Writing a Headline
It is simple to write a good headline — that is, a headline, when done well, is simple. Here are some tips for making sure that the headlines you write are powerful, informative, and true.
- When writing your headline, be concise — know that readers tend to focus on the first and last three words of headlines (according to a study). You could perceive this in any number of ways, chief among them a) include the most prominent and important information or the most powerful words among the first and last three words of your headline, or b) make your headline no longer than six words!
- Make your headline’s text larger than that in the body paragraphs. This seems obvious, but again, simplicity wins out. The headline has natural prominence when compared to the text in the body paragraphs, and that should be reflected in the text’s size. Yes, this means the headline carries additional weight: it should encompass the entirety of the subsequent work’s message. The best of headlines imbue the work with a gestalt, lightly imply that the work applies to things which exist beyond its apparent scope.
- Proofread after writing. This is self-explanatory. At the least, check that there are no grammatical or spelling errors.
- Be open to rewriting the headline after writing, if you’ve done it in advance. Your perception of what the headline should do — indeed, of what it can do — may change after direct exposure to the writing process. Consider and reconsider.
- Make a list of possible titles and narrow it down, if you’re struggling to determine what’s the “best” one. Experiment with different ways of writing it. Use statistics; write it in question form; et cetera. What need be included? What can I do, given what need be included, and given the limited space I have to express what needs expressing?
- Include keywords, if your intent is to maximize SEO. Consider SEO. Appear on searches with comparatively greater frequency. Become known on the internet. Get your content internet-famous. Be happy for your content.
- Say enough to inform, but not too much. You do not need to include all the information from the document in the headline. You may think that all the information in the document is relevant, and as a result of this feeling you may wish to include it all in the headline. Do not try. First, this discourages a complete reading of the headline by encouraging skimming thereof. Second, this discourages those who have found your work from reading it, as “everything” has been included in the title. Leave something to question. The headline provides a framework. Like a ball of yarn, the headline is the end of the thread. Let it provide something to hold onto.
- Think informatively — statistics, names, dates, events. Give the headline its due meaning.
- Think alliteratively, assonantly, consonantly, syllabically. Give the headline its due sound, a sound which reflects the energy of what the text presents.
- Know your reader, if you intend to write to a specific audience. What would induce that reader to read further? Asking that question to yourself is often more valuable (and more consistently fruitful) than pretending to be able to account for the whims of public opinion.
- Offer — to reveal, to provide, to solve — something. You could first state a problem, to this end. The problem can be a common one, which has dogged you, your business, or the applicable industry for years. The problem could be one which has arisen upon on the introduction of new facts. The problem could be one arising from a reexamination of data, solved perhaps by an innovative outlook or technology provided by you or your business. Remember to keep it concise.
- Use the active voice. Life is moving. Reflect it.
- Be specific. Be direct; tell the people what you mean, based on the full information you have at your disposal. Present that information to them, so they can fully empathize with and understand your reasoning. Show in the headline the tack the text will take.
- Be honest.
- Use adjectives sparingly, directly, and forcefully. If the idea/product/information is “EXCELLENT!!” that will be shown by its mere presentation. Don’t oversell it.
- Choose a good font & color. Keep it simple. Rainbow Wingdings may seem like a good idea, sometimes, but Times 24-point black font often does what’s needed.
- Test your headline in a search engine. If you’re wondering if your SEO has worked, try it out. If your page doesn’t show up with the simplest of searches, include more or different terms.
- Include a subheading for clarity. If you see benefit in stratifying the information the headline provides, or if you wish to include some information that given the approach you’ve chosen for the headline cannot be included in the headline itself, consider adding a short sentence below the headline to provide that information or to clarify the headline’s direction. This could differentiate your text’s message from similar texts’, and could allow you, in writing your text, to begin with an assumption or two based on the information provided in the subheading — allowing you to introduce your message in a more-efficient manner.
Now get writing — and feel free to contact us via our Contact page for further guidance!