The art of writing catchy headlines is the difference between your article, or blog, reaching the eyes of your targeted readers or disappearing into the ether as they scroll or flick disinterestedly past. Learning how to write a headline really is key to both PR and content marketing.
In fact, many a well-written article, even those with ground-breaking content, has slipped under the radar because the title didn't entice readers.
What does a headline need to do?
- Your headline has to be intriguing enough to get journalists to keep reading. Remember that you’re pitching to people who get inboxes flooded with press releases—why should they stop and read yours?
- It has to quickly communicate the essence of your message, which may or may not easily lend itself to neat, tidy summaries. Even the most complex ideas or research papers need to boiled down to a few words.
- It needs to accomplish all of this using a number of words or characters that are only a fraction of what you think you need.
Its’s important to remember that headline writing is part science and part art—there are some rules you can follow but you definitely get better through experience and applying your own creativity.
How do you write a headline that gets clicked?
One of the most important things you need to do is pique an audience’s interest and grab their attention. The quickest way to grab attention is to make a somewhat controversial statement or ask a challenging question. Get your audience curious and get them to think. It's a teaser for the rest of the release. In a world of shrinking attention spans and competing headlines, standing out from the crowd is crucial for getting the reader to take the time to engage with your copy.
- Use numbers where you can. Numbers always help to paint a more complete and compelling mental picture for the reader. If your headline can be enhanced with statistics or your research includes statistics that helps to quantify what you’re trying to get across, add numbers to make it easier for the reader to feel it. Journalists and readers both benefit from putting an exact value on whatever you’re talking about, so do everyone a favour, including yourself, by making those numbers the focus of your message.
- Consider your audience.
- Get to the point. What's your article about? Say it. Avoid "echo headlines" where your headline, sub-headline and first sentence all say the same thing.
- Be bold – or even contrary – as well as authoritative and clear. Ask yourself; is the title meaningful and interesting? Would you read this article?
- Make sure you keep your SEO in mind. To do this, target a keyword with high search volume. Every headline you write should target a specific keyword with significant search volume – this not only ensures that your headline is optimized to drive targeted traffic through organic or paid search, but it proves that people are actively looking for information related to the topic. Is the keyword you’re targeting something that people are actually searching for? If the answer is no, then it’s useless. A quick google search will tell you what’s popular at the moment.
- Don’t be personal (‘I’) or overly clever.
- Don’t write overly long headlines or use slang/jargon.
- Don't be overly promotional or advertorial.
Whether you are someone who decides on their headline before writing the copy, as a way of focusing and guiding their writing direction, or if you prefer to summarise an already-written article by creating a headline at the end, keep these pointers in mind. Use the title as an opportunity to both endorse and enhance your article and you are sure to cut through the noise.
How to write a headline – examples
Here are some great examples of how various publications across the globe chose different headlines from a press release BlueSky Education worked on with UCL School of Management to promote their research into the impact gender and attractiveness have on careers:
‘Handsome men are rejected for competitive jobs’ – Bloomberg
‘Why being an attractive male is bad for your career’ – Metro
‘Being a handsome man could stop you getting that promotion’ – New York Daily News
‘It’s true – being handsome is a living hell’ – MSN Australia
‘Do you have a hiring bias against handsome men?’ – HR Director Singapore
‘How good looks hurt guys’ careers’ – Guyana News Network
‘Is it possible to be too beautiful?’ – Telegraph
These headlines work for several reasons. They’re attention-grabbing, shocking and delivers a clear message in just a few words.