The headline is a critical component of writing, but we often spend little time crafting it. Pretty much everything you write online requires one, and some of what you write is nothing more than a headline. Here are some tips to help you write better headlines.
First and foremost a perfect headline serves its primary purpose. It grabs readers' attention and compels them to keep reading. If it accomplishes nothing else, it's still a great headline.
What is a headline?
Most dictionaries define a headline only as a newspaper term. But online, a headline is typically the first and major heading on a page. It's a blog post title, a sales page or product page heading, part or all of a social media post, an email subject line, a bookmark, or the attention grabber in your ad copy.
The headline is a crucial factor for SEO. Unless specifically modified, the headline becomes the page title or the primary <h1> tag. It's the text for links from social shares, product reviews, trackbacks, and pretty much everywhere your piece is mentioned. At least part of the headline is likely to become a primary keyword associated with your page or article. Optimize your headline, but never sacrifice its primary purpose of attracting readers.
How to write a better headline
- Highlight the main benefit of reading the article. What problem will be solved or what will the reader learn?
- Know what your target market responds to. Will they choose a headline that evokes emotion or one that appeals to their techie side, or are they looking for news? A simple direct style or a "how to" headline can work very well. Questions, lists, and news styles are also effective.
While they can be used for the right audience, be cautious about indirect headlines and humor. An indirect headline may make your reader curious enough to want to read more, but the danger in being vague is that too many people won't think the article will be of benefit. And of course the risk of humor is that others won't find it funny or won't get it.
Controversial headlines can be very effective, especially if you are looking for reader interaction. The risk is that when emotions run high some readers will inevitably become angry or offended.
In addition to testing different styles of headlines yourself, identify what works for other writers. Check trending topics on social media sites, research viral posts and popular headlines on social bookmarking sites, and watch industry leaders to see which styles they gravitate towards.
- Get personal. If your readers feel as though you are speaking directly to them they may be more receptive. Terms such as "you" and "your" can make a headline seem more personal.
- Use an active voice to make your headlines more concise and stronger.
- Consider the length of your headline. As a general rule, shorter is better, but a headline needs to be as long as necessary to serve its purpose. Again, know what your audience will respond to, but also take into account all the places where the headline will be used and whether the length will be limited there. In some instances the headline will be the link text, in others the page title is the link. Strive for readable, easily shared headline length.
- Pay attention to spelling, grammar, punctuation, and capitalization. Of course proper spelling and grammar are absolutes. There's a little more leeway in how you capitalize and punctuate your headlines. The basics such as capitalizing proper nouns apply, but whether you use sentence case or title case is up to you or your publisher. Many headlines won't require any punctuation, but when it's necessary, use it correctly. Avoid the use of periods, even at the end of a headline. A period causes a momentary pause that may allow the reader to be distracted by something else.
Use these tips to write better headlines that attract more readers. And don't be afraid of change. If your brilliant piece isn't getting the attention it deserves, try a different headline.
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