Writing Great Headlines

header keyboardI count on the folks at Nielsen Norman Group to offer sound advice for creating an effective online presence.  So I read with interest their latest advice on headline writing, “Headings Are Pick-Up Lines: 5 Tips for Writing Headlines That Convert.”

The advice is practical:

  • Make sure the headline works out of context.
  • Tell readers something useful.
  • Don’t succumb to cute or faddish vocabulary.
  • Omit nonessential words.
  • Front-load headings with strong keywords.

All sound recommendations, but I can’t help but feel that this misses out completely on the art of a great headline. The art side of great headline writing may follow or break some of these rules, but the result is a compelling line of text that gets people to click through to read more. These are the headlines that we see shared on social media, again and again.

So, while “you won’t believe what happened next,” may fall under cute or faddish vocabulary, it can be the line that makes someone dive into your content. “Awesome” may be over-used, but it signals a passion and excitement for the topic at hand that can draw people in. And, all the content labeled as “jaw-dropping,” really isn’t, but if that gets more eyeballs on the content it can’t be all bad.

[Related: Headlines and Titles That Will Amaze You!]

The right language and tone in headlines is largely dependent on your content and your target audience. But don’t follow the “rules” at the expense of you gut on what might draw people into your content. Pay attention to views and open rates to help you understand what resonates with the people you want to reach.

[Related: Painless Headline User Testing]

After all, the headline is the entry to the content we want to share. A great headline makes someone want to dive in and read more. A boring headline is the last thing they read before they move on to something else.

Pay attention to your headlines. They are the shortest but must important part of your content, worthy of as much of your time as you put into the content they introduce. Make sure they are doing all that they can to engage your audience with your content.

Pay attention to the next headline that gets you to read more. Share it here.


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