Secrets for crafting the perfect headline

How can you write headlines that intrigue your audience? Enticing a reader to click on your story isn’t blind luck. It’s calculated and often takes time. Here’s how to improve your approach.

When’s the last time you took a pass on a story because of a lackluster headline?

Although many marketers know that headlines often determine their content’s fate, few consistently write compelling introductions to their stories.

From LinkedIn’s “Where Do Headlines Come From?” the first step in crafting a headline that grabs readers’ attention is to analyze your story.

Here’s what to do next:

Pull that main idea up into the headline. If someone else wrote the article and you’re tasked with slapping an irresistible headline on it, become familiar enough with the story that u can boil someone else’s words down to just a few that smartly sum up the rest.

Now that you know where to begin, consider these additional insights:

Zoom out, not in.

No matter whether you’re writing a headline for a colleague or for yourself, it’s best to examine your story from an outside perspective.

Here’s how, from LinkedIn:

It can be tricky to step back far enough to get the big picture view and whittle all that sprawling information down to a single predominant concept. Look for key words and ideas and put them on the marquee. Look for the main who, who is the story about. Pinpoint the main “what,” [then,] tell us what happened.

Creativity doesn’t necessarily mean wordiness. Sometimes marketers confuse the two. If you’re struggling to sum up your article’s key points, consider limiting your approach:

Ask yourself how would you explain the story to a friend if you could only do it in six words? The key is to limit yourself and stick to a number. Creativity tends to flourish within strict boundaries.

Formality shouldn’t always come first.

Content is an organization’s chance to show its personality, relate to an audience and establish brand loyalty. Your headline should reflect your brand—not regurgitate another jargon-laden memo.

If your client is a law firm, your approach might be more limited. If your client is a yoga studio, LinkedIn experts say it might be OK to stretch the boundaries and be more flexible with your wording.

Get it?

If you’re still stuck, consider these keys:

  • Say something unique.

  • Be ultra-specific.

  • Offer something useful.

  • Make it seem urgent.

  • Use vibrant language.

  • Use active verbs.

  • Be accurate, not outrageous.

Know which trends to adopt.

Journalist and writing coach Starshine Roshell says you shouldn’t feel bad about jumping on the listicle headline bandwagon.

Although they’re a trend, they’re also successful.

She adds, via LinkedIn:

Despite criticism that blamed these listy headlines for the dumbing-down of society and other such evils, the things are effective because they promise a scannable narrative structure. We know what we’re getting into before we commit, and we busy readers like that very much.

Aside from that, here are a few more ideas/examples to consider. Roshell advises trying them before they become yesterday’s news.

Informal headlines:

“Raise your hand if you like this new logo.”

“So, there’s this new app…”

Headlines that ask in-depth questions:

“Does an apple a day keep the doctor away?”

“What happens when you let your CEO run your social media?”

“What’s your learning style?”

(Pro tip: Make sure you don’t give the reader the opportunity to answer your question with a “no,” before reading your entire article.)

Teaser headlines:

“Here’s how you can gain 1,000 new followers in just one week.”

“You won’t believe what happened after…”

“Here’s the strange bad news from the latest jobs report.”

Treat your headline like a handshake. You don’t want to come on too strongly—nor appear weak. Strike a balance between conversational and professional. Roshell advises playing around until you get it right.

She says:

Give yourself time to play with your headlines. Many writers spend an inordinate amount of their time on a single story, I’ve heard some say up to 50 percent just writing the headline. The skill that will serve you best in writing headlines isn’t writing at all. It’s reading. So pay attention to the headlines you see on your favorite online news sites, in your paper and ink magazines, and in the newsletters that flood your inbox.

What approach to headline writing have you found to be most successful, Ragan readers?

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