When I studied journalism in college, the focus of headline writing was solely to attract people to read the copy that followed. Today, many, many years later, it’s still true that headlines need to attract readers—but SEO (search engine optimization) is also at play for anything posted online.
I’ll always be a firm believer that catering to readers beats catering to algorithms, but I acknowledge the latter is important in today’s world. So, I present two sets of tips regarding headline writing, one more traditional—but still relevant—and another more modern.
Tips to attract eyeballs
- Make it meaningful. Instead of writing “Survey results” as a headline, note something about those results, e.g., “Survey results raise questions,” “Survey results prove surprising,” etc.
- Be concise. If your headline has more than 10 words in it, you should consider rewriting. Shorter is better; you want readers to be intrigued enough to keep reading—not feel like they got the whole story in the headline.
- Write it last. While you might create a draft headline as you start writing, be sure to finalize it only after the piece is finished.
Tips to attract algorithms
- Include keywords. Research applicable keywords for your topic and use them naturally in your headline, i.e., don’t be a keyword stuffer.
- Include numbers. Instead of “Social Media Marketing Mistakes,” write “9 Social Media Marketing Mistakes.” FYI, for some reason, odd numbers perform better than even numbers.
- Use call-to-action words. Rather than “The Formulas to Write a Catchy Headline,” write “Try This Formula to Quickly Write a Catchy Headline.”
I hope it’s obvious that it’s not difficult to use both sets of tips when you write headlines—to attract readers and have SEO success.
A hustler priest?
Yes, you read that right. If you live in San Diego, you probably know who Father Joe is. His life stories are hilarious, surprising and maybe even a bit shocking. Kudos to author Kathryn Cloward, who gave me the honor of being her editor.
Father Joe: Life Stories of a Hustler Priest is available in paperback and Kindle editions on Amazon.
Words that don’t exist
Probably 60% of my job involves reviewing content written by others, and I must say I do chuckle at some writers’ mistakes—keeping my mirth to myself, of course. One thing that causes me angst, rather than merriment, is when people use words they think exist, but they don’t.
Two non-words I often see in my work are afterall and alot. Neither is an actual word; if you want to be correct, you should use after all and a lot.