You just wrote the most amazing article, press release or story, sweated over every preposition, fact-checked the piece to perfection, and are ready for the masses to read your piece. Except for one problem: The headline.
It’s the bane of every writer. The headline is as important to a reader as a movie trailer is to a viewer. The best headlines draw readers into a topic that they might otherwise never read. If the headline isn’t exciting or relevant, readers might not get past the first few words, and therefore will never read your masterpiece.
Combat that with these insider tips. Beyond the already much-fawned over advice of using an active voice and not complicating a headline with a big/confusing words, these tips will make it irresistible to read your article.
Shock the reader
There’s a reason why Howard Stern has such a large following. It’s because he conveys opinions that shock people. So why not apply that logic to your headlines?
The New York Post writes some of the nation’s most shocking headlines, including a famous 2011 headline about disgraced former congressman, Anthony Weiner, titled “Weiner’s Rise and Fall.”
Now, not all subject matters will hand you a memorable headline on a silver platter like the NYP one, but that doesn’t mean pushing the envelope on your subject matter won’t reap rewards.
Utilize current affairs
Even the most serious business executive has some odd curiosity with Kimye. Pop culture, newsworthy moments and events all make for relevant subject matters of which headlines can be drawn. The Los Angeles Times recently road the coat tails of actor John Travolta’s now-famous Oscar mispronunciation gaffe by writing, “A stra is bron at the Oscars.”
Current affairs are foremost in viewers’ minds, so why not use them as a bridge to introduce your story?
Make an over-the-top promise
Will the reader gain sought-after knowledge long kept by our forefathers? Will he or she discover the meaning of life? Or will readers learn more from this article than their entire time in higher education?
Upworthy comes up with strong, bold headlines that dare to make a reader click on the article. A recent one, “In one graphic, you can learn more about taxes than I would have in 2 years of business school,” makes a promise that has business school graduates wonder if their years (and money) of school could be summed up in one image. Well, there’s only one way to find out, and that’s by reading the article.
Numbers, especially out-of-the ordinary ones, draw crowds. “131 Best Restaurants,” “14 Incredible Caribbean Vacation Spots,” and the like allow for quantifiable, conclusive reading. And that’s even before the first word of an article is read. Just like a new boyfriend, readers want to know their commitment level before diving into a piece, and including numbers in the headline can help with it.
Incorporate the graphic
If you are including a graphic to accompany your story, that’s the perfect way to segue into a headline. While no one can dispute a photo is worth 1,000 words, it’s even harder to argue that the tandem use of a graphics and headlines can make a huge impact.
A recent TIME cover had the words “This Isn’t Over” over an iconic image of Kiev’s central square, now dilapidated and in ruins. The image alone is power enough, and by adding the powerful headline, it makes the story more compelling.
Workshop your ideas
No matter how great a headline might be, there’s a chance it can be stronger. Workshop the idea. Is there a stronger action verb that can be used? Does the headline compel you to want to read the story? Discuss it with others who might be potential readers. For some, a headline is the first (and only) chance to make an impression, so write them with care and a deft touch.