Site   Web

August 24, 2015

8 Tips from GQ for Crafting Great Headlines

Writing, Blogging
Photo Credit: Michael Heilemann via flickr

It’s every writer’s nightmare: you create an article that seems perfect and you expect your readers to love it.

Instead, you click “publish” and you can virtually hear the crickets chirping. Hours go by and still, nothing happens.

Don’t despair though; it’s likely that the issue isn’t your writing. More likely than not, the problem can be easily boiled down to your headlines and their respective strength – or lack thereof.

If your audience isn’t actually enjoying what you’re trying to pitch to them, they probably aren’t going to read—or share – and it’s important to keep in mind that, at the end of the day, a headline is just a pitch for readers to click on and read your content.

One brand that is nailing the “enjoying it” part with their content creation is GQ. They’re masters at creating a balance of truly shareable content for their specific audience.

GQ’s Greatest Hits

GQ is fantastic at knowing their audience very well and their headlines reflect this beautifully. Take a look at these examples: 


Magic City

QG’s recent “Magic City’s Greatest Hits: An Atlanta Strip Club Playlist” is expertly targeted at GQ’s readers and, therefore, is very likely to be shared. In addition to being interesting to a variety of people (music lovers, millenilals, DJ’s and strippers, to name a few) the article had a great deal of appeal to people who live in or around Atlanta.

In addition to being relevant to Atlanta-based readers and anyone who likes unique music, this headline also offers just enough shock-value to be interesting. It’s easy to imagine readers thinking “stripper songs? I’m going to click on that.”

Most importantly, once the article has delivered an interesting headline, it goes on to deliver great value: 11 songs complete with Spotify links and videos, which is a great way for GQ’s readers to discover new music and broaden their playlsits.

Sean Penn

It goes without saying that “Sean Penn Would Like to Borrow your 1-Day-Old Baby in Exchange for $119” is a shocking headline.

It’s quirky enough to garner attention and more than intriguing enough to encourage ample clicks.

In addition to offering a fantastic headline, this article also offers strong body content, assuring readers that Sean Penn “really, really wants to borrow that baby.”

The article goes on to say this:

“Yesterday, Deadline Hollywood spotted this “urgent casting call” for a film Penn is shooting in Cape Town, titled The Last Face. ‘We are looking for a PREGNANT BLACK WOMAN who is about to give birth,’ it reads. ‘We need the baby to be born around SATURDAY or SUNDAY (25th & 26th). We will be using the BABY only (obviously the mother is allowed on set with the baby).’ The baby will be paid 1,500 rand per day, or roughly $119.”

In this case, Sean Penn probably isn’t literally asking to borrow your baby, but the article headline is funny, interesting and attention grabbing, which compels GQ’s audience to click, read and share.

The Sean Penn headline is a perfect example of how GQ exemplifies the traction you want as a blogger: by capturing everyone who is on your page viewing your topics, you ensure further clicks, more shares and a wider reach across the web.

To learn how to do it like GQ does it, all you need to do is try out some of GQ’s signature formulas.

GQ’s Signature Style

GQ’s style is many things: edgy, hip, interesting and unique and, because of these things, GQ manages to hook readers and keep them interested. The publication knows its readers well and does a fantastic job at engaging them; targeting content and creating articles that are genuinely interesting, fun and shareable.

In some ways, knowing their readers is GQ’s biggest strength and the great headlines simply grow from that. In order to take a tip from the media giant and create your own engaging, fascinating, click-claiming headlines, take these simple formulas and make them your own.

The 8 Headlines Formulas that Make GQ Famous

Although GQ’s topics might differ from those of many other web publications, they aren’t reinventing the wheel. Nearly all the headlines that GQ writes can fit into one of these eight example formulas:

1. How to Do X Basic But Secretly Hard Task

Examples of this headline include “How to Dress for the Gym” and “How to Combat Thinning Hair.” Life is hard and people know it and this headline style works by helping people with simple, daily frustrations and real-life hurdles.

When a reader feels like GQ is writing to them rather than at them, they’re more likely to click, giggle and share.

2. How to Do X Amazing Thing:

Think about headlines like “How to Get Ripped, in Prison” or “How to Have Sex in a Two Person Sleeping Bag.” These things seem impossible, right?

That’s exactly the point.

Although these aren’t actual GQ headlines, they fit the formula that GQ often uses which is “click here. We’re going to teach you to be awesome.” People love feeling like they’re striving toward self-improvement and these catchy headlines help people change the way they think and learn new skills.

3. What’s That One Thing You Need to Know?

“No-Show Socks to Save Your Feet (and Shoes),” “The Wise Alternatives to Rental Tuxes,” “The Secret to Living 100 Years.” This “big answer” headline format taps into a tricky aspect of the human psyche.

People love to feel like they know a secret or like they’re getting access to super-exclusive, VIP information that’s not available to the general public. With this in mind, these headlines serve the most important purpose of marketing in general, which is to give people value and let them in on something great through your content.

4. Things to Learn from X

Think about headlines like “6 Style Moves to Steal from Justin Timberlake” and “Nick Offerman’s Guide to the Holiday.” These are called “piggyback headlines” and they work by piggybacking off of a famous person, event or fixture.

People know who Justin Timberlake is and they know he’s a stylish, well-dressed guy, so of course they want to click a headline that gives them the scoop on stealing his style. The reason piggyback headlines are so effective is that they tap into celebrity fan bases and allow readers to immediately associate the article title with someone or something they’re familiar with, which increases interaction and garners more clicks.

5. Who Did What

“This Guy Dropped 77 F-Bombs in One Epic Rant” and “President Obama Reveals All in His Final Four Bracket” are great examples of headlines that combine shock value and curiosity into one tantalizing package.

Obviously, readers need to know who the heck is capable of dropping 77 F-Bombs at one time and, since President Obama is literally a global celebrity, there’s a good chance readers want the chance to peek inside his final four brackets.

By combining interesting facts with a headline that lends itself to curiosity, this formula is a winner when it comes to clicks and reads.

6. That One Crazy Question

“Can Women be Douchebags?” or “Is There a Right Way to Get Naked?” You’ve probably always wondered and now these questions aren’t just between you and Siri anymore.

This headline formula is amazingly effective because it gives readers the sense that the writer is in their heads. “Crazy question” headlines will resonate with anyone who has ever gone to Google in search of the answers to life’s persistent and confusing questions and, because of that, they’re consistent winners in the headline game. A viral headline needs to be interesting and valuable and this formula provides both.

7. Listen Dude, This Is How It Is

“Your Socks Need an Update. Here It Is”, “You’ve Been Shaving Wrong This Whole Time (So Were We).” These headlines work by encouraging a sense of kinship between reader and writer.

When the reader feels like the writer is there, in his or her life, observing things and offering practical solutions, they’re likely to click on the article in order to find out exactly what the solution is. These headlines are simple, to the point, and promise to deliver valuable information in a digestible package.

8. Wildcard Headline You Didn’t See Coming:

“Sean Penn Would Like to Borrow Your 1-Day-Old Baby in Exchange for $119” and “BuzzFeed Is Trying To Kill Me”: these headlines work by making readers choke on their morning coffee and presenting an idea so ludicrous, absurd and wildly wonderful that readers simply have to click.

How the GQ Headline Formulas Can Work for Everyone

Although GQ is currently the reigning master of these headlines, they are applicable to many different types of companies. These headline formulas are effective because they grab attention, provide value and provoke curiosity and, because of this, they can be applied to many different companies.

If we, a copywriting agency, were to come up with GQ inspired topics on content marketing, they might look like this:

  1. How to Write Correctly (It’s Harder Than It Sounds)
  2. How to Be An Amazing Blogger In No Time At All
  3. The One Secret You Need To Know to Be Awesome At Spelling

Now that we’ve mentioned it, you better believe you’ll see these things on our content calendar in the coming months. Thanks, GQ!


Take a little headline inspiration from the fashion icon, GQ, and you might just boost your blog readership. By providing readers with great headlines that cater to their sense of whimsy, curiosity, entertainment and wonder, GQ has managed to create a media empire that garners thousands of clicks, shares and reads every month and, the great news is, you can too.

To learn more about crafting great headlines, visit the Express Writers blog today.


Julia Spence-McCoy is the CEO of Express Writers, an online copywriting agency that began in 2011 with thousands of web content pages written to date and more than 50 talented writers on the team. Her passion is copywriting and all that pertains, including the ever-changing game of Google algorithm updates.

11 Responses to “8 Tips from GQ for Crafting Great Headlines

    avatar Greg says:

    Thank you for sharing

    avatar SAK says:

    Great Engaging Head line sales I think with any thing

    avatar tina says:


    avatar Hamizan Blog says:

    Thanks for sharing informations and tips like this

    avatar Gaurav says:

    Finding a good and attractive heading for any article is quite challenging, It require lots of research and analysis. anyways thanks for sharing your advices here

    “How to Get a Worldwide Following in Seven Words”
    See – your article is already working! Thanks for kick-starting my creative juices!
    Bill Benson, LMFT, LPCC

    avatar rakhi status says:

    thanks for the information in gave me lot of ideas!

    Great article I like the down to Earth approach and examples, I will use it next time.

    avatar Brent says:

    Hi Julia, Great article.

    Another extension of the “how to do x” headline would be to add an awesome benefit after your headline.

    EG: How to Have Sex in a Two Person Sleeping Bag “That doesn’t cause leg cramps”

    Keep up the great articles.

    avatar Juliana says:

    I am a frequent reader of your blog and this post has given me a lot of ideas for creating attractive headlines.

    Thanks for the inspiration.

    The headline is also as important as the content of the post. If the headline is catchy, but the content is boring, people will still quit reading even if they started reading the post based on the catchy headline

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Please leave these two fields as-is:

Protected by Invisible Defender. Showed 403 to 6,652,293 bad guys.