If you have taken a journalism class, you likely know that the headline of a story is determined only after the article is written and edited. In fact, in the traditional newsroom, headlines were written by a headline editor rather than the article authors.
While much has changed, writing the headline last is still a good discipline to follow. It ensures that you capture the meat of an article or post and reduces the risk of a headline that is disconnected from the article it leads.
We know that online readers are scanners. Headlines are on the front lines of capturing attention and converting visitors to engaged participants. If your headline does not capture interest, the rest of your words will likely not be seen. If it is misleading, you may have lost all hope of engagement.
I’ve written more than 1,500 posts at this blog, many press releases, white papers, and countless other compositions with the goal of getting interest and sharing information. The catchiest headlines always lead to the highest number of reads.
Lacking the services of a headline editor, I’ve experimented with many approaches to headline writing. These approaches have consistently led to success:
- Use the phrasing of a search. Use the words or phrase that you expect someone to type into a search engine if they are looking for information on the subject of your writing. The headline of this post is an example of this approach.
- Tap pop culture and current events. Tie your post or article to a current event if you can sensibly make the connection.
- Use Hubspot’s free blog topic generator. You enter the keywords from your post (which you know because you have already written it) and Hubspot gives you five suggested post titles. I often find that combining words from two or three of the suggestions yields a great headline.
- Pay attention to what attracts you. This approach works if you are part of the target audience of the post; if you aren’t, then you should instead find someone in the target demographic to question. The goal is to pay attention to what makes you or a target user read beyond a headline. Sometimes it’s just best to model what works rather than trying to find a clever new approach.