Creating the best headline that will drive the most traffic is one of the most difficult steps in the writing process. If you Google “writing article headlines,” pages of links come up discussing the tips and tricks used to get people to click on your article. Moral of the story: headlines are important.
Just like everything else, I recommend that print article headlines and online article headlines differ. A key difference between online and print headlines is the search engine optimization. With print articles, you want the headline to be informative and engaging. With online articles, the headline should be informative, engaging and have a high SEO.
SEO in Headlines
Since many of your article page views will come from search engines, SEO becomes a critical part of your article. To get a higher SEO, follow these tips:
- Keep your audience in mind, and use the keywords from your article and website in your headline.
- Don’t make the headline “cutesy.” While puns and sarcasm can be fun to write, it’s best to keep the headline informative to attract the right audience.
- Unlike print newspapers, don’t be ambiguous with headlines. You’ll want to be more specific and direct when working with online article headlines.
- Make sure the words in your headline also appear in your headers, meta descriptions and body paragraphs. And even better, try to use the keywords in the first couple words of the headline.
- You’ll still want the headline to be specific, but try and keep it short as well. (6-8 words, according to Tribune Content Agency)
- Ask yourself, “What would I type into Google to find this story?”
What Not to Do With Online Article Headlines
You know those articles that circle around Facebook and are so irresistible? Don’t be those publications. Most of those articles are referred to “clickbait” articles, and they don’t have the greatest reputations. Here’s what not to do with your headlines:
- Don’t try to be too clever. While I always appreciate good, smart humor, it just doesn’t work with online articles. The SEO will crash, and you’ll attract the wrong audience to your article.
- Don’t use cliché phrases!
- Don’t be too confusing about the headline; the headline should be clear and tell the reader what the article is about.
- Don’t connect the headline with something else—the headline should be able to stand on its own and make sense.
Many news sources are now captioning their headlines in social media by starting with what format the article is in. For example, if you have a short clip about the new Daily Show host, they will post: “SHORT VIDEO: Trevor Noah named the new host for Comedy Central’s The Daily Show.”
The main focus of article headlines is to inform the reader what the article will be about once they start reading. You want to be clear and specific, but don’t give too much information away that they don’t need to read the article. And as always, keep SEO in mind.