banks?
- Can We Really Trust Cruise Ships?
- Can You Really Trust Your Boyfriend? 3 Tests to Make Sure
- Can You Really Trust Your Mechanic? 5 Ways to Find Out
9. How Person/Company/Product Gamble with Your Something Valuable : # Ways to Protect Yourself
Someone else is taking chances while you’re likely to pay for it.
You need to get back control and avoid the risks.
I also like to add a list headline at the end.
It makes this headline a little longer, but you’re telling your audience up front that you have a solution.
- How Brokers Gamble with Your Life Savings: 7 Ways to Protect Yourself
- How Your Teenager Gambles with Your Car: 5 Ways to Protect Them and Yourself
- How Managers Gamble with Your Paycheck: 11 Ways to Protect Yourself
- How Doctors Gamble with Your Health: 10 Ways to Protect Yourself
10. # Things Person/Group Won’t Tell You
Not everybody is out to get you, right? You have to trust people.
True, but you can question that trust in your headlines to get your audience thinking.
This headline template creates concern that trusted people or organizations are trying to keep you in the dark.
And not just one thing either. There’s a whole list!
They are holding back the truth, but you are uncovering it for your readers.
- 10 Things Your Best Friend Won’t Tell You
- 5 Things Your Minister Won’t Tell
- 13 Things Senior Executives Won’t Tell You about Your Company
- 7 Things Your Dentist Won’t Tell You about Your Teeth
11. # Lies Person/Group Like to Tell
No mincing words here.
Someone isn’t just covering up something hoping we won’t notice.
We are being attacked directly with bold-faced lies.
You are the advocate for your audience. The hero.
Give them the information they need to know.
Pro Tip: Combining a fear headline with a list headline is very compelling to potential readers.First, you have triggered their worst fears.
Then, your list offers to deliver much needed order to soothe your reader with comprehensive, actionable advice.
- 25 Lies Parents Like to Tell Their Children
- 7 Lies Your Co-Workers Like to Tell
- 10 Lies Customer Service Reps Tell Everyday
- 1 Big Lie You’re Telling Yourself about Your Diet
Mistake Headlines – Nobody Likes to Be Wrong
If one morning I walked on top of the water across the Potomac River, the headline that afternoon would read “President Can’t Swim – Lyndon B. Johnson
Making a mistake can be painful.
No matter how small or in what context, mistakes can be aggravating… and potentially damaging.
Nobody likes to make a mistake. We’ll do anything to avoid them.
Headlines and email subject lines that promise to help us eliminate mistakes often produce amazing results.
There are three big reasons why:
- Psychologically, we don’t like to be wrong.
We internalize an error or mistake as a failure. We’re under enough pressure these days that we can’t afford to fail. Mistake headline templates poke that nerve.
- Oh no! Oh yes!
The mistake headline simultaneously stokes a negative emotion, peaks our curiosity and promises a solution.
This approach is like a perfect combination of Fear headlines and How-to headlines.
- You instantly become a guru.
Lots of other writers, publishers, and marketing professionals can develop guides and give their opinion.
However, detailing the mistakes to avoid means that you’ve been there, done that.
You’ve seen it all. As a result, you gain instant authority with your audience.
EXERCISE: For your specific niche or topic, write down a list of 5-10 answers to these questions:
- What is valuable to your audience that they want to avoid ruining with a mistake?
- What skills may be difficult or prone to mistakes?
- Who are common scapegoats that they don’t want to be like?
Note: You don’t need to create your list of mistakes for this exercise. The mistake list helps you develop your content, not your headline.
5 Mistake Headlines
1. Do You Make These # Goal/Skill Mistakes?
This headline template is the starting point for all mistake headlines.
This is the core.
For all the reasons mentioned in the introduction to this section, it is a headline that will make your article a must read.
There are three additional language nuances at play that you should also understand:
- Question: The headline is in a form of a question. Questions are more an open invitation to imagine and be curious. Plus, you come across a trying to help, not preach.
- “These”: The word “these” is an unconscious trigger to read the article. It indicates there are some specific things that need to be addressed, without giving it away in the headline. The only way the reader is going to find the answer is by reading on.
- Numbered List: This headline template becomes really effective once you can write about more than 3 mistakes. The greater the number, the greater the possibility that the reader is making at least a few of the mistakes.
Your readers are compelled to find out if they’re wrong.
- Do You Make These 9 Grammar Mistakes?
- Do You Make These 10 Diet Mistakes?
- Do You Make These 7 Stretching Mistakes During Your Workout?
- Do You Make These 13 Simple Mistakes That Reduce Your Chance of Getting a Raise?
2. # Goal/Skill Mistakes You Don’t Even Realize You’re Making
What’s worse than making a mistake?
Making a mistake that you aren’t even aware of.
It’s something we all dread.
There is no way to avoid disaster.
And nobody is telling us!
If we don’t fix it now, we’ll keep hurting ourselves again and again.
This headline template proposes to clue your audience in on secrets that no one else will and to avoid any further embarrassment.
- 13 Health Code Mistakes You Don’t Know You’re Making
- 11 Resume Mistakes You Don’t Know You’re Making
- 10 Investing Mistakes You Don’t Know You’re Making
- The 1 Big Parenting Mistake You Don’t Know You’re Making
3. # Goal/Skill Mistakes That Make You Look Negative Personal Image
As a variation of the core mistake headline template, this one adds an emotion-inducing personal element.
Nobody wants to look dumb, stupid or idiotic.
We’ve hated to look dumb ever since we were a kid in school. We all probably still vividly remember a time when we did look like a fool.
It still hurts, right?
For most people, how they are perceived by others is very important.
Your audience will want to avoid any humiliation. So they’ll read your information right away.
Pro Tip: Don’t be afraid to use strongly negative words for this headline style. The more shocking the better your results.Use terms like “incompetent”, “negligent” or “insane”. Compared to those descriptions, looking “bad” or “silly” is actually pretty mild.
- 10 Common Spelling Mistakes That Make You Look Dumb
- 13 Fashion Mistakes That Make You Look Foolish
- 9 Avoidable Presentation Mistakes That Make You Look Incompetent
- 25 Dating Mistakes That Make You Look Stupid
4. # Goal/Skill Mistakes That Make You Look/Sound Like a Negative Personal Image
This mistake headline template includes a villain.
Everyone loves a story where the bad guy gets it in the end.
But in the real world we don’t like it if the bad guy is us.
This headline template adds some extra punch. It draws the reader in with a personal comparison by using the phrase “that makes you look like…”.
Plus the headline paints a cringe-inducing picture of the villain… you.
- 10 First Date Mistakes That Make You Look like a Loser
- 5 Photography Mistakes That Make You Sound like a Beginner
- 7 Workout Mistakes That Make You Look like a Wimp
- 15 Interview Mistakes That Make Sound Like a Jerk
5. Don’t Make These # Mistakes When Goal/Skill
This headline template paints a vivid mental image of an event or situation.
It allows you to dispense positive, mistake-avoiding advice about that event.
The more critical or potentially disruptive the situation is, the better your headline will be.
I also like this headline because “Don’t make these mistakes” adds a directness that draws reader’s attention.
Starting with a negative has stopping power.
- Don’t Make These 5 Mistakes When Buying a New Car
- Don’t Make These 10 Mistakes When You’re on a Blind Date
- Don’t Make These 25 Mistakes When Creating Your Company’s Blog
- Don’t Make These 7 Mistakes When Applying for College
Wow! Fear and embarrassment are incredibly powerful emotions.
You stoke fear and curiosity. Then you deliver pain-avoiding solutions.
That’s what makes these headline styles so effective.
I know you’ll use these 16 templates right away.
And filling in the blanks just makes is so much easier, right?
Go for it!
But wait… there’s more.
Now we’ve covered How-to Headlines and Fear and Mistake Headlines.
Next up, you get to be famous!
15 more high impact headline templates are heading your way soon.
- Nuclear Fear (Explored) by Pascal
- look_out by matthew_hull
- DSCN2783 by grietgriet
- Warning sign by deegolden
- Sabs SHOCKED at Katie’s latest antics by EM
- Portrait – Gregg the maniacal mechanic by MattysFlicks
- SW by Andres Rodriguez
- Oops by JessicaGale
- @EvilPRGuy Wearing the Dunce Cap by Michael Dolan
- DSC00805-B by DodgertonSkillhause