The other day I wrote “Down with Deb Ng! Headline Writing 101” where I touched on misleading headlines and basic, across the medium rules for writing headlines. The responses are still coming in, many people tuned in to see what dirt I had on Deb and others were ready to jump to her defense – not that she needs it because girlfriend can take care of herself! Anywho, the headline was a success and I got a few emails asking how to write a headline the right way. The parameters change depending on the genre, so today, let’s look at web writing.
Brief is the word
Five words or less – what is the article about? That’s your headline. Search engines, busy readers and feed skimmers only need one glance to decide if they are going to click your link. Your headline can be longer, but readers often translate a wordy headline into a wordy article.
Writing great web headlines has gotten a little more complicated since the rise of social media and microblogging. Headlines not only need to be short for readers skimming search engines for interesting titles, you now have to think about the “Retweet factor” and link sharing. A short headline allows for retweeted or forwarded links, title and commentary.
One sure way to increase your clicks is through lists. I’m not quite sure why people love lists so much, but I know I’m a sucker for those end of the year “Best Rock Songs of…” countdowns and the VH1′s “I Love…” series. Perhaps it’s because lists are direct and can spur debate – what was left out, what should have been ranked higher or lower, etc. They also work well on the web because they are skim-friendly and easily digested. “Three Tips for Killer Web Headlines” is more interesting than “Killer Headlines.” It’s also clear I’m talking about writing a great web headline as opposed to headlines about killers.
Punctuate for Pete’s Sake
I talked about this a little in my last post, but it is worth repeating. In the retweet, Google juice world, using punctuation to make a title brief and clear is one of the best ways to get a reader’s attention. Let’s take a look at a couple of web headlines:
Now insert the missing words and the headlines become long and boring on the eyes: “Weir was snubbed by ice tour and GLAAD upset” or “Jennifer Love Hewitt and Jamie Kennedy have split.” Commas, semi-colons and colons turn long titles into catchy, clickable headlines.
Come across a killer web headline? Post it below!