We've talked a lot about how much your headlines matter online and that when you produce a bad headline, your competition gets a leg up.
But if you still don't believe me, take a look at this listing of headlines:
(from the pfblogs.org RSS feed)
Without clicking through, can you tell me what these stories are about?
- Still Risky
- The Worst Decade Since the Thirties
- Long tin hats and canned food?
- Important Level
- Biweekly Mortgage Spam
While you can get a general idea from these titles ("Biweekly Mortgage Spam" is probably about emails or letters about a mortgage that come every other week), these headlines fail to tell the reader what the story is actually about.
There's a reason you should write your headline first — without it, you're not going to tell readers why they need to check out your content.
How to Write a Great Headline
The easiest way to write a great headline is to distill your story down to its root. Ask yourself these questions:
- What's the point of the story?
- How does it benefit the reader?
- If I was looking for this, what would I Google?
Once you've established the point of the story (hopefully something you've thought of beforehand), back up and look at it from your reader's point of view.
Is your reader going to get anything out of this story? What are they going to take away with them?
You can easily write a story for yourself, but if your reader doesn't benefit, you're not going to keep them around.
The third question — "what would I Google?" — is arguably the toughest question to answer. You need to step out of the silo that is your Web site and user base and think like a newbie.
If you want to teach someone to balance their checkbook, consider what they would look for — "how to balance my checkbook," "how do i balance my checkbook," or "how to balance your checkbook" all seem like logical searches.
3 Great Headlines In Action
Penelope Trunk, whose blog Brazen Careerist attracts a dedicated and vocal community, uses great headlines.
- 3 Things to learn from the crashing careers of the super-rich
- How to find meaningful work
- You should make Sarah Palin your mentor
They give you the point right away. You don't need to dig deep to find what they're really about. And to top it off, they're provocative.
How to Easily Practice Great Headline Writing
There's an easy way to practice your headline writing without having to write any stories: Twitter.
With its 140 character limit, you're required to get straight to the point and tell your followers exactly what they need to know. It's not a great medium for in-depth writing, but it's an easy way to analyze what you want to say and the best way to say it.