“Never judge a book by its cover” and “never judge an article by its headline” are the two sayings I’m guilty of not obeying, especially when looking for something to read without really knowing what to read.
People go to blogs without knowing exactly what to expect. They are there to look for brain foods, our job is to get them to bite our bait through headlines. Keep in mind that websites like Digg, Designbump, Delicious, and many others will only display your headlines (or a sentence or two) making it more prone to be ignored if you do not read this post carefully. Promise!
First off let’s talk about the types of headlines that we usually see.
Types of Headlines
A headline tells the beginning and the end of the content. It should say what the article is all about and what to expect from it, either explicitly or implicitly.
Image by: Miguel Ugalde
Headlines that taunt people generally lacks the idea of what the article is all about but is full of ideas. For example, when I say “100 Writing Mistakes You Thought Were Right” gives your audience the impression that you’re telling them they are absolutely wrong about something, and that hurts their pride but won’t tell and just read on. This is a good tactic to have a great number of audience as long as majority of that 100 is truthful, unless you want to risk being harassed in the comments. *laughs*
Tips and Tricks
Image by: Svilen Milev
Then there’s the How To type which works every single time because people are born to be very curious about how things work. Presented with 10 How To articles I will probably read 8 of them. It is like hypnotizing your readers into reading How To: Maintain Enthusiasm For Work, you want to know how? Come and get it.
Similar to How To are headlines like Tips and Tricks, the readers will expect to see a list of information they don’t know yet. This includes headlines like “Feeling Uninspired? 6 Best Ways To Find Enthusiasm”, “5 Killer Ways To Streamline Your Coding Efficiency” and many others.
Image by: Jenny Rollo
Another type is a headline that commands, it demands you to get something done. Good examples are “Use PHP Flat File Cache To Lighten Database Load” and “Improve Your Skills: 25 jQuery Beginner Tutorials Roundup”.
Image by: Ton Koldewijn
News headlines generally lack color. They tell directly what happened or what event is to happen. This is for serious stuffs (not ninja-serious stuffs). Example: “Google unveils new smartphone, Nexus S” straight and direct. Although nowadays, even newspapers use quirky headlines.
In a Nutshell:
- Taunt – will get into people’s nerves and attack by clicking it
- Tips and Tricks – sparks the audience-to-be’s curiosity; feeds the mind with lists
- Demanding – demands the reader to act
- News – straight to the point and serves as an announcement of an event or product.
There are many types of headlines, these are just the common ones.
Importance and Characteristics of a Good Headline
As much as possible do not make your headlines like you are advertising, even if you really are. No one wants to buy stuffs on impulse (really?) and it makes the article look dangerous to approach. Although you are really selling an item, which is your blog, make it more appealing so that the readers will find it comfortable.
A good headline instantly tells the reader that he/she should read it. A good headline is a sign that the content is too. “He who controls the headline controls the readers” is the one single point I want you all to remember when writing a headline (I really need to remember that too).
Examples of Good Headlines:
- Where Have All The Comments Gone? (SmashingMagazine) – In six words the headline tells us half of the story and leaves us hanging, wanting for more.
- The Biggest Mistake of Julian Assange (woorkup) – this one taunts Assange’s supporters and surely will be flocked by those who don’t like him. Even people who do not know who Julain Assange is will wonder “just who is this person?”
- 100 Exceedingly Useful CSS Tips and Tricks (Six Revisions) – it does not matter how much you use CSS, once you finish reading this headline you’ll surely click it because of “100 Exceedingly”.
- Just in! Minutes before submitting this article I received an e-mail saying “President Obama Busts a Myth!” Am I kidding? Nah, here’s the proof: and a screenshot:
Examples of Bad Headlines (I will not cite real-life examples!):
- “Buy This Because You Need It” – and you badly need to sell?
- “This story is about a man who bla bla bla and bla bla bla” – A headline should tell a story but never turn it into a 15–word headline.
- “I Want You to Read This!” – this may work sometimes like how those “ReadMe.txt” work but still a bad headline.
An Example of a Headline in the Gray Area:
- Colleagues Finger Billionaire (The Wall Street Journal) – I don’t know what to make of it, sorry.
Although quite unrelated, I think these headlines I found at clevelandseniors.com will make for a good inspiration when creating your headlines. Funny Headlines
Few Tips on How to Write a Good Headline
Because of this article’s headline I am obliged to give tips on how to write a good one. I am no expert when it comes to writing good headlines but please bear with me. Below is what I have observed from the headlines that caught me by their bait.
- It’s fine to use superlatives as long as the content is really awesome.
- The shorter the better.
- Should answer the question “What the heck is this about?”
- It is OK to use humor. Like the headline of this post…what?
It is really simple to create a good headline, no sweat in writing one. Just make it reach the audience. Easier said than done? Yes. Look at my headline, not good. If you were to write a “creative” headline for this article what would it be?
And don’t forget to share your favorite headlines. Share some tips too!
Rean concurrently served as the Head of Operations and Editor-in-Chief of 1stwebdesigner from 2011 up until Aug 2014. He regularly writes about freelancing, technology, web design, and web development with a little touch of internet marketing here and there.