Newspaper headline writing is an art, taught to sub-editors over many years. A great headline can make you smile, think, stop in your tracks.
Your headline is the thing which will be shared on social media. Get it right, and it could be the reason hundreds, or thousands, of people read on.
The reason news media do headlines so well is simple: they write it at the end of the process, not the beginning. They know the story.
In the same vein, your blog headline should never be written until you have typed the last full stop on your post. It should not be written until you have re-read that post at least three times.
Here are the basic rules:
Use short, active words – A punchy headline grabs the attention. Cut out unnecessary words, especially adverbs, in a headline.
It must contain a verb – Making the headline active means using a verb, even if that verb’s ‘is’, or ‘are’.
Use figures – Don’t write them out as words. Studies have also shown that using figures in a headline makes it more attractive to the reader. Round monetary figures up, or down, to the nearest hundred, thousand, ten thousand, hundred thousand, half million.
Make it accurate – Don’t write a sensational but inaccurate headline to suck readers into the post. They’ll feel cheated.
Reflect your content – Throwing in a celebrity name to the headline, for example, without backing that up in the post will backfire on you. Again, your readers will feel cheated.
Don’t use tortuous puns – No matter how tempted you feel, just don’t do it. This isn’t about showing how cleverly you can write, it’s about communicating with your target audience. That kind of pun can be a real turn-off to some readers.
Don’t over-use exclamation marks – In newspapers, we call them ‘screamers’ because they are often over-used to scream out content to the reader. Most of the time, the content really doesn’t deserve an exclamation mark.
Read it aloud – If it sounds convoluted, or ridiculous, delete and start again. If it can’t be said easily, it can’t be read easily.
Will it appeal to your target audience? – Ask yourself how, and why they would read on. Think about their problems, how they like to spend their time when you’re making this decision.
You’ve probably seen a thousand social media posts offering you the perfect formula for blog headline writing. Some of them offer useful tips.
If you’re seeing these social media posts, so are a million other bloggers. It’s all too easy to spot a formula headline.
While those tips are great, don’t follow them slavishly. The other thing to remember is that those formula headlines weren’t written with your target audience in mind. They’re written to appeal to the widest audience possible.
For you, that’s not the aim. Your aim is to speak directly to your ideal customers.
Think about this: your ideal customer is Yvonne, a married small business owner in her 50s whose time is precious, who has two grandchildren and cares about their future. She has an income of between £35,000 and £45,000 a year, likes to travel to Italy and eat out regularly.
Is this headline going to speak to her?: “Discover 50 awesome nightclubs within 50 miles of you”.
You already know the answer, don’t you?
Don’t forget SEO: Search engine optimisation is still very important when it comes to writing blog headlines. Your keyword research should help you – which words appeal to your ideal customers? How can you incorporate them in an organic way?
Some headline power words: There are some words which people find innately attractive. “Discover”, “Find”, and “Secrets” arouse our curiosity and make us want to find out more.
“Powerful”, “effective”, and “hacks” make us feel the content we’re about to read is hitting our usefulness sweet spot. So does the word “useful”.
If you have great images, don’t be afraid to use “beautiful”, “gorgeous”, and “stunning”.
If you’re writing in the first person, use “my” to make that clear in the headline – people like personal content.
Too busy to blog yourself? Drop me an email on firstname.lastname@example.org.