3 tips for better headline writing

Studying print journalism in college, I learned a lot about headline writing – how to be precise, how to keep the word count down, how to quadruple check name spellings, etc. But it wasn’t until I stepped into the digital realm that I truly grasped the importance of a good headline.

Obviously editorial headlines differ from blog titles, but the principals are the same. A good headline or title will tell someone what the article is about, and it will make them want to read it. You have a split second to do this and get their precious page view.

Here are a few go-to tips to get you started, keeping in mind you’ll want to incorporate basic SEO guidelines as well.

Be accurate and precise, not vague: Unless your blog is one giant suspense novel, it’s OK to give away the ending. In fact, it’s perfectly acceptable, even preferred, to get the point ASAP. People often make the mistake of keeping the headline vague, thinking it will intrigue the reader and cause them to click through. This might slide (on rare occasion) in print because the reader doesn’t have to leave the page to learn more. They simply scan the first couple paragraphs and get the gist, even if the headline doesn’t give them much. Online readers don’t have time for that nonsense. If the headline doesn’t explain what they’re about to read, forget about it, they’ve lost interest. Be as specific as possible without getting too dry or wordy. If your blog is about a home improvement project, say which one. If you touch on why that project is beneficial, say why.

  • Ditch this: Why Home Improvement Projects are a Smart Choice
  • For this: Why Updating the Kitchen Adds Value to a Home

Don’t get too clever:  When you’re sitting at a keyboard – a million jokes, puns and alliterations at your fingertips – it can be tempting to play comedian. And while wit definitely has its place in the headline world, on the whole, steer clear. You don’t want to come of sounding cheesy and unprofessional. Seemingly clever wording can easily get in the way of your point. Sticking with the home improvement theme:

  • Ditch this: Home is Where the Heat is
  • For this: Easy Ways to Save on your Heat Bill this Winter

Power in numbers: Online readers are growing more impatient by the nanosecond. They want to get in and get out as fast as possible with as little effort as possible. Writing in list format, as opposed to long, wordy paragraphs, is one way to go about it. This keeps the content easily digestible and makes for great headlines. Again, sticking with home improvement:

  • Ditch this:  Conversations With Your Contractor
  • For this: 10 Questions to Ask Your Contractor When Building a New Home

Up for a Challenge? Set a timer for 10 minutes and browse the web – news sites, blogs, content aggregators – just to see what kind of headline/titling is out there. As you peruse, notice what grabs your attention and what turns you off about certain headlines. Notice what you click on what you ignore.

  • http://spudart.org/ spudart

    I really like how you give examples. Often time SEO articles give tips, but don’t flesh them out with real life examples. Your examples really get some meat to your advice here. Thanks!