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Now more than ever it’s important to have strong, attention grabbing headlines. As we fight for precious bandwidth and compete with more and more distractions, it’s critical that you have a headline that will bring a reader into the article you spent so much time writing.
However, that’s easier said than done! We’ve all had our writer’s block moments where we’ve sat and stared at a blank screen. Your story is written, proofed and ready to publish, but you’re at a loss for words, literally, as to what to name it. Don’t worry, we’re here to help!
At WeRockYourWeb.com we’ve been doing a lot of reading and researching lately on the topic of headline writing. We thought it would be worthwhile to share this with our readers for when you are in a creative rut. Before we jump into the nitty-gritty, let’s begin with the basics, shall we?
What Is a Headline Anyway?
A headline is defined by dictionary.com as….
A heading at the top of an article or page in a newspaper or magazine. The most important items of news in a newspaper or in a broadcast news bulletin.
If the dictionary itself says it’s the most important part of a story, then it must be true. In its simplest form, a headline is the line of text that is ahead of the rest. However, in reality, it’s much more than that. It’s a hook, an advertisement and a story itself. It not only must be informative, it must be entertaining, compelling and, in some cases, have an emotional connection with your reader. That’s a lot to cram into one sentence….no pressure.
Writing headlines is something we’ve been doing for years. BC (Before Computers) there were many attention grabbing tactics: from a newsboy standing on the side of the street yelling “Read all about it!” to telegrams which forced messages to be told within a limited amount of space.
In fact, the term “headline” dates back to the 18th century. It wasn’t until the mid-1900’s and the increased production and circulation of newspapers that the traditional large type front page headline started to be more competitive. Within the last 10 years, headlines have seen explosive growth becoming even more prominent in our vocabulary, perhaps because they’re more relevant in our lives.
Today, we have multiple news outlets at our disposal 24/7 and endless channels and sources from which to get information. We are constantly inundated with advertisements, tweets, emails and texts that fight for our attention and take away from other things we could be doing.
Whether you realize it our not, headlines can come in all shapes and sizes and are all around us. They are not just in newspapers anymore, they can be in the form of a sign on the side road (Yard Sale Today) or a flying message in the sky (Will You Marry Me?).
No wonder it’s such a challenge to come up with something catchy these days.
Bottom Line: Headlines Matter
If we haven’t convinced you already, headlines matter! No matter what your profession, they are a critical part to your writing and the proof is in the numbers. According to Copyblogger, 8 out of 10 people will read the headline, but only 2 of those 10 will read the rest of the article. That means 80% of people will never see your story. How can you turn that frown upside down and can make your headline stand out from the crowd?
Here are some useful tips to help you make the most of the most important part of your writing.
10 Tips to Writing Catchier Headlines
The best way to get started and get the creative juices flowing is to just brainstorm like crazy. Come up with a long list of ideas first and don’t self edit. No headline is a bad one and everything is fair game – jot down anything and everything that comes to mind.
When coming up with a catchy headline, think to yourself, “What that would grab my attention?” When you scroll through your news feed, skim your inbox or browse the magazines in line at the grocery store, which headlines stick out to you and why? Make note of these by snapping a photo or bookmarking them so they’re in your back pocket when you need it. Think of your reader and try to visualize yourself in their position. Get into their shoes and mindset.
I must say it’s a bit of an oxymoron to try to come up with a headline for an article about how to write a catchy headline. In doing so, I figured it might be worthwhile to use this article’s headline as an example in the tips below.
1. Pose a Question
Use the Who, What, Where, When and Why to help trigger some initial headlines ideas.
- What’s in a Name?
- What is a Good Headline?
- Where Does a Good Headline Come From?
- When Headlines Matter?
- Why Headlines are Important
- How to Write a Headline
- How to Write a Good Headline
2. Try Like Minded Words
Whip out a thesaurus or keyword planning tool to come up with synonyms to replace some of the more common words. (TIP: Apple has a widget you can install on your dashboard which makes for a quick and easy tool when you need it.)
- Writing Catchy Headlines
- How to Write Killer Headlines
- Take Note of These Headline Tips
- Rewarding Headline Suggestions
- Recommended Ways to Reel in Readers
- Pointers for Grabbing an Audience’s Attention
- Words of Advice for Writing Headlines
- Creative Writing Titles Tactics
- Good Article Title Ideas
3. Keep it General, but Be Specific
Don’t to over promise something or guarantee that you are going to do something when you’re not. (Ex. Headlines That will Change your Life!”) And, anyone who reads Buzzfeed knows that lists work, but if you use them (Ex “10 Tips”) don’t constrain yourself too much to a number. If you only have 7 tips, don’t try to come up with 3 more for the heck of it.
- 9 Useful Tools to Write Better Headlines
- 15 Easy Tips to Being a Better Writer
- 6 Ways to Wow your Readers
- Headlines That Will Capture your Audience
- Headlines That will Rock your Readers
4. Be an Authority
You want to be taken seriously? Then show a sense of power in your headline. Give the audience confidence that your article will be worthy of a read if its written by someone with experience or knowledge on that particular topic.
- Headline Writing Tips From a Pro
- Master Headline Writing
- Expert Advice on Writing Headlines
5. Make it Personal
Let’s be honest, we’re selfish and people love to know what’s in it for them. So let your reader you wrote it specifically with them in mind. Using pronouns like “You” and “Your” helps the reader relate.
- Writing Titles to Captivate Your Audience
- Improve Your Articles with Better Headlines
- Catchy Article Titles That Will Wow Your Readers
- Write Catchier Intros for Your Stories
6. Think Like a Marketer
Selling sometimes isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Think of actionable, tangible things that you might hear in an infomercial or a white paper. (TIP: Pretend like it’s an email subject line).
- Effective Headlines for Beginners
- Write Catchier Hooks for Better Results
- Headlines That Will Give Your Stories More Page Views
- Writing Headlines That Convert
7. Have Fun!
A little humor never hurt anyone. Try throwing in a few funny ideas or puns to spice things up. Likewise, try using little drama for a wow factor and some shock and awe.
- WTF!? Writing Headlines That Don’t Suck!
- Writing Headlines – Go Big or Go Home!
- Headline, We Have a Problem
- Headline Writing 101: Back to Basics
- Don’t Try This at Home (or in Your Headlines)
- Headline Writing Tips your Journalism Teacher Never Taught You
8. Less is More
Have you ever heard of the saying “keep it simple stupid”? This saying applies to headlines too. We have unlimited characters to deliver our message – but just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Don’t over complicate things or make it too over the top.
- Headlines 101
- Writing Great Headlines
- Writing A Good Hook
9. Keywords are Key
Keywords matter, but don’t get caught up too much with trying to incorporate them so that it feels forced. Ultimately write with your reader in mind and you can always use keywords in the body to help with your SEO.
For example, if your keyword phrase is “Headline Tips” use those words naturally and come up with variations on the same phrase or use alternative phrases/words if need be.
- Headline Writing Tips
- Tips to Writing Headlines
- Write Headlines Better with These Tips
10. Testing… 1, 2, 3
Once you have a good list of options, narrow it down to 5 or so, and ask others for their opinions. Test different headlines out on social media with a link to the article and see what sticks and what people respond to. The nice thing about writing in a digital age is that almost nothing is indefinite. Unlike the old days when the printer had to hand select the letters for each word and put them into a block that would go onto a press and then be rolled thousands of times in ink and printed permanently onto a page, the digital age is much more forgiving. You have the luxury of trying things out and changing them after the fact. Try using a split test, or A/B test, with your headlines (or even subject lines) and see which performs better.
Practice Makes Perfect
Like any skill, writing headlines gets better over time and comes with experience. There is no magic formula or golden rule when it comes to writing good headlines. Just keep practicing and eventually you’ll learn what works and what doesn’t and you’ll become a better headline writer.
And there are also plenty of other resources out there that we recommend to help. KingSumo has a WordPress plugin called “headline” that you can use to test out various headlines in real-time and see stats on which ones perform better. Disqus, the popular commenting tool (that we use on our websites) wrote a free eBook on Headlines worth checking out.
Any other headline writing tips? What has been successful for you?