Tips and tools: Web headline writing

How do you write a good web headline? Hint: Don’t take notes from the photo above.

First, consider everything you’ve been taught about writing a good newspaper headline and forget it.

Second, consider the headlines that make you, as a reader, click on something and read the story all the way through.

Since classes are canceled today due to weather, here’s a brief summary of my headline-writing lecture. We’ll review this further next week.

This is an actual headline from Philly.com: Union leader Dougherty in clash with nonunion contractor

What do you think this story is about, based on the headline (scroll all the way to the bottom and I’ll tell you)?

There is a difference between a clicky headline and click bait.

A clicky headline is good. You want people to click on your story, right? Readers encounter thousands of headlines a day scrolling through websites, Twitter and Facebook. Yours needs to be compelling enough to stand out.

A click bait headline is simply a headline that promises something the story doesn’t deliver. Just because your headline doesn’t say “you won’t believe what happens next” doesn’t mean you aren’t writing click bait.

So how do you write a compelling web headline and avoid click bait?
  • Think like a reader
  • Tease but don’t lie
  • Don’t copy your lede
  • Focus on the news
  • Include context
  • Use strong words

You know what makes a good headline because you read headlines every day. Don’t try too hard to be clever or make a pub. Focus on the key words (important people, places, facts) and the most interesting elements of the story (quotes, numbers, etc).

So what was that Philly.com headline about? John Doughtery, an extremely powerful Philadelphia union boss who influences city and state elections, punched someone in the face. And admitted to it. The headline on this story should be: Union boss John Dougherty punched a nonunion contractor in the face

No frills there, right? It’s straightforward, tells you who the major players are and what the most interesting thing in the story is.

Now go forth and write strong web headlines.

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