If you’re a blogger writing for a niche website or really any online publication, you probably want to develop a competitive style with compelling headlines. Whatever you are writing for your readers, here are 20 tips on how to write good headlines that will help to get your point across quickly and effectively to impact your readers in relevant ways.
The 20 Best Tips on How to Write Good Headlines
Not only can headlines let potential readers know what the article will be about. They can help you get more click-throughs to your article from search engines like Google, and help with SEO purposes. Let’s go ahead and look at our 20 tips.
1. Write a Catchy Hook
A great hook can catch any number of fish that are waiting to be lured with the right bait. Keep your audience in mind as you decide which type of hook to use. Readers can be categorized by age, gender, socio-economic status, and personal interests like politics or religion. If you are writing for a particular demographic, choose the right lure, or hook, to grab their attention. Generally, younger audiences prefer tight writing with succinct messages. You might start with a sharp buzzword or a short rhetorical question that they can instantly relate to. A familiar quote or a pithy pun might be just the bait you need to cast to make your catch.
2. Have a Specific Focus
Focus your title on a specific topic. A broad focus might not attract much interest if it is too generic. Reference a current national or local interest to capture reader attention. Question an established convention. Challenge a contemporary norm. Keep your focus tight, so readers can concentrate on the main point you plan to make. Utilize buzzwords and celebrity news that make headlines that you can tie to to your topic. Start small and work your way outward if you want to cover a large aspect of the topic. You could start large scale and work inward, but a broad beginning might not attract much interest whereas a tight focus may instantly grab readers’ attention.
3. Start with a Strong Point
As you launch the piece, avoid expletives like “there” or “it”. Begin with a firm view of the point you plan to argue. This can take the form of a single, stand-alone statement at the beginning of the article, or it might be crafted as the thesis. The key idea should be easily recognizable to draw reader interest and either tell them what you are going to do with the idea or make them want to know. Use second-person “you” statements to connect to your audience directly. Share a personal anecdote or a funny story as an icebreaker. Readers need something to engage them with your topic and your writing style. Treat them like friends rather than customers.
4. Have Clarity
Don’t be cutesy or vague. Don’t tell riddles and make them guess. Don’t assume your readers all share the same background or foundation for your theme. Get right to the point and stick with it. Yes, you can add humor along the way, but don’t sprinkle laughs to make your ideas more palatable. Comic relief should be a reward, not an incentive. Avoid long historical explanations. Add context as needed to help readers grasp essential points, not to show off what you know. Reread every statement to be sure it isn’t circuitous, repetitive, or hard to understand. Break up longer sentences and use everyday words instead of jargon.
5. Keep if Brief
A headline should be brief and to the point. How to define “brief”? Some editors like to keep their headings within five or six words and subheadings within one to four words. You can find headlines that are several words long, but what’s the point of that? Forcing your audience to read lengthy word strings before they can decide whether to read the article seems like undue punishment. Tell them what they need to know succinctly, even tantalizingly, to keep them reading past the heading and into the article. Revealing too much in the headline gives away the story so that the article may not be needed. Say just enough to pique their curiosity to get involved in the article.
6. Double Check for Accuracy
Always double- and triple-check the accuracy of your headlines before publication. In addition to checking research and interviewee statements, look for accidental typing errors, such as keying “10” instead of “100”. We’re all aware of famous political gaffes that went unchecked and uncorrected before going to press, resulting in furious backpedaling and maybe retraction following publication. Check the spelling of names, places, and events along with a multitude of other words you may not be sure of. Most acronyms use all capital letters, but some popular terms do not – like webpage – although the Web is capitalized. Use a reliable grammar handbook and a dictionary to check punctuation, spelling, and related language issues.
7. Use Concrete Nouns
Insert concrete nouns in your headlines whenever possible. Instead of writing something like “10 Things New Moms Want You to Know”, consider a more specific title like “10 Words New Moms Never Want to Hear”. Not only will your words be more meaningful and specific, but the headline is also more “focused” to tick another box in this tip list! Instead of writing “Everyone was dressed in Spring colors”, you could write, “Everyone wore pastel blues, pinks, yellows, and greens”. Sometimes your topic or statement cannot accommodate a concrete noun, but include them if you can. Abstract terms like “patriotism” may be more difficult to rephrase, but you can describe or explain the concept in other terms, such as “love for one’s country”.
8. Use Action Verbs
Another part of speech can also be more powerful as you learn how to write good headlines. Put your verbs to work by transitioning them from auxiliary verbs to action verbs. As a general rule, avoid using “to be” or “to have” verbs as much as possible. Of course, sometimes they must be used or sound more natural than the alternatives: “I am so sorry” (instead of “I feel sorry”) or “I have to use the restroom” (instead of “I must use the restroom” – accurate but kind of weird for everyday diction).
9. Create Conversational Tone
Unless you are delivering a formal presentation or making a grand speech, keep your tone conversational without being slangy or careless. Some writers blend a casual writing style with serious information to be relayed. They introduce each point directly and then discuss it informally, and sometimes, anecdotally. However, to impress upon the readers the seriousness of the topic, you should also include credible evidence to support your claims. Headlines that come across as silly, highly questionable, or insignificant will let readers move on without taking time to read the article. Appeal to your audience on their level – but on your terms.
10. Appropriate Diction
The words you choose for your writing should be tailored to your readers. Most people of any readership expect professional writing to use correct diction without much slang. Writing that is careless or slangy can put the writer in a questionable light. Feel free to include occasional contemporary expressions that don’t sound forced or contrived. Use your natural style to convey key information in language that your readers can relate to. This might mean leaving your comfort zone now and then to adjust your diction in new ways, but the end result of impacting your readers will be worth it.
11. Have a Positive and Upbeat Outlook
Yes, some headlines post scary or threatening warnings, but no, they don’t usually take a total doom-and-gloom stand. When your writing must be critical or alarming, balance that approach with hope either in the headline or just below it. More than ever, readers today are looking for hope. They want to be kept informed of worrisome news events and reports about phenomena that may have a bearing on their lives. But they also want to know that all is not lost, that even if they ate the recalled ground beef with salmonella, they probably won’t die. Most of the article can be slanted one way or the other, or it can blend good news and bad news. But let it end well for your readers.
12. Convey an Interesting Perspective
Have you ever read an article that covered a widely-reported issue from a unique perspective? Those are among the best types of public reading for many people. You realize that as much as you’ve heard or thought about a current issue, you never really thought about it in that particular way before. A singular approach to a hot topic or an older one can often signal a creative journalist whose ideas are worth reading. Making a well-worn topic interesting and relevant again is a writing gift. Another way to apply that gift is when writing about mundane topics that readers might not care about, like a high-priced vacuum sweeper going on sale at the department store. But their interest will be piqued when you point that only this model has been proven to collect 98.9 percent of the bacteria breeding in their carpets.
13. Connect to Your Audience
Connect your headlines to issues your readers care about, which is why you need to learn all you can about your audience and their interest in contemporary issues. Your writing needs to get readers invested in the topic you are presenting. Depending on the demographic, are their driving concerns mainly tied to health? Finances? Family? Find a way to link your topic to those interests. It can usually be done with minimal effort.
14. Relate the Topic to Your Readers
In addition to making connections between your topic and the readers’ interests, you should also look for ways to relate the topic to readers individually. Draw word pictures to help them envision the problem you are going to introduce. For example, when writing for a senior population concerned about health issues, orient your writing to help them relate the topic to their own lives as individuals rather than as a group. Use common experiences that many or most readers can identify with, such as the risk of falling or the need for a home security system.
15. Include Stats or Facts
As you continue the quest for learning how to write good headlines, remember to infuse your writing with valuable information. Even if you incorporate facts that are also published elsewhere, they are worth another mention to underscore their importance to readers. Many people skim headlines to find topics of interest and applicability to their lives. Include industry titans’ quotes, percentages, statistics, and other key facts that will invite viewers to read the article. The purpose of some writing is solely to entertain, while other writing is published for informative purposes. Aristotle, the ancient Greek philosopher, believed that the best writing should do both.
16. Be Persuasive
Not only should your writing be informative, but it should also be convincing. You have probably read headlines that seemed too good to be true or vice versa. Startling claims may have attracted your attention without adequate support to convince you or other readers of their merit. Research your claims thoroughly and use only credible sources that have published in recent years. Explain how the source or fact sheds light on your topic so that readers will accept the truth or at least the probability of your claims.
17. Hint at a Solution
When asking a question or reporting a problem, try to hint at or include the solution. Along with the optimistic quest for hope, readers are looking for answers to life’s questions, including the most practical problems and concerns. As you decide how to write good headlines, look for ways to offer a solution. Here’s an example: “Too Tired to Get Up in the Morning? Here’s 3 Tips to Help”. Even if your three tips do not help some or any of the readers, they may be inspired to search out their own solutions instead of giving up on solving the problem.
18. Be Entertaining
As well as using humor or personal anecdotes to make your writing accessible and enjoyable, look for suitable ways to be entertaining. When you think of your favorite bloggers, they probably have personality quirks or personal phrases they use as part of their brand that make them fun to read. Entertaining writing can take many forms, from outright comedic to satiric and everything between. Keep your readers’ interests and preferences in mind as you sprinkle a few entertaining nuggets throughout your prose.
19. Use a Solid Ending
Don’t end your headlines on a wimpy note. Prepositions can be weak at the end of a statement. Place them closer to the beginning or middle of the statement. For example: “Which Holiday Foods Are You Interested In?” could be revised: “The Holiday Foods That Will Thrill You”. Switching from a question to a pronouncement, the style is more empathic and likely to interest more readers with the stronger action verb. In addition, ending with the word “you” directly connects the headline to the reader on a personal level. The last word or phrase of your headline (or your final statement in the article) should incite interest that will draw readers right into the article.
20. Include Applicable Tips
Some of the most compelling headlines offer applicable tips with immediate benefits. Theory is all well and good when you have time on your hands and no pressing needs. But a practical suggestion that can be readily applied with minimal cost and effort is a prize. Usable information can be gleaned in moments and often makes life more convenient or easier for readers. I love finding headlines with instant applicability that I can use right now to fix a problem or enrich my life.
21. Include Your Focus Keyword for SEO
If you’re trying to get organic traffic from the internet, (and let’s be honest, who’s not?) be sure to include the focus keyword of the article in the headline. It should preferably be toward the front end of the headline. This will help Google and other search engines understand what the article is about. At a minimum, I always make sure to include the SEO focus keyword in the title headline, an H2 headline, the first paragraph, and the last paragraph.
22. Get Help Writing Good Headlines from a Tool
If you’d like some help to create the best possible headline for your article, you may want to run your ideas through a headline generator. Tools like the one over at Sumo.com can help you fine-tune your headlines into the perfect storm for both intrigue and conversions.
Our Final Thoughts on Writing Headlines
From start to finish, your headlines should be commanding and helpful, adding value to readers’ lives. People who skim the headlines looking for useful or entertaining material should be eager to devour your writing for qualities like relevance, timeliness, accuracy, and style. Experiment with writing tips like these to hook readers and hold their interest while you deliver information that they are eager to hear. Hopefully, you’ve enjoyed our tips on how to write good headlines, and you can start practicing. You’ll be a pro headline writer in no time.