You should really rethink that headline
Ariane Alyerunga

Ariane Alyerunga

February 26, 2019

Three factors for a strong, effective headline

The headline of an article is almost as important as the body – after all, low interest in your headline = low click-through rate = fewer readers to appreciate your work.

Fortunately, writing a powerful, eye-catching headline isn’t quite as daunting a task as it may seem. It just comes down to these three factors: the content; the style; and the mechanics.


Choose the right content

To find material for your headline, look for keywords and main ideas within the story which you can condense into one main idea. It also helps to identify and clearly express the main “Who” and “What”: who is the story about and what happened? To grab a reader’s attention, highlight why the article is relevant to them. Does the article solve a problem they have, offer them information, etc.?

A technique that you can use to asses the quality of your headline is the Four U’s – Unique, Useful, Ultra-Specific and Urgent:

  • Unique: Your headline has to be different in some way. Give it some personality or make it conversational so it can stand out.
  • Useful: A great headline will offer valuable information through a clearly defined promise or purpose.
  • Ultra-Specific: The more direct and specific you are, the better. Doing so increases the number of qualified readers that your story gets.
  • Urgent: A sense of urgency in your headline makes the reader open your article immediately instead of saving it for later. A bookmarked item is much less likely to be read.


Why headline style matters

Headlines set the tone for the story – use vibrant words to let the reader know your article is not dull and boring. However, it’s important first to assess the subject of your article. If it’s about sensitive topics like race, religion, or gender, then a formal headline would be more appropriate.

Consider using strong, descriptive verbs – such as “provide” – instead of dull, ambiguous verbs – like “give”. The more precise you are about the action, the less room there is for confusion.

When creating an impressive headline, you should consider what exactly you’d like your headline to achieve. Four headline styles are trending right now, all with different purposes: the listicle, informal headlines, question headlines, and tease headlines.

  1. Listicle: used for numbered or bulleted articles. A listicle lets the reader know exactly what they’re getting into. They are especially popular because of their proven effectiveness.
  2. Informal Headlines: these headlines use a casual style – almost like a conversation between friends. These are best for light, fun publications.
  3. Question Headlines: these ask the reader a question and require a more profound response.
  4. Tease Headlines: tease headlines keep the reader on their toes. The curiosity factor is designed to make clicking irresistible.


Don’t forget the headline’s mechanics

A headline can use one of two cases: Title Case or Sentence Case.

  • Title case is a style in which you capitalise all major words, such as proper nouns, articles, conjunctions and verbs (regardless of how small the verb!).
  • Sentence case, however, only calls for the capitalisation of the first word in the sentence along with all proper nouns.

Punctuation also plays a significant role in creating a fantastic headline; it can make your headline clearer, add to style and voice, and allow you to say more in less. The following are four of the most commonly used punctuation marks and how they impact your headline:

  • Commas: commas in headlines replace ‘and’. For example: “Man sets out to break world record, succeeds”.
  • Periods: periods are not necessary for headlines, however when used they add an assertive voice and structure.
  • Em-dash: an em-dash is the longest dash. It’s useful for separating the clause from the sentence, forcing the reader to slow down when reading your headline.
  • Colon: colons create drama and allow space-saving.

Subordinate headlines (subheads) are one of your best assets. A subhead is found under the main headline and acts as a second place to offer valuable information.

While the main headline’s job is to grab the reader’s attention, the subhead offers more detail and uses keywords for SEO. However, note that subheads can’t be too long or you run the risk of losing the reader’s attention. Save long sentences for the body!

A subhead is an opportunity for you to fascinate your readers further – try not to repeat what’s already written in the headline. Though, be aware that the subhead doesn’t stand alone so make sure it’s relevant to the headline and your article.


Headlines for SEO

Another consideration to have is the role that headlines play when optimising your article for search engines. Search engines like Google rely on your headline to determine how relevant your material is to the reader’s search. Therefore, be aware of which keywords you use and where you place them.

Also, note that a funny, witty headline is great for attracting readers but a drawback for search engines. Search engines focus on keywords; their ability to interpret humour is still limited.


The only way to know is to try

If you consider those three factors – content, style and mechanics – every time you’re writing a headline, you should start seeing positive results from the get-go. Though, if you’re still not 100% convinced, one good way of checking the effectiveness of these factors is by using A/B testing (split tests): put up two versions of your headline and see that your readers respond to best.

For more publications like these about publishing articles that’ll get you more attention and click-throughs, check out Sadja Web Solution’s blog.


Don’t forget to check out our quick tips:

Six quick tips for a strong, impressive headline:

  • How would you explain the story to a friend in six words? Use this exercise to practice condensing your story into as few words as possible.
  • Using click-bait headlines decreases the reader’s trust since it’s hard to deliver on the drama – be truthful and specific!
  • Use single not double quotes in headlines.
  • Subheads, when used as mini-headlines, require the same content, style and mechanics techniques to be applied as headlines.
  • Google only displays about 50 characters from your headline – it’d be wise to place your keywords at the beginning or your headline.
  • If you’re struggling to find keywords, try thinking like a reader: which terms would you type into a search engine when searching for your article?