Live and Die with Headlines

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Writing
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In a world driven by social network and search engine marketing, you live and die by headlines.

Today’s social media blogosphere discussion revolves around content marketing, but little is said about the actual headlines.

Too bad. Writing great headlines matters more than ever.

Attention spans have shrunk, and if you can’t interest someone right off the bat with a great, witty headline then you won’t get read. It’s as simple as that.

Here are some basic tips to write great headlines:

1) Active versus Passive

Strong editors push you to activate sentences. It makes for a quick fun read.

People want exciting, fun titles, too.

Active headlines inspire emotive responses. Passive titles bore readers, who then pass on your content to visit someone else’s site.

By eradicating passive headlines, expect to increase click-throughs by at least 50%. I’m not kidding.

2) Add Drama

Write Carelessly
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Let’s be honest. A dramatic or sassy headline works. It gives your content an edge.

You can call it tabloid writing.

I call it interesting. Who wants to read boring business content anymore?

How exciting are annual reports or press releases? Oh boy! No thanks!

That doesn’t mean write sexual double entendres into every communication. You may not like what you get back!

Plus, great writers infuse edginess and excitement into their writing without resorting to juvenile tactics like cursing, etc. This is a great segue for…

3) Authentic Headlines

Your headline serves as a preview. It needs to accurately describe content.

Try to avoid teasing readers into a false experience. You want them to come back, right?

Write authentic headlines that relate to your copy. Further, back the headline up right away in the first paragraph with a great thesis statement.

4) Cut the Fat

Writing is precious [173/366]
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My dad used to be managing editor of the Philadelphia Daily News. His mantra? Cut the fat!

What can you cut? How can you strengthen a six word headline with a tighter four word piece? What phrases can you replace with a new singular word?

Take the time time to relentlessly review and cut the fat.

5) Intentionally Open Ended

Use a phrase, question or even one word as the headline.

It depicts part of the story, but is also open ended, teasing a reader, drawing them in.

When you go abstract, your content must be well described so the headline resonates and satisfies.

What would you add to these five headline tips?

This post is a rewrite of one I wrote three years ago on the Buzz Bin.

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  • http://twitter.com/Soulati Jayme Soulati

    In the PR world, we spend the most amount of time on the headline of a news release or story. It tells readers what’s inside the package and then, when they read the first graph only, they have all the news they need. The rest is fluff.

    Blog writing ought to be somewhat similar; don’t back into the lead!

    Journo 101, right?

    Thanks for the love above, Geoff! I need to jump back to the blog and make it sing again…when client work and travel beckon, blog writing suffers. You know that more than most!

    • geofflivingston

      I think it’s very similar, and as you say journo 101. The headline cannot be undervalued.

      When I switched from PR to advertising, I was shocked by how intentional the ad copy writers were with their headlines. The whole ad revolved around them, creative included. Headline writing is the heart of any content!

      And thanks for the headline post that prompted me to get going on this one.

  • http://twitter.com/HeatherSMarsh Heather S. Marsh

    Geoff, great tips! In my opinion (as a former military journalist), this one is crucial: “Write authentic headlines that relate to your copy. Further, back the
    headline up right away in the first paragraph with a great thesis
    statement.”

    Don’t make your readers hunt around for what got their attention in the first place!

    • geofflivingston

      Just good writing, isn’t it? We’re building something to serve the reader. Thanks for your tips on this one!

  • http://www.jasonkonopinski.com/ Jason Konopinski

    BOOM goes the dynamite. If you can’t write a zinger headline, you’re sunk in this game.

    • geofflivingston

      No question about that. Your post will lie fallow.

  • Andrea Bona

    Keep it simple but use powerful words

    • geofflivingston

      Well said!

  • http://twitter.com/KDillabough Kaarina Dillabough

    I need to write better headlines.

    • geofflivingston

      We all do. It takes practice and focus! I have published some titles where I look at it and say, “what were you thinking?”

  • http://twitter.com/rdopping Ralph Dopping

    Damn, I may have buggered a few of those suggestions. I also need to write better headlines. In fact, just better. How about an example of #1 that you think works well?

    Cheers.

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