How to write better headlines

When it comes to creating engaging, shareable content, creating an enticing headline is more than half the battle. (Just ask the NPR employees who were pitted together in Head to Head—a timed battle broadcast on Facebook, where staffers competed to create the best headline for a story.) Creating the perfect headline is no easy feat, but it’s essential if you want people to actually read your content.

Be specific.

As media consumers, we’re inundated with content on a daily basis. When we encounter new content, we immediately ask: do I care about this? A good headline can be the tie breaker. So, be specific. If you’ve written an excellent article about how to update your corporate blog for the New Year, don’t shoot yourself in the foot with a vague, uninteresting headline. Instead, be bold and descriptive. “10 Ways SEO can Improve Your Corporate Blog in 2017” is much more appealing than “Blogging in 2017: Tips.”

Say no to clickbait.

We’ve all been there: we’ve clicked on a story about our favorite celebrity, only to discover that it’s actually an advertisement for weight loss techniques. Cue our disappointment, along with a mild sense of betrayal. The purpose of a good headline isn’t just to get people to click. Instead, align your headline and content so you deliver on your initial promise. Giving your audience the information they want and need will develop a sense of trust that will keep them coming back for more.

It’s all in the numbers.

When Count Von Count  said he has “an unquenchable thirst for numbers,” he might as well have been talking about the current state of online content. According to Conversion XL, headlines with numbers are always winners. If you’re hitting a wall creatively and it makes sense to add a figure into your title, give it a try. While you may not win a game of “Head to Head,” you’ll have created a headline that is clear, concise and tells your readers exactly the kind of information they should expect to find if they click on your content.

Be mindful of how you use keywords.

While SEO is important, remember you’re writing for actual humans. Don’t overstuff your headline with keywords; it will read like a barely sensical run-on sentence. Instead, place your keyword at the start of the headline and make sure it flows. 

Less is more.

This brings us to the topic of length. Less is definitely more on the web. According to Jakob Nielsen, ideally, headlines should be no longer than five words. It’s not uncommon for writers to violate this rule, but if you’re writing for the web and want your entire title to be visible in search engine results, keep it under 72 characters. Being mindful of character count will also help with your clickthrough rate. 

Creating a winning headline is a practiced art, but one that becomes easier when you follow these guidelines. Keep your headlines concise, be mindful of SEO best practices, and then sit back and watch as your engagement skyrockets.

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