10 Tips To Writing Catchy Headlines

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Man writingNow 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!

Article Overview

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.

History Of Headlines

14th street newsboy
Photo Credit: Paul Takeuchi

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 Copyblogger1, 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.

1. Pose A Question

Use the Who, What, Where, When and Why to help trigger some initial headlines ideas.

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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.

Apple has a widget you can install on your dashboard which makes for a quick and easy tool when you need it.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Pretend like it’s an email subject line.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Disqus, the popular commenting tool wrote a free eBook on Headlines worth checking out.

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.

When you’re writing content of any kind, make sure you’re using proofreading software to ensure you are grammatically correct.

What headline strategy has been successful for you? 

Source: [1] Copyblogger 

About The Author:

Sadie has over 15 years of experience in digital marketing, graphic and web design, social media strategy, email marketing and more. She is a 4th generation small business owner and has worked with a wide range of brands from fortune 500 companies to startups and entrepreneurs.

Sadie is a self-proclaimed Apple/Mac guru and keeps up with all the latest tech trends at conferences including South by Southwest. Sadie has a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Texas at Austin's Moody School of Communications and a concentration in Business from the Red McCombs School of Business.

Her expertise has appeared in many notable media outlets, including The New York Times, Forbes, People, Reader's Digest, Apartment Therapy, and other regional news organizations.

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Alex Schenker
October 16, 2014 2:29 pm

Great headline writing tips Sadie! Look forward to putting these to use at CSM 🙂