How to Write the Perfect Headline |

How to Write the Perfect Headline

By Sam Hall / October 4, 2012

Sometimes it can seem like the demands of SEO and clickability are fundamentally opposed, but this isn’t true. Your SEO team may want you to use keywords in the header and subheaders, but that doesn’t mean they have to be lengthy lists of keywords. With the right care and attention, your headlines can still be interesting, clickable, and amusing.

So, whether it’s for a blog, press release, or article, here’s what you need to consider:

The Benefit of Brevity

First, remember that a headline should be brief – this is not the place to target that eight-word long-tail keyword phrase. Stick to the basics and pull out the most important point of your entire article, as this is most likely to engage with the reader.

There’s no reason why you shouldn’t include a short keyword phrase if appropriate, but remember the article needs to be read by people, and not just search bots – so if it looks too forced it’s going to be a huge turn-off for your audience.

The Essential Info

So what makes the list of ‘essential’ information? Well, it depends on the story, but it’s about finding the most attention-grabbing aspects of your article. If it’s about a big brand you’ll probably want to mention them. If it’s a particularly time-sensitive story you might want to include the date, or words like ‘today’. If it’s good news, say so, and likewise if it’s bad news.

The basics are called the basics for a reason – it’s really not rocket science, but it’s easily overlooked if you don’t think about what you’re writing.

Write the Headline Last

In the news media, headlines are often written by an editor, and therefore simply don’t exist until after the article itself is finished.

Even when the journalist writes the headline, they are often trained to leave it until last – which allows the article to take its own natural direction, and the most important part of it to then be plucked out to stand up top.

While it’s not an intuitive approach for people who prefer to work from the top downwards, it can be useful if you’re having trouble choosing your headline first. Scribble down a concept so you have something to work with and revisit the headline afterwards.

Remember the Format

While the advice so far has been general, there are certain rules of thumb that only apply to certain formats. For instance, press releases often have longer headlines, which include all of the relevant information – the company name, the main point of the release, and possibly a statistic or two as well.

Blog posts may support a longer headline too, depending on your site’s blog template, whereas formal news articles usually have the briefest of headlines.

You can always add an opening paragraph that includes any extra details that deserve top billing, but didn’t quite fit into the headline.

Write for the Web

Finally, if you’re publishing online, give some thought to where your headline will appear.

It may show up in search results, for instance, where a headline as short as 60 characters or so can help to stop the last few words from being cut off.

Your headline will often also be the HTML page title, and appear at the top of the browser window or on the page’s tab – so again, brevity helps to fit more into the available space.

Let context be your guide, and decide for yourself which of the rules are most important, and which you can bend thanks to the flexibility of your page template. If all else fails, experiment with a couple of different styles until you find one that works for you.

Ask for Help

Sometimes you can be a bit too close to a story to think of the perfect headline. It’s worth throwing it open to your colleagues before you publish, to see if they can come up with something particularly funny or pertinent.

Quite often a quick informal brainstorm is the best way to get a headline that’s clickable and great for SEO.

Image credit: mikecogh

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