In my former life as a web journalist for a television news station, finding the best headline for each story was the most challenging part of my day. It was also the most crucial task. Writing a headline was the closest I ever got to advertising. I recognized that it was essential to get people in the door to read the article. So I spent a fair amount of time crafting headlines for our stories.
A good headline should give your readers a hint at the copy that lies ahead without giving away the whole story. It should trigger an emotional response that includes an irrestible urge to read more. Think of your headline as the gateway to all the content you have poured energy into creating. It may seem tall order for a short succession of words but it can be done.
Libraries need to pay more attention to headlines on every piece of content they publish. This applies to your website, your blog, your social media posts, your press releases, and your emails, including personal emails and mass emails to customers. It’s crucial that you pay attention to this one line of text to make sure you get maximum results out of every line of copy you write.
If someone held a gun to your head and demanded you describe the copy in one sentence, what would you say? This is my twisted yet effective technique for getting that first draft of a headline down on paper. It forces you to boil your work down to its main point or big idea. Go for the emotional core of your copy. Example: The title of the Spring 2015 issues of our Library Links magazine. I spent a month rewriting and re-crafting the headline for our cover story on the construction of three new library locations. It’s a huge facilities project and a really pivotal moment for my library. I wanted to evoke a sense of its historic importance to our customers. How the heck do you encapsulate that in a short sentence? Like this.
Keep the length manageable and the vocabulary conversational. Remember, you want to tease your readers into craving more information, not give away the whole story. You also don’t want to turn them off by using language they don’t understand. Example: Our library is a Career Online High School provider. When we launched the service, I had to translate the technical language of the program, which offers adults the chance to complete their high school diploma and get career certification online, into a simple thought. We settled on “Get your high school degree for free from your library!” Bingo. Done. This sounds like an easy step, but I see a lot of libraries and brands that get caught up in the technical language of their products and services. Keep it simple.
Yes, headlines for press releases deserve as much attention as headlines for emails and blogs. I think marketers who work with the media are too quick to forget that newsrooms are a target audience and that journalists crave a good story just as much as the average Joe. The problem is that journalists are twice as cynical as the average Joe. So you really have to dig deep to grab their attention and evoke your emotional response. You want them to go into their morning meeting and fight for the permission to cover your library’s story. So give them enough ammunition. Example: This release triggered coverage by all the major media outlets in town. Its headline is very simple and straightforward but it got the job done.
Be versatile–it’s okay to change the headline based on the distribution platform. If you have a great blog post you want to share on Twitter, but the headline when coupled with the url link and a photo exceed the 140 character limit, re-craft the headline just for Twitter. You might also want to re-craft headlines for different social media audiences. Your Twitter fans may have a different perspective on your article than your LinkedIn fans. You can rewrite it for an email distribution too. Example: This blog! I often change the headline for the different social media platforms. Sometimes I’ll repost a blog in a month or two with a different headline as well, just to freshen it up and catch viewers who might not have been interested by my first headline. Experimenting is good!
Use the tools. There are lots of fantastic tools to help you fine tune your headline. My absolute favorite is the Headline Analyzer from CoSchedule, which gave me an A+ for the headline to this blog post! It points out the weaknesses in the wording of your headline and gives you suggestions on how to improve it. It also shows you how your headline will look on a Google search and in an email subject line. The American Marketing Institute also has a headline analyzer. Example: This blog post. I got an A+ from CoSchedule for have a good balance of word types. I check all my blog headlines using this tool. I usually try to get a score above 70 but this time I went with a lower score–a 64–because it was the first time I’d gotten an A+ for word types. Which leads me to my last tip…
Go with your gut. Sometimes, all the tools and analysis can cloud your head. If you’ve composed a headline that you feel will do the best job at capturing your audience’s attention, use it. You know your audience best.
Do you have any tips for writing headlines? Got a great headline story? Share in the comments section!
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Views in this post are my own and do not represent those of my employer.