Why Writing Killer Headlines Will Change Your Life

Carol Tice

Improve Your Writing Blog's Headlines

Read all about it: Headlines are important

When I did the free writers’ blog review day a few weeks back, one thing really jumped out as I went from blog to blog: The headlines.

In the main, they sucked.

Most weren’t grabbing me and making me feel compelled to read the posts under them. Many didn’t have any key words in them that would help relevant readers find and take an interest in them. Quite a few didn’t even give me a clear idea what the posts were about.

This upset me.

Headlines are just insanely important in our Internet-media era.

I’m not usually this bossy, but I want everyone reading this to stop what they’re doing right now and learn how to write great headlines.

It will be well worth your time, because writing truly outstanding headlines will change your life. Compelling headlines can rocket your writing career forward, whether you’re trying to monetize your blog or get an article assigned by a major magazine.

Hope you’re with me now.

I know that in the past, editors wrote headlines for many of us. Some still do, but in the main the days are over when you could write a general topic slug at the top of your article and that would cut it.

Understand that headlines work differently online, and in our current short-attention-span culture, than they worked in a newspaper 100 years ago.

To sum up, headlines are everything. If you don’t have a good headline, you will not be noticed, assigned, read, retweeted, clicked on, or “liked.”

It’s important to know how headlines work now and to master modern headline writing, because when you do, you will earn more from your writing. It’s just that simple. Many new doors will fling open and you will have more great-paying writing opportunities once you rock your headlines.

7 reasons why killer headlines will change your life:

  1. More readers. When your headline is irresistible and has good key words, you will attract readers and build your reputation.
  2. More assignments. If you can write strong headlines in your article queries, you will get to write more and better-paying articles.
  3. More subscribers. Your blog lives or dies by its headline in your subscriber emails and RSS feeds. The headline is often all they can see! If it’s not interesting, they move on. If that happens enough, they unsubscribe.
  4. Better writing. When you write a strong headline, your post organizes itself quickly and is easier to write.
  5. Faster writing. A good headline practically outlines your story for you, which means you write faster. Faster writers can write more each year, so they earn more.
  6. Better subheads. Once you get the hang of headlines,Β  you’ll also start writing stronger subheads. And these days, your articles and blog posts need to be scannable. Strong subheads will help you with this.
  7. You stand out. The vast majority of bloggers and writers don’t really understand headlines, and don’t write strong headlines. Learn how to do it, and you immediately look more savvy and professional than the average scribe.

I was very fortunate in that at my first staff-writing job, we were forbidden to turn in stories without proposed headlines. They would not be accepted. I was forced to learn to write headlines.

Over the years, I got better at it. Now, I often find my headlines are used by the editor (which is a real feat since many editors feel they must rewrite your headline to justify their jobs).

But I get the sense many others have not had the benefit of years of headline-writing experience. So here is a crash course:

Learn headline basics. In mentoring other writers, I sometimes review query letters. I often see queries like this: “I’d like to write about Healthy Living.” That’s not a headline, that’s a topic. A vague, ill-defined topic. As opposed to: 10 Tips for Healthy Living on the Road. Or maybe, Is Your Community Encouraging These Healthy-Living Habits? See how you can tell exactly what these articles or blog posts will be about? That’s what you want in a headline.

Understand the psychology. What makes humans click on a post? Figure this out, and your headlines will drive you some monster traffic. One thing that apparently drives our wee brains nuts is questions. One is a vagueness that can’t be answered without reading the post, as in a headline such as “Does your blog make these four key mistakes?” For more about this, read Why Do Some Headlines Fail?

Think brevity. Don’t make your blog headline go on for three lines. Think short and punchy. Delete any extraneous words.

Spend time on your headline. A headline shouldn’t be the first dashed-off thought you have. This is make-or-break up here on line one. Spend some time crafting and refining your headline. Write several and then think about which one works best.

Study great blog headlines. Many of my favorites are on Copyblogger. Scanning their popular posts bar is like a free course in headline writing.

What’s your favorite recent headline? Let’s share some great headlines in the comments to provide additional headline-writing inspiration. Personally, I thought there were some great ones in the last Top 10 Articles for Writers post I did.

Photo via stock.xchng user somadjinn

17 Comments

  1. Kathy

    So true! And yet, something I struggle with every single time I write a piece. For some reason, I can research, interview, and write a 1000 word article on a topic and yet, when it comes to writing the title/headline, I falter. Love the headline studying idea, and i plan to add that to my to do list today!

  2. Susan

    I’ve been reading The Yahoo! Style Guide and they have a whole section on writing strong headlines. Really great tips on incorporating keywords, choosing clarity over cleverness, and so on. Here’s a headline that may not pass the cleverness vs. clarity test, but I do admire the writer’s ability to subtly work in some innuendo: RIM: Jobs is Wrong; Seven Inches is Big Enough

    • Carol Tice

      Hah! Hilarious headline, Susan — thanks for contributing that. Wish I could do humor better, I really admire people who’ve got that going.

  3. James

    I love it. How could you not want to read a post with the word “killer” in the headline??

    • Carol Tice

      I gather “death” does well too… glad you enjoyed!

      When I was blogging for BNET, I had a whole list of words that seemed to get the best traffic, including “crazy, dreamer, madman, ass…and American Apparel.” Apparently people CANNOT stop reading about that company.

      Which actually brings up a point — each blog has its own special trigger words. You have to experiment a bit and see what gets your audience riled. On this blog “Demand Studios” is definitely a hot-button phrase. Which reminds me I’ve got to write an update on their stalled IPO soon! Because people cannot stop reading about THAT company, either.

  4. Krissy Brady

    Thanks for the great information! It’s so true–I used to write for a couple of local newspapers, and the editor was all about writing the headlines, so I never really fine-tuned the art. Now that it is THE way to get noticed in the blog world, it is more important than ever. I’m still in practice mode, and articles like this bring me that much closer to my goals. Thanks again!

  5. Abhinav Kaiser

    Headlines with keywords gets latched onto google index, which brings you more visits.

    In fact, I have seen that some smart bloggers use great headings, but the content is either irrelevant, or is some viral crap.

    As per me, headings should contain the keywords that matter, and should be relevant to what you have to say.

    • Carol Tice

      You bring up a good point, Abhinav —

      Once you’ve grabbed readers with a great headline, you have to fulfill the promise of that headline by delivering a great post. But of course, without the great headline, you’ve got pretty much no chance anyone will read it.

  6. mark

    I started using killer attention grabbing headlines a few months ago after I stumbled across CopyBlogger. I should have known since I am headline reader too. Boring headlines and I am out of that blog faster than Google can track my presence. 100% bounce rate for boring headlines.

    • Carol Tice

      Makes a big difference, doesn’t it?

      I’ve reviewed more than 100 writer’s blogs this year, and very few have strong headlines. Learning this skill really makes your blog stand out, and it lets Google send you readers. Really worth learning about!

  7. Luana

    I guess people’s backgrounds say a lot about how their headlines show. πŸ™‚ Mine were never great, because 99% of my blogging is personal in nature and headlines have smaller importance there (even though I’m forcing myself to re-thing that, as personal blogging deserves more care too!), and in fact when I write guest posts blog owners ask me to change the headline often. I don’t mind that though, I love the fact there is always more and more to learn. πŸ™‚

    [ As I wrote on LinkedIn, I would love to write guest posts for you someday. Until that day, I will practice a lot with headline writing, I promise. πŸ˜‰ ]

    ~ Luana S.

    • Carol Tice

      Psychotactics’ report Why Do Some Headlines Fail? is really the BIBLE on how to construct a headline for Internet consumption. I HIGHLY recommend Sean D’Souza — he really understands how people think and consume content on the Web.

      Strong headlines solve so many problems — they show editors you understand how to focus a story. They bring you readers from Google. They make your stories easier to write because they’re well-defined.

      And yet of the hundreds of writer blogs I’ve looked at, maybe two or three were using the power of strong headlines to grow their blog. Mastering headline writing can really make you stand out from the pack.

      Look forward to your guest-post ideas, Luana!

      • Luana Spinetti

        Thank you for the book suggestions, Carol. πŸ™‚ I need to make some time for them.

        Sometimes I think my problem is that I start with a too generic headline, and then write the blog post. I’m trying to change that way of thinking now: starting with the post, proof-reading it, and only then come up with a headline. I ask myself: “If I were to summarize my post in one catching line, what would that line be?”. This is helping the process.

        I can’t wait to talk my ideas with you too. πŸ™‚ I should be able to free some time toward the end of July to start.

        ~ Luana S.

        • Carol Tice

          No no!

          Come up with the headline first…a fully fleshed out headline. Then write the post. This is why I have my guest posters pitch me this way.

          If you’ve taken the time to fully formulate the headline, then I know you’re ready to deliver the post.

          When I pitch Copyblogger, I need to send them a headline and outline, just like I’m asking for. Then they greenlight the post. Many pro writing gigs work this way, so it’s good to get into the habit.

          It’ll take you half as long to write and come out a lot better that way.

          • Luana Spinetti

            Thanks for the tip! πŸ™‚ I did not realize I was actually doing it the other way round. Heh.. ^^”

            I read on your Guidelines for Guest Posters that you require AP style from them. What is exactly AP style? I googled it up and I found out it’s a writing style book written in the 19th century.

            I’m sorry about my newbie-ish comments, Carol, I hope I’m not annoying you. This is all new to me, which makes it all more exciting anyway. πŸ™‚

            ~ Luana S.

          • Carol Tice

            You are NOT annoying me, Luana!

            The Associated Press stylebook continues to be updated each year and is the most-used style guide in print newspapers and magazines. You can see it online. http://www.apstylebook.com/

            I’d say of all my requirements, this is a want rather than a must…if you can write a killer post I can change your 7s to sevens and that sort of trivia.

          • Luana Spinetti

            Thanks for the link! πŸ™‚

            It’s a relief to know I’m not being annoying, as I’m really ‘hooked’ on your blog at the moment. This is a diamond of a challenge to me. πŸ™‚

            Oh, I was thinking about topics like “How To Handle Anxiety Attacks and Get Back to Writing” or “Tips to Make Time for Writing when You’re A Student”, which come directly from my daily experiences. I’m not sure whether they would interest your readers though.

            ( Thank you so much for all of your kind replies. ^^ )

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