Best practices for writing headlines constantly change now that marketing analytics can provide data on what’s effective. But here are a few guidelines.
Cut to the chase. Most content is accessed on the web and via mobile phones, so the more informative the headline, the better. It doesn’t have to be short, but try not to exceed 60 to 100 characters and/or a word count of 16 to 18.
Be authoritative. We are a knowledge brand, so showing expertise will appeal to many audiences. If there’s data to back up the story, try to include that in your headline, using terms like “study” or “report” or “poll.”
Zoom in. The more personalized and targeted your message is, the more likely you are to reach your target market. Try specifically referencing the audience you want to reach.
Make use of formulas that work. Marketing data shows there are proven headline structures that rally readers. “Top X Lists” and emotion-provoking headlines like “X will make you X” or “this is why X…” statistically have been shown to get readers clicking (and staying) on pages that offer content that delivers. Be sure to consider your audience, though; a “Top X List” won’t resonate with an academic audience, for example.
Adopt best practices for SEO (search engine optimization). When writing article headlines and text, be sure to incorporate the keywords and phrases that readers are most likely to type into a search engine. For general SEO guidelines, visit the SEO section of this guide.
Here are a few examples of strong headlines:
A Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea in Search of Exploding Rocks
This works because it acts as more than just a label. It sparks curiosity.
Family Separation Doesn’t End at the Border. The Child Human Rights Crisis is Everywhere.
This one uses simple, powerful language.
He Found a Privacy Breach. Facebook Gave Him a Grant to Plug the Leak.
It’s long enough to convey sufficient information and short enough to be absorbed quickly.
Note: A headline doesn’t have to do all of the work. Whenever possible, it should work in combination with an image, a graphic, or a subhead, like this one.