Monday December 17th 2018
A hub for writing tips and trends from a former journalist and college professor who sold out big time.

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Tip Sheet: Writing Headlines

For newspaper reporters, there’s no worse feeling than waking up, grabbing the morning edition and seeing a lame, misleading or even erroneous headline splashed above your story.

Reporters don’t write the headlines for the stories. Try telling that to an angry subscriber base that barely knows the difference between the Comics and the Editorial page. At least journalists have an excuse. Bloggers are responsible for their own headlines, and crafting compelling entry points to your work is a key part of successful blogging.

Today’s media consumers don’t read — they scan. If you’re lucky, they’ll check out the first few paragraphs of your piece. But no one’s getting near your clever opening line if your headline is a dud. You might have crafted the finest prose since Hemingway, but the vast majority of readers will never get there because a three-second scan of your headline screamed, “What’s next?”

Here are eight tips for writing killer headlines that pull readers into your content:

  • Use Active Voice and Present Tense
    This creates more powerful, concise headlines that convey a degree of immediacy.
  • Embrace the USP
    Consider a direct, action-oriented headline that spotlights your unique selling proposition or your daily offering (“An Insider’s Guide to XYZ” or “Free 20% Coupon Inside”).
  • Rely on “How-To” in moderation
    This is a time-honored tactic for blog posts, but beware overuse as it becomes gimmicky and a reader turn-off. Make sure you’re offering a useful “how to.”
  • Be Specific
    Specificity is the lifeblood of good writing. Avoid vague, general phrases and speak directly to your topic, your audience or your tactic. A standing headline that could be applied to thousands of guest posts or articles at any given moment is not your friend.
  • X Ways to Write Better Headlines
    Beware the “Five Ways to…” approach, as it can also become a trite device. If you do employ it, make sure everything after the “to…” is tight, immediate and either compelling, utilitarian or humorous. And feel free to pick a number other than five or 10.
  • Put Away the Puns
    It’s difficult for most writers to do humor well. Cheesy puns and lame attempts to crack a joke in a headline almost always fall flat. Readers are busy and bombarded by competing messages — don’t give them an easy out because you’re trying to evoke Dr. Seuss.
  • Use Question Marks Sparingly
    The quickest way to send a reader packing: Ask a question in your headline that readers find useless or in no way connected to their lives or daily experience. If you’re considering a question hed, make sure it’s one that appeals to a broad audience or the human experience in general.
  • Consider the SEO Implications
    This shouldn’t be the ultimate arbiter, because SEO-driven headlines are often boring and uninformative. Write for humans, not for Google, but recognize that keywords are your friends.

Image: Roland

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