How to Write a News Article: Home

Why Write News?

Thinks news is dead? As one noted reporter, Mark Twain, described it, "The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated."

Many newspapers are still thriving and even more internet news sources are coming online every day. The internet follows the same conventions as print news outlined in the tabs above, so there’s a growing need for writers who can gather and report information in all industries.

The person who can communicate has the advantage professionally. Every industry has a need for communications in public relations, education, sales, promotions, even business development.  Being able to write lets you take your career in multiple directions.

In addition to Journalism and Mass Communication classes, St. Petersburg College's student newspaper – the Sandbox – is the perfect place for you to develop and refine your writing. Follow the tabs above from left to right to create an article. Then send it in here!

The Sandbox is open to any student and any kind of news:

What can you dream up?

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how to write a headline article

How to write great headlines that keep readers engaged

We have new headline advice! Read it here .

More than anything, you need an interesting story. Even the greatest headline writer in the world will fail with a boring or confusing story. That’s because the best headlines aren’t necessarily the ones that make people click — they’re the ones that promise great stories and then fulfill that promise.

And here’s the trick: The process of writing headlines can make your story ideas better. Give this post a read  for techniques on how to brainstorm headline ideas (for example, write many different headline ideas and write them at the beginning of the workflow).

In this post, we focus on the characteristics all great headlines share. We compiled five tips below. The next time you’re brainstorming ideas, give this list a scan. ( Here’s a one-page PDF version if you want to save and print this list .)

Headlines should be specific

Pretend an elevator door is shutting and you want to tell someone on the other side about a story. You’ll need to get the most interesting point across fast, which means you can’t be vague about it.

Same goes for your headline. When people come across it, they’re going to make a snap decision: Do I care about this?  Be specific — include enough detail so they can connect to the story and make a decision.

You might think it’s better to be mysterious with details to make people click. To make them feel obligated to view the story. Like if I had titled this piece,  The Five Tricks That Will Make You Think Differently About Writing. 

But the purpose of a good headline isn’t only to get people to click (or at least it shouldn’t be for public media). We want to create a positive experience for people — from spotting the headline to clicking to reading/watching/listening to sharing to returning. We don’t want people to feel tricked or disappointed, right?

And again — if it’s a good story, the headline will reflect it.

One good example :

how to write a headline article

Headlines should be easy to understand

When someone sees your headline, there’s a pretty good chance they’re looking at it on their mobile device while skimming Facebook. The screen is small and the experience is fast.

You have a second or two to make your point. So when you’re writing your headline, make sure people can easily understand it.

Keep it simple — avoid names and acronyms that aren’t universally recognized. For example, if I had titled this piece, “Eric Athas of the NPR ETT on headlines,” people would be unfamiliar with my name and confused by “ETT.”

Also avoid words that almost only appear in headlines (“5 headline ideas you can mull to bolster your stories”).

You should also consider how people will be able to understand your headline out of context, without an image next to it (similarly, you should be thoughtful about how your photo matches with your headline when they are together — the wrong pairing can be trouble). Remember, the headline is possibly the only part of your story that travels to all corners of the internet. It should make sense to people wherever it lands — Facebook, Twitter, Google, RSS.

how to write a headline article

Headlines should  lead to a reaction

You’re writing headlines for people. People looking for something interesting to read or watch or listen or share. How will your target audience react when they see your headline? Will they be curious? Surprised? Sad? Angry? Happy? Will they click on it? Will they share it?

Try to imagine this scenario. Test it out. Show a friend your headline and ask for a gut-reaction.

how to write a headline article

Headlines should not be overly clever

Headlines, just like your stories, should be infused with voice and style and creativity. This is the case especially for public media.

With that in mind, be cautious of the overly clever headline.

A headline with a pun or a cultural reference is fun to write, but is it needed? Will people get it? Or will people spend too much time trying to “get” your joke?

Again — creative and unique and full of life, but not too clever. Don’t use sight of the promise.

how to write a headline article

Headlines should capture the spirit of the story

In addition to the four characteristics outlined above, the headline should tap into the spirit of the story.

Is it a happy story? A serious one? Is it an essay? An investigative piece?

If the story is written with voice, that voice should maybe come through in the headline. On the other hand, if the story is newsy and straight-forward, maybe it doesn’t need a lot of voice injected into it.

As you’re brainstorming ideas, ask yourself if the story’s essence matches the headline.

how to write a headline article

Now that you’ve read through the checklist, keep in mind: These are not rules. They’re ideas. And they all work together to help construct a headline that delivers an enjoyable experience for people.

You can save and print a headline tip sheet here.

Colin Dwyer is a reporter at NPR.

Stephanie Federico is a former NPR homepage editor.

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How to Write a Newspaper Headline

Last Updated: February 8, 2023 References Approved

This article was co-authored by Megan Morgan, PhD . Megan Morgan is a Graduate Program Academic Advisor in the School of Public & International Affairs at the University of Georgia. She earned her PhD in English from the University of Georgia in 2015. There are 7 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. wikiHow marks an article as reader-approved once it receives enough positive feedback. In this case, several readers have written to tell us that this article was helpful to them, earning it our reader-approved status. This article has been viewed 256,847 times.

Choosing a limited number of words to convey the main point of an article is the key challenge when considering how to write a newspaper headline. Because newspaper headlines are limited by the space available on the printed page, word choice and clarity are crucial to a good headline. In the digital age, newspaper headlines for online publications must also be searchable and make readers want to click on them to read more. [1] X Research source

Understanding the Purpose of a Newspaper Headline

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Writing a Newspaper Headline

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Formatting the Headline

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About This Article

Megan Morgan, PhD

To write a newspaper headline, identify the key terms in your story that tell readers what the article is about. You want the headline to clearly reflect the content without exaggerating or embellishing the story. Once you have a short list of keywords, connect them using action verbs, which makes the headline more exciting. For example, “Shopkeeper defends store from thieves.” Make sure your headline is in present tense, which makes it sound more immediate and engaging. If it’s a casual or fun story, you can use a pun or joke, but avoid using these for serious articles. For more tips from our English co-author, including how to use Search Engine Optimization for online headlines, read on! Did this summary help you? Yes No

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5 Easy Tricks to Help You Write Catchy Headlines

On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.  —David Ogilvy

In a world full of noise, how do you get people to read what you write? It takes more than good content  or great design. The most important part of writing an article is the headline.

5 Easy Tricks to Help You Write Catchy Headlines

The same principle applies to blog posts, book chapters, and so on: The title is where your focus should be. You should begin and end every article with the question: “ Would this make me want to read on?”

If not, don't publish until you've got a catchy headline. Concentrate on this, and you'll get more readers, more buzz, and more love.

How to write catchy headlines

Too often the headline is the most neglected part of writing an article. People just gloss over it without taking much time to consider it. In their minds, it's the cherry on top. No, friends; it's not. The headline is the sundae.

I sometimes deliberate over titles for 30–60 minutes before settling on one that works. And I often go back and change them. This is what it takes to write a good headline.

If you need some help concocting catchier headlines, here are a few simple tricks:

1. Use numbers to give concrete takeaways

There's a reason why so many copywriters use numbers in their headlines. It works.

Do an experiment: Go to the grocery store, and scan the magazines in the checkout lane. Look at the front-page article headlines. It doesn't matter if it's a fitness magazine or a tabloid; many of them will be using numerals to start off the headline.

There aren't really any rules (as far as I know) regarding what numbers work best, but people typically only remember three to five points. That said, sometimes a really obscure number like 19 or 37 can catch people's attention.

Warning: don't overuse numbers or use them arbitrarily. If your article clearly has some key takeaways, adding a number to the headline can help make the takeaways more digestible. But if the article doesn't, don't force it.

2. Use emotional adjectives to describe your reader's problem

Here are some examples:

3. Use unique rationale to demonstrate what the reader will get out of the article

If you're going to do a list post, be original. For example consider the following:

If possible, never use things . Please, for the love of Pete, don't use things . You can do better than that.

4. Use what , why , how , or when

These are trigger words. I typically use “why” and “how” the most, because I'm often trying to persuade or enable someone. Typically, you'll use either a trigger word or a number. Rarely does it sound good to do both.

5. Make an audacious promise

Promise your reader something valuable. Will you teach her how to learn a new skill? Will you persuade her to do something she's never done before? Will you unlock an ancient mystery?

What you want to do is dare your reader to read the article. Without over-promising, be bold . Be seductive (in the most innocuous way possible, of course). Be dangerous . And then deliver what you promised.

Try this formula

Here's a simple headline-writing formula:

Number or Trigger word + Adjective + Keyword + Promise

Example: Take the subject “bathing elephants.” You could write an article entitled, “How to Bath an Elephant” or “Why I Love Bathing Elephants.”

Or you could apply this formula and make it: “18 Unbelievable Ways You Can Bathe an Elephant Indoors”

Another (more serious) example: Take a bold promise like “selling your house in a day.”

Apply the formula and you get: “How You Can Effortlessly Sell Your Home in Less than 24 Hours”

Here are some examples of my most popular articles and the headlines behind them:

When in doubt, be clear

People don't want to be tricked into reading something boring; they want to be drawn into something exciting. Make it worth their while.

Take extra long time to consider what headline will grab people's attention the most, and make sure that it describes your content in an honest, but attractive, way. They won't regret it, and neither will you.

And if you don't yet have a blog, check out my 8-minute video walk-through on how to launch a self-hosted WordPress blog .

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12 Headline Writing Tips To Drive Traffic & Clicks

Wondering how to inspire skimmers to click on your article? A powerful headline is an essential tool for driving traffic to your content.

Picture this: You’ve spent hours researching and writing a phenomenal article.

Obviously, you want people to read the article since you worked so hard to create it.

But here’s the sad truth: on average, 6 out of 10 people only look at the headlines before sharing an article.  And only 49% claimed to read the articles.

What is a content creator to do?

There’s a clear connection between the value and interest of an article’s headline and whether people are intrigued enough to click on it.

Writing a strong headline isn’t an exact science, but plenty of data has been compiled and studied over the years to provide some clues as to what makes a strong headline great.

Here are some headline-writing tips to win those readers over and earn more clicks.

12 Tips To Write Click-Worthy Headlines

Your headline serves the essential role of making a first impression on a potential reader.

We all know how important first impressions are.

Being average isn’t better than being bad. Your headline is either exceptional, or it’s forgettable. There isn’t much gray area.

The following tips and methods below will help you turn a poor or average headline into one that earns clicks and pulls in readers.

1. Look At Google Search Results

Once you’ve researched the keyword(s) you’re planning to target, analyze the search engine results page (SERP) to see the articles you’re competing against.

How can your content stand out?

What is the user intent?

Are the top results listicles? How-to articles? Commercial content?

If you’re going to rank on Page 1, you need to have a comprehensive understanding of what kind of content is already there if you’re going to be a serious competitor.

2. Make An Emotional Connection

Emotional headlines dependably perform better than neutral ones.

Using power words to evoke emotions in your reader enhances their first impression of your content while building curiosity, dread, or anticipation to read more.

The best emotional headlines target:

However, exercise caution when using emotional headlines. You don’t want to fall into the clickbait trap of not delivering what you promised readers.

3. Use Names

For this headline trick to be successful, the names need to be well-known to your target audience.

Brand names can be just as powerful as people.

For example, when targeting SEO topics, using “Google” in your headline will bring in clicks, as will using “John Mueller.”

These are widely recognized brands and figures within the industry.

The names you choose to feature in your headline should be tailored to your specific brand niche.

4. Use Numbers

Numbers are natural eye-catchers.

In an endless sea of words, numbers snag our attention and make us pause. We remember numbers because they help our brain organize information.

Use the power of listicles and numbers to beat your SERP competitors.

12 Headline Writing Tips to Drive Traffic & Clicks header

5. Make The Benefits To Your Reader Clear

When a reader is deciding whether or not to click on an article, the question they’re asking themselves is, “What do I get out of this?”

Your headline should indicate the value a reader can expect from clicking through and reading it.

High-performing content serves one or more of these purposes:

When a reader decides to click on your article and invest their time and attention, they’ve already set expectations based on the benefit your headline promised.

Make your reader benefit clear, but don’t overpromise.

12 Headline Writing Tips to Drive Traffic & Clicks 2

6. Optimize For Humans And Search

Your first priority is optimizing so your human audience will find your content and want to click on it.

Your second priority is optimizing for search engines, especially Google.

The good news is, humans and search engines can generally agree on what they like to read, including content that is:

Be sure to include your primary keyword in the title to optimize it for Google and help people find your content when searching for the topic.

If you’re in need of inspiration, check out free title generator tools to help you write a better headline.

Keep in mind, though, that these tools don’t know your audience as well as you do, and just because a headline was generated automatically doesn’t mean it’s the most advanced for SEO.

These free tools are best used for idea generation and analysis, not a replacement for a human-created headline.

If you’re using WordPress, tools such as AIOSEO and Yoast are great SEO-based plugins that will give you a built-in analysis of your headline SEO rating (as well as the post as a whole).

They’ll also give you suggestions to help you improve your rating, as you can see with AIOSEO below:

12 Headline Writing Tips to Drive Traffic & Clicks writing

7. Write Multiple Headlines

Chances are, the first headline you come up with isn’t going to be gold.

And that’s okay! In fact, it’s normal.

Some people advise writing 10 or more headlines per content piece and then selecting the best option.

Write a variety of headlines targeting different formulas. Don’t just swap the word order.

Try targeting different emotions, points of view, and styles, such as:

Use headline analysis tools to keep track of SEO ratings for each option when you’re making your decision.

8. Test Your Headlines

Click data doesn’t lie, but your brain does!

Don’t be too mad at your brain – we’re all biased. Our brains convince us that we’re clever and creative, and of course, all of our headlines are genius.

But plenty of imaginative headlines never get a single click.

Despite what your brain thinks, the people bypassing your article aren’t to blame. It’s the headline.

Eliminate the bias by relying on quantitative data instead of your opinions and feelings.

9. Experiment With Headlines, Too

There’s an art to writing click-worthy headlines, and it does take some practice to make the task feel natural.

If you’ve followed every rule and still aren’t finding success, don’t be afraid to throw the rulebook out the window and go with your gut.

What kinds of headlines interest you? Go from there.

10. Follow Formulas

Even though there’s an art to crafting headlines, it’s important to keep in mind that your headline isn’t a whimsical creative writing assignment – it’s a science.

No, really.

Headline-writing formulas exist because they work. They’ve been tested over and over again to measure click-through rates.

Understandingly, this begs the question, “If everyone is using the same formulas, how can I make my headlines stand out from the crowd?”

The best advice is to create your own formulas by tweaking others and then testing your click-through rate (CTR) to find the ones that work best for you and your brand.

11. Should You Be Careful with Question Headlines?

Question headlines can be an effective tool to spark reader curiosity, but they come with a warning label:

In most cases, you can write a more compelling headline that isn’t formatted into a question.

12. Be Positive

There’s enough negativity in the world without adding more gasoline to the fire.

Your primary goal should be to help your target audience, whether you’re providing useful information, solving a problem, answering a question, or entertaining your readers.

With that said, some brands want to be associated with negativity. Sparking controversy and getting people riled up does create a strong emotional response, albeit not a positive one.

It all depends on your brand image and the message you want to convey to your audience.

Write Compelling Headlines That Win Readers

If you’re going to break that 6 out of ten reading statistic, your headlines need to raise the stakes.

That’s going to require a lot of trial and error.

Even if you follow every piece of advice in this article, that isn’t a surefire formula for success every single time.

Pay attention to your audience within your specific niche. What are they clicking on? Which headlines are piquing their interest? Which ones aren’t?

Just like every other type of content marketing strategy, follow-up data and analysis are critical to understanding how to best target your specific audience.

Image Credits

Featured Image: Paulo Bobita/Search Engine Journal All screenshots taken by author

Danny Goodwin

Danny Goodwin

Danny Goodwin is the former Executive Editor of Search Engine Journal. He formerly was managing editor of Momentology and editor ...

The Complete Guide to On-Page SEO



How to Write Headlines That Work

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Learning how to write headlines is critical. Your headline is the first, and perhaps only, impression you make on a prospective reader.

Without a headline or post title that turns a browser into a reader, the rest of your words may as well not even exist. But a headline can do more than simply grab attention.

A great headline can also communicate a full message to its intended audience, and it absolutely must lure the reader into your persuasive writing .

This epic guide to headline writing will show you the way …

How do you write headlines?

At its essence, a compelling headline must promise some kind of benefit or reward for the reader, in trade for the valuable time it takes to read more.

In The Copywriter’s Handbook , copywriter Bob Bly sets forth eight time-tested headline categories that compel action and rake in sales.

Let’s take a look at each.

1. Direct headlines

Direct headlines go straight to the heart of the matter, without any attempt at cleverness. Bly gives the example of Pure Silk Blouses – 30 Percent Off as a headline that states the selling proposition directly. A direct blog post title might read Free Ebook: SEO Simplified .

2. Indirect headlines

An Indirect headline takes a more subtle approach when you’re learning how to write headlines. It uses curiosity to raise a question in the reader’s mind, which the body copy answers. Often a double meaning is utilized, which is useful online.

An article might have the headline Fresh Bait Works Best and yet have nothing to do with fishing, because it’s actually about writing timely content that acts as link bait .

3. News headlines

A News headline is pretty self-explanatory, as long as the news itself is actually, well … news. A product announcement, an improved version, or even a content scoop can be the basis of a compelling news headline. Think Introducing Digital Copywriter .

4. How to headlines

The How to headline is everywhere, online and off, for one reason only — it works like a charm. Bly says that “Many advertising writers claim if you begin with the words how to , you can’t write a bad headline.” An example would be, umm … oh yes … the title of this post.

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5. Question headlines

A Question headline must do more than simply ask a question. It must be a question that, according to Bly, the reader can empathize with or would like to see answered. He gives this example from Psychology Today : Do You Close the Bathroom Door Even When You’re the Only One Home?  

6. Command headlines

The Command headline boldly tells the prospect what he needs to do, such as Exxon’s old Put a Tiger in Your Tank campaign. Bly indicates that the first word should be a strong verb demanding action, such as Subscribe to Copyblogger Today!

7. Reasons why headlines

Another effective technique when you’re learning how to write headlines is the Reason why model. Your body text consists of a numbered list of product features or tips, which you then incorporate into the headline. For example, 100 Reasons Why WordPress Beats Squarespace .

It’s not even necessary to include the words “reasons why.” This technique is actually the underlying strategy behind the ubiquitous blogger “list” posts, such as 8 Ways to Build Blog Traffic .

8. Testimonial headlines

Finally, we have the Testimonial headline, which is highly effective because it presents outside proof that you offer great value. This entails taking what someone else has said about you, your product or service, and using their actual words in your headline.

Quotation marks let the reader know that they are reading a testimonial, which will continue in the body copy. A testimonial example from Digital Copywriter: “Ease that lonely feeling, that fear of making a mistake.”

Why you should always write your headline first

If you want to learn how to write headlines and even better content, start with the headline first.

You’ll of course have a basic idea for the subject matter of your blog post or sales copy.

Then, simply take that basic idea and craft a killer headline before you write a single word of the body content. Why does this help you meet your writing goals ?

Your headline is a promise to readers. Its job is to clearly communicate the benefit you’ll deliver to the reader in exchange for their valuable time.

Promises tend to be made before being fulfilled

Writing your content first puts you in the position of having to reverse-engineer your promise. Turn it around the other way and you have the benefit of expressly fulfilling the compelling promise you made with the headline.

This ultimately helps keep your content crisp and well-structured.

Trying to fulfill a promise you haven’t made yet is tough, and often leads to a marginal headline and blog post introduction . And a poorly-crafted headline allows good deeds (you know, like your content) to go unnoticed.

Headline writing that gets results

Despite the fact that every copywriter and every journalist knows the power of headlines, many still underestimate their importance.

So, here are some anecdotes, facts, and guidelines.

They’ll help you write even better headlines (and also let you know how much you should focus on them).

The 50/50 rule of headlines

According to some of the best copywriters of all time, you should spend half of the entire time it takes to write a piece of persuasive content on the headline.

So if you have a blog post that is really important to you or your business, one that you really want people to read, you should downright obsess over your post title.

Advertising legend David Ogilvy knew the power of headlines, and how the headline literally determined whether the advertisement would get read. He rewrote this famous headline for an automobile advertisement 104 times :

“At 60 miles an hour, the only thing you hear in the new Rolls Royce is the ticking of the dashboard clock …”

Master copywriter Gene Schwartz often spent an entire week on the first 50 words of a sales piece — the headline and the opening paragraph. Those 50 words are the most important part of any persuasive writing, and writing them well takes time.

Even for the masters.

The 80/20 rule of headlines

Here are some interesting statistics.

On average, 8 out of 10 people will read headline copy, but only 2 out of 10 will read the rest. This is the secret to the power of the headline, and why it so highly determines the effectiveness of the entire piece.

The better the headline you craft with sharp proofreading and editing , the better your odds of beating the averages and getting what you’ve written read by a larger percentage of people.

Writing a great headline doesn’t guarantee the success of your writing. The benefit conveyed in the headline still needs to be properly satisfied in the body copy, either with your content or your offer.

But great body content with a bad or even marginal headline is doomed to go largely unread.

How to write a headline

Ready for a lesson on how to write headlines?

We looked at the different categories of headlines that work above, and now we’ll look at analytical techniques for producing great headlines.

The copywriting trainers at American Writers & Artists teach The Four U’s approach to writing headlines:

Headlines, subheads, and bullets should:

In a classic issue of Early to Rise , Clayton Makepeace says to ask yourself six questions before you start to write your headline:

Makepeace’s six questions combined with the basic structure of The Four U’s provide an excellent framework for writing spectacular headlines. And you’ll note that just about any headline that satisfies the framework will fall into one of the eight categories you learned above.

It takes work and focus to learn how to write headlines, but the effort will make you a more effective writer and a more profitable businessperson.

What’s in a killer “how to” article that gets attention?

It’s no secret that “how to” articles and blog posts are some of the most popular content online. People want useful information, and they’ll reward you by promoting it to others when you provide it.

The biggest battle is getting enough people to read in the first place. And that battle is won or lost at the headline.

What’s more, writing a killer “how to” headline will help you write even better “how to” content when you fulfill the headline promise you made to get people to read in the first place.

It’s all about benefits

The crazy thing about the popularity of “how to” content is the fact that people don’t really want to learn how to do anything else.

They’ve got plenty to do already, thank you.

But it’s exactly due to the crazy busy lives we lead that prompts us to seek out tips, tricks, and methods to make things better, easier, and ultimately happier for ourselves. Focusing on the “better, easier, and happier” is the key. It’s crucial to keep it in mind while mastering how to write headlines.

It’s not that people aren’t smart enough to understand the implied benefits of learning how to do something. It’s quite the opposite, actually. It’s just that implied benefits don’t prompt action like express benefits do.

Get through scanning filters

People smartly employ aggressive attention filters when scanning headlines, and you’ll get through the filters of a lot more people if you spell out the benefits rather than relying on implication.

Plus, body content that focuses on benefits as well as procedures is more emotionally engaging, which leaves the reader feeling better satisfied at the conclusion of the piece.

It’s been said that it’s almost impossible to write a bad “how to” headline. That may be true, but what comes after those two magical words can make all the difference in the amount of attention and readership your writing gets.

Let’s take a look at the structure of a few famous “how to” headlines, and see if we can’t figure out why they work. Then, we’ll adapt them to new situations and content.

Double the benefits, double the power

This may be the most famous “how to” headline ever:

How to Win Friends and Influence People

Before Dale Carnegie’s classic book How to Win Friends and Influence People was conventionally published, he sold it by mail order with that same title as the headline of the sales letter. Certainly Carnegie’s content was compelling, but that headline is brilliant all by itself.

The headline structure is powerful. You’ve got benefit number one right after “How to,” with another benefit following the word “and.” Simple, right?

Deceptively so, as copywriter David Garfinkel has pointed out. There is a subtle relationship between the first benefit and the second that suggests if you can achieve the first, you can automatically achieve the second.

In this case, that implication doesn’t make sense — lots of people have friends and yet are completely lacking in influence. But that cause-and-effect relationship still likely helped Carnegie achieve greatness with his home-study course, and later with the ubiquitous book.

It’s much smarter from a credibility standpoint to use this structure when benefit one and benefit two are actually related. Here are a few examples that Garfinkel gives in his book.

The dual benefit “how to” structure will always work if you logically link the two together and deliver relevant and substantive tips with your content. Give it a try.

How to [ Mundane Task ] That [ Rewarding Benefit ]

This one look familiar? 😉

It’s often harder than you might think to extract the true benefits of learning how to do something. Often, you can simply take a normal “how to” title and make it better simply by using the transition word “that” immediately following the subject matter of the tutorial.

Once you add “that,” just ask yourself what the top benefit of your tutorial is. Then figure out the best way to say it (which usually means being as specific as possible).

Leaving out the “to” works, too

Want to increase the curiosity factor of your headline, while just about guaranteeing that you’ll nail the primary benefit of your tutorial?

Start with “How” but leave out the “to.” You’ll still be making a beneficial promise to your reader that will be fulfilled in the content, but the intrigue factor will be higher and your results perhaps even better.

Let’s look at these famous headlines:

Those are pretty intriguing headlines, right?

The more you focus on the benefits to the reader when you’re learning how to write headlines, the more readers you’ll have. And by touching on the beneficial aspects while laying out the procedural content, you’ll have more happy readers at the conclusion of the article.

The cheater’s guide to writing headlines

Imagine the creative life of someone who’s learned how to become a freelance writer … a solitary figure staring intently at a computer screen (or out the window), flexing those mental muscles to create a killer headline out of thin air that will result in millions of dollars in sales.

Well, maybe not.

A more likely scenario has the copywriter looking for inspiration in her collection of winning space ads and sales letters. She’ll also consult books that consist of nothing more than collections of headlines proven to work.

Enter: swipe files

These compilations are called swipe files, and they’re worth their weight in gold when it comes to crafting great headlines.

Because great headlines are constructed in certain time and money-tested ways that can be adapted into different contexts and re-used over and over.

Anytime a promotion rakes in big bucks, you can bet copywriters and direct marketers will be studying, and saving, that headline for future reference.

In fact, swipe files can’t even really be considered cheating or a violation of marketing ethics . It’s just the way it’s done if you want to write effective copy, especially when starting out.

Only once a copywriter has a true understanding of what works can they take a completely original approach. Even then it’s pretty rare to come up with a gangbuster headline that is 100% unique.

You need to understand why certain headlines work

Unfortunately, you’ll still find people selling headline swipe files and even software programs that promise a “fill-in-the-blank” solution based on the “greatest headlines” ever written.

Don’t get suckered by this.

The problem with that approach should be obvious. If you don’t understand why a particular headline works, you’ll never be any good at writing them. Plus, without real understanding, you’ll likely choose the wrong “formula” for any given situation, which can cause even a well-written headline to fail.

But starting with these tested headline formulas can improve your content titles immediately, which in turn should translate into more readership and traffic.

Next we’ll examine keywords and why they’re important in a headline. The answer may not be what you think.

Do keywords in headlines really matter?

The search engine optimization camp says keywords are the most important aspect of a blog post title.

How else will you rank high in the results and get more traffic , they say, if the right keywords are missing from the title?

On the other hand, you’ve got the purist “write for humans” camp, who collectively scoff at the notion of keyword research for headline writing.

What’s the point of search optimized post titles if no one reads (and links) in the first place?

Well, here’s the verdict.

Keywords matter

But not necessarily for the reasons some SEO folks think.

Doing keyword research is a magical thing. It’s a window into the mind of your target audience.

Before search engines, there was no way to know the exact words that a large group of people would use when thinking about a certain topic.

Oh sure, you could ask a small group of people, but anyone who has ever done focus groups will tell you that what people say in front of others is not the same as what they will really do.

So if you’re learning how to write headlines, you should be doing search engine keyword research. Because any great headline should speak in the language of the audience, while wrapped up in a time-tested structure that catches attention and offers value.

But it gets better

Any SEO pro worth listening to will tell you that you don’t go after the most popular keywords. You target the niche phrases. They may result in less traffic individually, but there’s a lot more of them, and less competition.

This is perfect for writing headlines for humans. The niche phrases are much more specific, and specificity makes for a much better headline. Further, better headlines lead to writing better content .

Google and other search engines really do want to reflect what’s important to people. That’s why links and anchor text are primary determinations of relevancy.

Keywords matter for sensible SEO , because when you speak the language of the audience, you attract more readers, more links, and yes … more relevant search traffic. Both camps are right, for different reasons.

Why some people almost always write great headlines

What are some of the characteristics of people who crank out content titles that work really well most of the time? Is it something anyone can learn?

Yes, and except in very rare cases, writing great blog post titles and other headlines can likely only be learned.

Rather than relying on natural talent, people who know how to write headlines have learned to do three basic things:

1. They understand that all compelling headlines make an intriguing promise that makes it almost irresistible to its target audience. Understanding the intended audience is key — a really great headline generally won’t appeal to everyone, and watering it down for mass appeal will only hurt you.

2. They study headlines that have been proven to work, and that usually means direct response advertising headlines. In that context, “proven to work” means people responded to that particular headline by pulling out their wallets and making a purchase. You can also learn to write better headlines by studying some of the top magazine editors, and even the tabloids you see at the supermarket checkout lane.

3. Most importantly, rather than simply mimicking great headlines, professional writers understand why the headline works. Therefore they can make an educated decision as to which type of headline structure is most appropriate, and how to tweak it within a certain context.

So, what about this subheading of the post you’re reading right now?

1. Starting any heading with “why” at the beginning of a declarative statement (instead of a question) is one easy way to focus in on the benefit of reading your article. That’s one of the reasons why this method works, but the words that follow the “why” are what’s most important.

You can do the same by starting with “here’s why,” “what,” “when,” or “how.” Or you can simply make a strong statement that clearly demonstrates that the elaborated answer will be provided in the body content. And of course a carefully worded question can magnetically draw in your intended readers as well.

2. This subheading is modeled after this famous advertising headline:

Why Some People Almost Always Make Money in the Stock Market

Within the context of what I wanted to convey with this section, the basic structure of this classic headline works perfectly. Why?

3. Credibility. The use of the word “some,” and having “almost” modify “always,” make the headline much more plausible. Not even the highest paid copywriters in the world always nail a headline that works. And some people never write great post titles, because they don’t take the time to learn how.

Many people feel that a great headline is bombastic and full of hyperbole, but that’s usually not the case. If people don’t believe you can deliver on your promise, they won’t bother reading further, and your over-the-top headline fails.

You’ll gain an advantage over your competition by becoming a true student of great headline writing.

Understanding what type of headline is appropriate to a specific context is the real key to learning how to write headlines and subheadings that get your content embraced and shared.

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Brian Clark

Brian Clark is the founder of Copyblogger, the midlife personal growth newsletter Further, Unemployable, an educational community that provides smart strategies for freelancers and solopreneurs , and Creative Affiliate, affiliate marketing advice for creators .

Reader Interactions

Reader comments (278).

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January 25, 2006 at 8:43 pm

There’s an SEO/AdSense component to this, too, because your post title becomes the single page title, and titles are of the utmost importance in search. They’re important for AdSense, too, but AdSense also pays attention to your meta tags.

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June 3, 2011 at 7:10 am

Interesting, Michael. I never thought of that aspect to this, but it makes perfect sense.

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March 10, 2006 at 1:46 pm

Great advice; you can never underestimate the importance of a good headline.

It’s unfortunate that headlines that work best for direct marketing or link baiting often are not the ones that work best for search engines. With search, you generally want to target a keyphrase, then have it appear early in your headline, phrased exactly as you would expect someone to search for it. Tends not to create the catchiest headlines.

Just another case of SEO running headlong into good copy. It can be a bit of a balancing act to get them to work together, but (especially when blogging) it’s generally best to go with the title that will bring you the most readers and links, and perhaps sacrifice that keyword-optimized title.

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August 29, 2011 at 10:33 pm

This is completely true. It’s odd that Google is trying to determine good content with a headline and then look for a keyword or phrase when this can be very difficult to get in a title that would actually attract a reader. But I guess as time goes on Google’s search engine will get better and the two will mesh more.

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March 10, 2006 at 4:14 pm

The funny thing is, I get lots of search traffic to this very post, because people search for “how to write headlines,” and a nice bunch of links have me high in Google for that phrase.

Often things just work out if you write for people first.

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April 2, 2006 at 4:20 am

I’m enjoying this Copywriting 101 series.

The advice you’re giving about headlines reminds me of what I read years ago. Unfortunately, much of it has leached out of my tired old brain in the meantime.

I look forward to following this series and learning some new skills.

All the best,

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May 23, 2006 at 2:34 pm

[…] How To Write Headlines That Work […]

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October 31, 2006 at 2:04 am

This is awesome stuff. I forget how I found your site, but I’m sure glad I did.

I never knew that headlines meant so much. Definitely a great resource for a newbie blogger like me. 🙂

Congrats and keep up the good work!!

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December 18, 2006 at 6:30 pm

This is really good stuff, thanks! I believe I found another catchy category of headline: The offensive or strange statement. I remember how I jumped at the headline: “HTML Considered Harmful”. I was really curious and a bit offended by this statement, and immediately read the article. The original seems to be a statement about programming “Goto Considered Harmful” by Edsger W Dijkstra.

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January 16, 2007 at 8:22 pm

I am searching for 2 hours now and this is the best resource I found about headlines.

Great Website 🙂

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March 5, 2007 at 2:20 am

I just found your blog, I really like it (and I’ve subscribed to the RSS feed). The reference to Seth Godin (whom I follow almost religiously) was awesome!

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May 9, 2007 at 9:59 am

great tips!

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September 20, 2007 at 11:10 am

Brian- I thoroughly enjoyed you installment of 10 blogs for Copywriting 101. You provide a lot of great content as well as another opinion for my readers to gain knowledge from. Thanks again!!

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December 4, 2007 at 3:17 pm

Great post. I have really had a hard time drawing in readers and I am going to try titling my posts more adequately to grab some fresh readers.

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January 8, 2008 at 3:57 pm

Really nice and very useful I will be back.

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February 11, 2008 at 5:03 pm

I keep meaning to get that book… =)

John Carlton says something like, “The best headlines are the ones where the skinny guy wins a fight over the big guy, the one legged golfer can drive a ball further than a two-legged golfer, the dork gets the girl.” I found that to be insightful…

I also liked your last post about speaking simply and clearly. I think it’s something we need to do more often. Eugene Schwartz calls it “Speaking to the chimpanzee brain.”

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March 5, 2008 at 9:49 am

Great site! It’s much helpful to me. Thanks!

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April 16, 2008 at 10:18 am

Thanks for the excellent post!

I have always been a fan of the How To & 7 Reasons Why headlines. Those are my personal favorites.

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June 18, 2008 at 7:46 pm

What a great post! Headlines are the key to everything pretty much, getting and grabbing the readers attention. Headlines are very important as well when coming down to Google Adwords and creating the customers interest to click and read more.

Definitely a great blog on copywriting. Will definitely stop by again and let people know where to get some great advice on it and how to write effective headlines.

Great work!

Jamie Boyle Internet Marketer

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July 22, 2008 at 11:03 pm

Excellent points from Bob Bly about the 8 categories of headlines. The Copywriter’s Handbook is one of those classics I consult all the time.

I agree totally with your point about the importance of headlines. Victor Schwab put it like this in “How to Write a Good Advertisement” (published in 1962): “The headline of an advertisement is like a flag being held up by a flagman alongside a railroad track. He is using it to try to get the immediate attention of the engineer of an approaching train–so that he can give him some kind of message. In the case of advertising, on that flag is printed the headline of an advertisement.”

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August 7, 2008 at 6:16 am

The headline is like the gate keeper

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September 4, 2008 at 12:24 am

I just wanted to say thanks for all of your excellent advice. I actually took the advice in this post and used it for a few projects. I can say my titles received a huge amount of traffic in internet forums. HUGE – which in return I got more sales.

I am by far no expert but there are many lessons to learn here.

Thanks again.

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September 12, 2008 at 10:53 pm

A catchy heading will always win ! great article with some excellent tips thankyou.

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September 26, 2008 at 4:32 am

how should that help me win a headline making contest?…… -_-

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October 8, 2008 at 2:23 pm

Hot tips! Being creative can be easy as using a Thesaurus.

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October 15, 2008 at 6:16 pm

You forgot teaser headlines! That’s what I was looking for.

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January 31, 2009 at 3:38 am

These tips are absolutely timeless. The guy I bought the book from bought it a long time ago. I think it’s absolutely amazing how helpful it was when I read it and I think that you hit the nail on the head with this post.

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April 13, 2009 at 6:49 pm

Headlines hurt my head, but you make it seem so much easier. I’m definately going to put these tips to work. Thanks.

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April 18, 2009 at 2:01 pm

Going through the headlines is always increase traffic but in my view its good to updating the contents and post in regural interval, thanks any way for the info

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August 6, 2009 at 1:02 am

Headlines can catch the reader into its well(Content)

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December 22, 2009 at 8:52 pm

Definitely the headline is one of, if not the most, important aspect of your blog posts. I’ve written about that, but I’ll just say it again here that the title is key, because that’s what people see first.

With all the blogs out there now, if you have headlines that don’t interest people or catch their attention, chances are good that you’re not going to do very well.

Your tips definitely help a lot, it all depends on your content and your personality which title you choose. Thanks!

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December 22, 2009 at 10:07 pm

I read your blogs on a daily basis and it helps with all the ads I write thanks! Keep up the good work.

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February 10, 2010 at 1:28 am

This type of information is invaluable as more marketers understand the new role of content. I recently wrote my blog on How Bad Headlines Can Kill Good Content and found a great deal of inspiration from your blog. I think headline is equally important as the content that you’re trying to market to your audience. Without a great headline to capture the audience, there is a great chance that readers can bypass reading the entire material. This is true for blogs, whitepapers, ebooks, newsletters, podcasts, webcasts, etc. Marketers are in the business of publishing content and without the support of a good headline, you can kiss that content goodbye.

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March 20, 2010 at 2:25 am

Another effective technique is called the Reason Why Headline. Your body text consists of a numbered list of product features or tips, which you then incorporate into the headline, such as Two Hundred Reasons Why Open Source Software Beats Microsoft. It’s not even necessary to include the words “reasons why.” This technique is actually the underlying strategy behind the ubiquitous blogger “list” posts. I like this!

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April 24, 2010 at 9:35 am

All great ideas. I am bookmarking this page, surely I will get writers block. I like using the “Reason Why Headline”, it draws the reader in nicely by giving them a reason to read the list, and I also like the “Question Headline” example: Do You Close the Bathroom Door Even When You’re the Only One Home? That catches people as well. I think the hardest aspect for me is to shift from corporate writing style to blog writing style, although I realize writing in blog style actually is more natural than the way we are trained to write in the corporate world as presented by our universities.

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May 21, 2010 at 2:20 pm

you have taught me a great deal about copywriting, i have tried several headlines for my gym marketing. the best one i have found yet is one that tells everything we are and makes them curious enough to go to my website or come into the gym, it is “24 hour fully automated gym with FREE 24 hour automated Tanning included with every membership at Temple Gym”,

I also have great success with funny headlines for my gym, like “do you look like you shoved 20 lbs. apples into a 3lb. bag?” or “when you get onto the weight scale, does it say please one at a time?”

My wife says i may offend someone, but no one has come forward yet, EXCEPT to sign up!

I even started teaching my own gym marketing copywriting how to at my website at thanks to you getting me interested in copywriting. thanks.

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June 16, 2010 at 5:25 am

I really like the Reason Why Headline. It’s always made sense to me to start any pitch, email or blog posts(if applicable) like that. Somehow, it’s easier to just write down the features and justifications than it is to do a classic sales pitch.

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June 22, 2010 at 9:40 am

Great tips on writing a headline. I’m trying to come up with a few headlines for a banner on my site to recruit guest post bloggers so I found this site searching for headline ideas.

All of these headlines sound great so how does a guy know which one to use??? I wish there was a resource that explained when and why you would use a certain type of headline.

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July 16, 2010 at 11:02 am

I think its a great part of your series. Coming up with headlines can always be a challenge, and breaking it down like you did is incredibly helpful. Thanks!

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July 19, 2010 at 8:27 am

Good post, Brian… You could have the best email content in the world, but if no one opens the email, it doesn’t matter. Same holds true for a blog post people find on Google search.

Using these headline insights is guaranteed to give you higher open rates 😉

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August 12, 2010 at 8:30 am

Really enjoyed this article… although I’d advise people shy away from question style headlines, because if the answer might be “no” to the question in the headline, you would be elimination a substantial portion of the prospects visiting your sales page.

When the question-headline is “Would an additional $347,822 in passive income make a difference in your life?” then at least it’s a fair assumption that most people, no matter how wealthy, would answer yes. but in many cases question headlines are killers…..

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September 19, 2010 at 9:54 am

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October 9, 2010 at 9:38 pm

Thanks so much for the great tips! Still, if I see one more “Want to Get Rich Quick?” headline, I will barf.

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January 4, 2011 at 10:01 am

If there is one blog I love reading every day, it’s this one. Thanks a million for your inspiring articles.

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May 27, 2011 at 9:16 am

Thanks, Brian!!! This article is great resource for a newbie blogger like me. Your blog is my inspiration.

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August 25, 2011 at 11:08 pm

Thanks for all of the positive advise you provide to me and other Bloggers, it really pays to listen and learn!

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September 10, 2011 at 2:52 am

Actually i use usually the direct headline and the “how to” headline. You post makes me think also about using the other techniques more often. I think it always depends on the topic of blog or website you have what headlines i use.

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September 21, 2011 at 9:19 am

I’m so happy I found copy blogger. I first found about CB from Pat Flynn on his smart passive income site. I started listening to the podcasts because my day was so hectic I didn’t always have time to read the posts. It’s addictive because every time I listened or read an article I found new things to help me write. Thanks!

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November 23, 2011 at 12:20 pm

Brian, As a journalist I’ve always found writing feature article headlines fairly easy but for some reason scoring the “right” headline that grabs the targeted audience while copywriting has presented a challenge. Many thanks for your insight. Very helpful. I’ll be checking out David Ogilvy’s book too.

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November 24, 2011 at 2:56 pm

I have built a fairly successful blog by following the techniques laid out here on this site. In fact, 80% of my income comes from my blog. The best part about it all … it doesn’t cost a thing. The information you’ll find on this site is just as good, if not better, than anything you’ll find in a those make money online ebooks.

Thanks Copyblogger –

Brian Connole HCG Diet 411

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December 5, 2011 at 6:54 am

I agree with you that the headline is very important to attract visitor to read the article. There are many tips to write a good headline.e.g headline should be consist of keyword and also begin with that keyword. Is that right ? Thank you

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February 29, 2012 at 4:46 pm

I totally laughed when i read the bit about angelina jolie 😉

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March 5, 2012 at 4:44 am

I just finished the Magnetic Headlines webinar with Jeff Sexton (I just bought Premise 2.0) and have a question:

Is there a problem if you make your META title different from your actual post title?

Using those fascination and relevance triggers won’t always work well as META titles, so I’m thinking about making my META titles SEO friendly and my post titles human friendly – would that cause any problems?

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March 19, 2012 at 10:35 am

Martin, that’s what we do. Just remember that the title information is also visible to users, so don’t make it incomprehensible for human readers. But as a rule of thumb, the title tag is for the search engine bots and the headline is for humans.

March 19, 2012 at 6:08 pm

That’s great, Sonia, Many thanks!

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March 20, 2012 at 7:03 am

Actually, Sonia that’s not quite 100% accurate.

If the concern is SEO then there should be relevance and consistency between article title (most likely wrapped in tags), meta title, URL, image file names for the article, and then keywords in the article.

Can display title / headline and meta title not match? Yes, that’s doable. However, they should still be close, at least in terms of keywords. Also keep in mind that (for example) WordPress will take the display title / headline and automatically create the post’s URL “slug”. You can change the slug, provided you don’t forget.

March 19, 2012 at 9:41 am

I think it’s worth mentioning that no matter what you write, the content should live up to the promise (read: expectation created) of the headline. You’re only doing your readers and your brand a disservice if the info-consumer finishs your article and believes they didn’t get what they expected.

For example, “How to Write Headlines That Work.” With all due respect, this article/post isn’t as much about how but about what. Perhaps it’s just me but there’s more words devoted to defining the various types of headlines than there are devoted to the promise. That is, how to.

March 19, 2012 at 10:37 am

We 100% agree with your first paragraph.

We’ve tried hard to keep this resource incredibly useful and to, in fact, keep the promise of our own headline. Sorry this one didn’t work for you.

March 20, 2012 at 7:05 am

Thanks Sonia. Understood.

None the less, it’s still true that the article is 25% How to and 75% definitions. Regardless of intent and/or wishful thinking the headline of this page stands to be much more accurate.

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March 29, 2012 at 1:15 am

Hi, Copyblogger is such an amazing place for amazing content!!! I forget to go here. Everytime I´m in here I think to myself “this is all you need”………and then I get overwhelmed by other things and forget……… I get stuck in the headlines often. How do I write a good headline that also is SEO optimized? I always feel limited by my wanting to write freely, but need to think strategically as well……….My restraint! Thanks again for inspiration! Swedish greetings, Sanna

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April 1, 2012 at 3:46 am

Thanks for great guide on write headlines that works, it’s really useful for me on blogging journey.

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April 3, 2012 at 12:17 pm

In my opinion, even two word headlines may take attention of readers if they are interested on topic. I always try to use headlines less that 40 characters and so far it works.

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June 2, 2022 at 10:05 am

Thanks for the detailed guide as content marketing strategies emerge every day, it becomes difficult to focus on what works and what does not for a blog. Thanks a lot!

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June 5, 2022 at 3:18 pm

Fantastic article, Brian! This info is going to be super helpful for our marketing newsletter and for our blog. Thank you!

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June 7, 2022 at 6:24 pm

Thanks for the great tips! I’m always a fan of the “How to” headlines, as well as the “What is/are” headlines. I’ve even been known to combine them.

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June 15, 2022 at 5:01 pm

Wow! Congrats! I like your article. It brings out something extremely valuable. I have learnt a lot from this article. Thank you for being a solution to my problem!

This article's comments are closed.

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