Why did you click here?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not second-guessing your decision. Stick with me and you’ll get a few helpful tips, just as the headline promised.

But the only reason you’re really here: the headline was good enough to pull you in.

Welcome to the complexity that comes with running a small business in the digital world: while a small piece of information (like a headline) can capture audience attention, it can just as easily lose it. With A Day in the Internet telling us that some 2 million blog posts publish online on a daily basis, it’s never been more important to focus on that most vital element of every post, article, landing page, and email:

A quality headline.

Whether you’re selling goods or services, at some point you’re going to need to write an artful headline. A headline that intrigues, entices, invites. But what if you’ve never worked with a copywriter and you have no idea how to craft one from scratch? We have a few ideas:

Step One: Read Clickbait

No, really. Clickbait has a bad reputation in today’s world—effective and over-promising headlines like “One WEIRD trick to lose 40 pounds in two days!”—but there’s still a lot you can learn from clickbait without resorting to the same over-the-top mischief as spam.

Have a look at Ranker’s favorite clickbait headlines. The goal here isn’t to steal or copy what you see, but to understand what makes a headline feel urgent in the first place. Clickbait articles are completely driven by clicks and sheer ad revenue: the marketers who write them spend nearly all of their time writing the headline alone. What will you notice when you do check out clickbait?

If nothing else, immersing yourself in a little clickbait will get you out of your comfort zone and force you to start answering that essential question in every headline: what makes people want to click forward?

Step Two: Follow Some Time-Tested Rules

We don’t want you writing blatant clickbait. So, what should you write? Here are a few time-tested rules of effective headlines to observe:

Step Three: Spend More Time Writing the Headline Than You Think You Should

There’s an old quote from Abraham Lincoln: “give me six hours to chop a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”

In other words, most of your time should be spent on the most important elements of the work at hand. When you chop down a tree, you’ll want a sharp axe. When you want people to read your blog or emails, that means spending more time on the headline than you think you should. You’ve already got a nice head start because you’re reading this.

But what else can you do with that time?

Writing Your Next Headline Without Losing Your Mind

There’s enough here to spend the next hour or so writing a headline alone. The truth is that it doesn’t have to be that complicated. Just keep these principles in mind the next time you brainstorm a newsletter or a blog post—and remember to keep testing out new ideas to see what works. Eventually, you’ll not only get a sense for the “art of the headline,” but you’ll better understand the type of content your audience loves most.