5 Easy Tips for Writing Compelling Headlines
How to craft stop-them-in-their-tracks headlines and story decks — and why it matters.
“Headless Body Found in Topless Bar”
Made you look, right? That’s because this provocative and ultra-descriptive phrase is often touted as the best headline in New York newspaper history. Published on the cover of The New York Post on April 15, 1983, the title became part of journalistic lore for its perfect, concise depiction of what happened — and where — and its enticement to readers to devour the whole story to learn the who, when and, hopefully, why in the world that happened.
Thankfully, it’s likely that your “hed and dek” needs are slightly less dramatic than what was splashed across that particular edition of The Post, but the results should be the same: The creation of an informative, entertaining invitation to readers, and one that is optimized for SEO.
Easier said than done, right? Wrong. Here are five easy ways your heds and deks can attract readers to your content and keep them coming back for more.
Don’t be afraid to be different. Clichés are clichés because they’re lazy, tired and boring go-to phrases that don’t make any impact as you’re reading them. Be clever, not common. Information nowadays comes at us at hyper-speed and all the time; the only way to attract a reader and forge a relationship is to give them something original, special and/or off-the-charts smart.
Know your audience. If you’re trying to reach a young, urban audience and your hed-and-dek references a catchphrase from a ‘70s sitcom, you will have failed in your effort to capture and keep your reader’s attention. Know your target audience as well as you know your product or subject matter and your headlines will improve.
Enhance your SEO. Writing a great headline increases traffic, enables users to find you via search engines and, ideally, inspires them to share your story on social. Start by writing a clear and direct headline — this naturally will include keywords. Next, write the click-bait version of that headline without worrying about keywords. Then, look at both versions and combine them. This often results in a tighter and more effective headline than just choosing one over the other. Many tools exist to help you research the effectiveness of your keywords, too, and ensure you’re using the best keywords to enhance SEO. Give those a try.
Use numbers. What can we say? Humans love numbers. They look good, they’re fun to contemplate and they put things in an order that readers immediately understand. Sometimes we just want 5 quick-and-easy tips for writing good headlines (see the headline of this story). With this simple information, readers can quickly assess how much effort they’ll need to put into reading the rest of the story and, if you’re playing your words — or numbers — right, they’ll dive right in. Also, headlines with numbers tend to get more clicks in the SERPS (search engine results page) and statistics show that the numbers 10, 5, 15 and 7 — in that order — have the highest engagement rate on Facebook.
Be useful. Are you providing a service to your reader? It’s wonderful to be clever and/or provocative, but if you’re not going to be of use or provide some kind of benefit, too, then what’s the point? So, what is it that you want them to know that they’ll get out of your content? Whatever it is, make sure that it is clear and as accurate as can be, and allow them to trust you to steer them in the right direction, which is, of course, engaging with more and more of your content.
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