I used to write for The Dallas Morning News, and back then, I had to write headlines all the time. Here's what I know about writing headlines based on that experience:

A title must make a reader want to actually read the article.

There are several ways to reach out and whet a reader's appetite with only a few words:

Communicate a Benefit

benefit

Make the title more appealing by communicating some type of benefit. The benefit can simply be some type of enticing information a potential reader might want to know

For example, if I were going to try to rewrite my browser post More People Prefer FireFox over Internet Explorer  so it communicates a benefit to the reader, I might write it like this instead:

"America Agrees: The Internet is Better on FireFox."

(Okay, I admit, maybe not the most enticing, but the best I can do with that particular topic.) If I were  using Internet Explorer, I might ask myself, "Really? What am I missing here? I think I'll check this article out." Why? Because I'm curious about the benefits of using FireFox over Internet Explorer.

Write Something Controversial or Worthy of Debate

controversy

Everybody loves drama, so a good way to attract readers is to write a title that seems a little bit controversial.

Applying this principle to the same blog post title, I could have written:

"Why Internet Explorer Sucks and FireFox Rocks."

This is a title that's debatable. I'm sure there are some people out there who love Internet Explorer. It's also a little bit controversial because it's mildly inflammatory. I've just stated that a widely-used product sucks, and obviously not everyone is going to agree with that statement.

Create Fear and Offer a Solution

fud

Ah, fear! The universal motivator. Politicians know how to wield this weapon the best, but that's a blog post for another day.

How could I have created a little bit of fear with that same blog post title? I could have written something like:

"Internet Explorer Can Hurt You. Find Out Why America is Switching to FireFox."

Incidentally, if you are reading this post, it could be that you were motivated to do so a little bit by fear. After all, you probably wanted to find out how you might be inadvertently sabotaging your social media marketing. Right?

Engage the Reader by Asking a Question

why-not-bernard-shaw

What if I had written:

"Why is America Switching from Internet Explorer to FireFox?"

Maybe a reader would go, "I don't know. Why? I kinda would like to know." And then they'd click on the link and read it.

Sound Off: Who else is guilty of thinking more about search engines than they are about real people? How is this affecting your marketing efforts?