How to write great headlines: five styles that really work
I’m often asked how to write great headlines. it’s a question that isn’t always easy to answer. I’ve had a think though, and come up with five different styles
I once worked as a newspaper editor and part of my job involved lovingly crafting beautiful, witty and captivating headlines which drew readers towards the stories like a welcoming log fire.
Headline writing was an art to be honed and nurtured.
That was in the days when people bought and read newspapers.
These days everyone writes their own headlines on their blogs, posts and articles. It’s not something you should be neglecting – the headline is what gets your story read (or not, as the case may be).
The first job your headline has to do is grab the reader’s attention. There are a number ways to do this – though none of them is foolproof. You get to choose/guess which style will hit the mark.
So here are my top five headlines styles.
1 Headlines by numbers style
Now don’t ask me why, but people seem to love headlines which suggest you might have written your article/blog/post as the ultimate list. For example ‘Five sure-fire tips to great headlines…’ will work for some people. You see this type of headline everywhere, and the style is a bit hackneyed. But the style is only overdone because it works.
2 The really useful style
One great way to draw in a reader is to tell them what they’ll get out of reading your article – ‘How to write great headlines…’ for example. This is because most people go on to the internet because they need help.
3 The whole story style
The UK’s most popular news website uses a headline style I hate, but it seems to work for them. Mail Online tells you the entire story in the headline… ‘Dental nurse, 25, who froze to death in the snow outside her sister’s house after night out made 27 calls in failed bid to contact her friends before dying…’ It works for the Mail, so it could also work for you.
4 The direct route style
Just tell it how it is, that’s often the simplest way to a great headline. Look through what you’ve written and pick out the main point. Ignore the rest. For example, the Mail’s story could have used the headline ‘Tragic young dental nurse freezes to death outside her sister’s house…’ or even ‘Young nurse freezes to death’.
5 Ask a question style
I was told by more than one editor ‘We’re here to answer questions, not ask them’. Editors can be really pompous. But you can draw in a reader by posing a question in your headline – for instance ‘Are your headlines hitting the mark?’ works for me.
There you go – five styles to try… look around you’ll soon see lots more.
You can also come up with the headline before writing the article. This can really focus your mind on what’s important and the message you want to get over to the reader.
One final tip is to be aware of the headlines that really catch your eye – in print, if you can still find a newspaper, and online – and then simply tailor them to fit your own work.
And don’t be afraid to come up with five or six different ones before deciding which to go with. Better still do some market research. Ask your friends/enemies/colleagues/mum which they like best.
And, er, that’s it really…
I know how to write great headlines – but sometimes but sometimes I struggle with my pay-off lines.