11 Aug 2014

How to (Try to) Write a Perfect Headline

headlineWriting headlines is hard. No, really…you may think you have a grasp on the whole thing, but you probably don’t. I know I don’t, most of the time. Writing the perfect headline to turn a web skimmer into a reader can be very hit and miss. The fact that you are reading this post write now can probably be marked down as a significant victory; you could have just as easily passed it up.

Alright, so now that you know your headlines, my headlines and everyone else’s headlines are almost always poor (yes, I had a better word to describe them when writing..), but what can be done about it?

Crafting a great headline is more than art: It serves so many purposes that it can drive anyone insane: It should be short (for search engines and social media sharers to have fewer problems with it); It should attract attention, draw people in, stand out, etc, etc. It takes lots of brainstorming to create a great title, and it will never be perfect but here are some tips:


Tips For Writing Better Headlines

Those are only five of an endless number of examples to check out on this topic. Feeling overwhelmed? That’s alright, you probably should be. There is a lot to the art of creating amazing headlines.

Here are some tips to get you started in the meantime.

  • Feel free to pull out your hair. Stressing over the perfect headline might seem like something you should avoid. It’s only a title, right? Relax. Wrong! The title is everything; it is the first impression that is hopefully going to get people to click on your article, and read through it. Of every step of the process, that is the one you should be stressing about most. Even mediocre content can squeak by with a catchy title (ahem, Buzzfeed).
  • Write your title, walk away, then write it again. Don’t settle on your title the first time around. Write the content, come up with a working title, get up and do something else. Come back to it later. Is it still perfect? Chances are, it has lost some of its’ shine. Rework it, get up, go do something else. Do this until you come up with one that doesn’t make you cringe when you read it.
  • Keep the tone of your piece in mind. You wouldn’t title your dissertation “10 Totally Cool Stuff You Didn’t Know About The Genome”. Even if you want to catch the eye, it needs to be done in a way that doesn’t detract from the content itself. Match the tone; if it is more casual, feel free to include that. But if the tone is serious or professional, you don’t want to risk netting the wrong audience by being flippant.
  • Pander to your audience. Some people will say never to pander, but this is the internet. Of course you want to pander. Not every bit of content will give you the opportunity. But if it has, take it. Customizing it to appeal to the a specific group narrows your focus, rather than casting too wide a net that won’t catch anything.
  • KISS is not always the way to go. One of the most common bits of advice you hear about headlines is KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid). Why not break the rules for a change!? Breaking rules often leads to something truly outstanding! Complex headlines actually manage to strick a cord, and act as a mini form of content all on their own. Go to Upworthy and see yourself! One of the reasons they get so many clicks is that they go nuts on their headlines. For example, this was on their front page at the time of this writing: “A Camera Captures Something A Man Does All Day That Might Even Surprise Him”. What in the world could it be?! You kind of want to know, don’t you? That is the power of the complex headline.

headlines

  • Be misleading… sort of. Before I get a slew of angry comments, I don’t mean be misleading to the point of detracting from the topic of the article. But if you look at this one, for example, it mentions tearing your hair out. Is that the main point of the post? No. But it was a small part of it, and relevant to the general idea. It probably had something to do with you clicking. A little bit of misdirection can be helpful, as long as you give them their money’s worth.

Must-Read Resources

  • CopyBloggerCopyBlogger is an authority you know you can trust. So when they write a multi-part ebook filled with information based on this topic, it is safe to assume you actually need that much help. Daunting? Yes, but this is the most informative guide on the subject you can find anywhere.
  • HubSpot – Not only does HubSpot provide an article on how to create ‘link bait’, but it has a generator that will also help you do it. If that isn’t enough, you can find another generator over at Content Row that does the same thing.
  • PoynterHave you ever seen a story shared by Upworthy and been able to resist clicking on it? I haven’t; they are masters of the craft. Not only to the writers at the site know how to attract readers by reeling them in with amazing headlines, but they deliver in a way that regularly sparks viral content. Poynter published a piece teaching us little folks how to come up with the same kind of headlines. Marketo also covered this in a brilliant infographic.
  • Entrepreneurs Journey Want a complete breakdown of writing headlines, from someone who has seen a great deal of success? This is a great introduction to the topic, including the psychology behind words, and how they impact headlines. Informative and interesting, it is a must-read.

Any tips on creating headlines? We’d love to hear them, so leave them in the comments!