Words on a Page Writings about writing

Advice for writing good headlines

A headline on the front page of The Independent, circa the 1970s or 1980s

Headlines are often the first thing that a reader sees — whether on your blog or in a link on social media. The headline should quickly explain what you’re blog post is about and draw their attention.

Your headlines should be short. The shorter the better. Why? Headlines grab a reader’s attention and you can’t do that with a headline that sounds like the title of an academic paper. I find that a good length for a headline is three to seven words. That’s enough to get someone’s attention and to give them an idea of what you’re trying to present in a post.

There are several ways you can approach headlines. One popular options is a solutions-based approach. This kind of headline, as you’ve probably guessed, is for a post that helps people solve a problem or teaches/explains how to do something. A solutions-based headline could be:

  • How to manage your work with Trello
  • 3 little-known secrets for saving money on your grocery bill
  • What you need to know about promoting your writing with Twitter
  • Build a business you can be proud of

You can use the headline to reflects the slightly different angle that your posts presents. In the older version of this blog, I wrote a post titled What a child with autism taught be about writing. In it, I explained how helping my daughter deal with her autism helped improve and refine my writing. Obviously, my post took a slightly different angle from most blog posts about writing and the headline reflected that.

You can go hard hitting. I have a friend who keeps trying to get me to start learning languages again. Whenever he does that, I threaten to break his kneecaps. But he sometimes directs me to various language learning blogs to try to motivate me. While the subject matter of those blogs really doesn’t interest me, sometimes there’s a headline that catches my eye. When that blogger writes reviews of books and courses, he titles them A Brutally Honest Review of … That headline promises a post that’s both thorough and opinionated. And those posts follow through with that promise.

Or, you can go contrarian. That kind of headline goes against the grain or against popular opinion. Let’s talk about blogging, for example. Most bloggers you talk to recommend using WordPress. But if I wanted to go contrarian, I’d write the headline Why you shouldn’t use WordPress for your blog.

Going contrarian runs the risk of writing clickbait. Clickbait is content that people use to generate ad revenue for their blogs or sites. Usually, clickbait headlines are sensational and link to poorly-written content. So, if you decide to use a contrarian headline, make sure you back it up with a well-written and thought out post.

Here’s what I’d like you to do: think of ideas for three or four blog posts. Then, spend 10 minutes coming up with several headlines for each of those. For each post, try to come up with a couple of headlines for each headline type that I discuss in this post. And, for fun, feel free to write a couple of clickbait headlines.

Have fun!

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