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
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
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
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
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?