Writing headlines for your web page is simple, so long as you remember that you’re writing for an active medium.
The headline isn’t the static thing it once was. Print headlines are contextual: they are framed and surrounded by a subhead, photo, caption, crossheads – even the pages around it all serve to put the headline in a solid context.
Headlines on the web are lonely animals. They exist only as bare bones: the exact words you write are the only aspects that are guaranteed to carry over into the online world.
Your headline will appear in lists against other headlines from other sources. It will appear in different fonts, sizes and spacings. It will not have the luxury of a ‘sell’: that cascade of follow-on text that sets the scene. You won’t even know or be able to control what images, if any, will sit next to your headline.
So what can you do? Easy. Just write it straight, news style.
That means summing up everything in five to ten words with nothing hidden. It’s the ideal style for search engines to understand, and the most tempting form for readers.
Here’s a few rules that your web headline should follow.
1. Include the subject
Who features? The human element should always be included. People like reading about people, after all – give them someone to picture in their minds.
2. Include the object
What’s the deal? Is it a new technique, a new theory, new research? This is where you let your reader know that what is coming is actually news.
3. Include a verb
Passivity wins nobody over. Include an action word and your headline comes to life. This is where hot words like ‘reveals’, ‘uncovers’, ‘surprises’, ‘abandons’ and ‘destroys’ are so brilliant.
4. Comprehension test
You have ten words to explain everything, so triple-check you understand the long version before writing the headline. The core of the story may only be revealed in the middle (though this is pretty poor practice for online writing).
5. Include the facts
You won’t win prizes for saving your best until last. Take the biggest, boldest and proved claims from the story and get them to the shop window, immediately.
6. Use clear terms
That means no jargon, no abbreviation or tabloid tendencies. There’s a plain reason for this: you have no idea where your headline may appear eventually. Out of context, your headline may sound like utter nonsense.
7. Give benefits
If you can, include a distinctive reason why clicking here will help. People want to be helped – even if it’s just to arm themselves with new data or interesting facts. Tell them they’ll be a better person after reading what you have – maybe even turn this into a tempting question so they’ll know you’re able to equip them with what they want.