Writing a great headline is hard. Here’s how to do it.
In the digital age, writing a headline is extremely important. There are so many places out there on the web competing for people’s attention and WATM is not just competing with Military Times or Military.com, or other military-related websites. It is competing with the entire web — whatever is in the user’s Facebook news feed — for attention.A good headline grabs someone. Not only that, it should immediately get an emotional reaction. In hardly any instance is it wise to save the important part for the story, and do a straight, boring, newspaper headline. The headline is what makes a person click through to read. Put simply, if they are not interested in the headline, they aren’t going to even give you the opportunity to show them why it’s a cool story. You already lost them.
First, some formatting notes that are important:
- Headlines should be in sentence case.
- This is a properly-formatted headline
- This is Not a Properly-Formatted Headline
- Avoid swears in the headline unless absolutely necessary. There may be times when this would work, so they are not absolutely forbidden. But avoid them if you can.
Constructing a great headline
What is a great headline? This varies from person to person, but a headline should be informative and interesting, without lying to the reader. Headlines are much more important nowadays. My former boss Gus at Business Insider explains:
Your goal is to post good content and get people to view it without resorting to unfair tricks. This isn’t a magazine, where people will read whatever is on the page. It is a ruthlessly competitive environment, where people are choosing between dozens of stories on our page, hundreds of stories on twitter, and infinite stories on the Internet.
People will only click news if they understand its significance, so focus on significance when necessary to reach a wider audience. When news becomes old, which happens fast on the Internet, then further coverage of a story should focus on compelling analysis, exciting details, or other added value. Compelling analysis and exciting concepts can also be good without a news hook.
Rhetorical techniques can help increase clicks but should not be overused. Obfuscation can create intrigue and works well when a headline reads naturally and conveys some information already, but it can be annoying if too teasing. Dramatic language can heighten interest, but it backfires when overused or overstated.
Now instead of writing on and on about how to create a headline, let’s look at some examples that did well and work backwards. Here’s the headline:
11 Things New Soldiers Complain About During Basic Training
This is a great headline because it tells the reader exactly what they are going to get without overselling it. It doesn’t need to be “Incredible Things” or “Awesome Things.” It’s enough as it is, and the subject is interesting while being a little teasing. What are these things? Let’s definitely click and see what they are.
Soldiers want to click this headline to see if their complaint is in it, and civilians want to click it to get a view into the world of a soldier. It’s a great headline (and a great post).
27 Incredible Photos Of Life On A US Navy Submarine
Another example of an interesting premise that both sides want to read about: sailors and civilian. This headline promises something you don’t normally get to see. Not only are you going to check out life on a Navy submarine, but it’ll include incredible photos.
7 Key Military Life Hacks That Matter In Civilian Life
This headline uses the term “life hacks” which everyone knows with a military spin on it. What can we learn from the military and really use? There is a promise give the reader something new they can learn.
- Start with a solid premise that is accessible to a large audience
- Make the point in the headline. Don’t save it for the story.
- Use as few words as possible. Always shoot for brevity.
Here is a look at our best posts over the past few months. Check out the headlines for ideas:
These are the military traditions for deployed troops celebrating Thanksgiving
While you're deployed, weekends aren't really a thing — neither are most holidays. Thanksgiving, however, is a moment when the military slows down.
Forget multitasking, this Navy squadron has only one mission — rescue people
The Navy has an entire squadron for search and rescue, and it is the only squadron in the Navy that has an advance life-support helicopter platform.
How the Coast Guard intercepts half a million pounds of cocaine
For the last couple decades, the Coast Guard has pushed out further, taking more aggressive stabs at the flow of drugs that make their way into the U.S.
More remains of Special Forces soldier found in Niger
The Department of Defense announced that military investigators found additional remains that they have positively ID'd as Sgt. La David T. Johnson.
'Butcher of of Bosnia' sentenced to life in prison for genocide
"The Butcher of Bosnia" was handed a life sentence on November 22nd, 2017, for war crimes and the slaughter of 8,000 men and young children.
New engravings on the USMC War Memorial honor Iraq and Afghanistan Marines
On Nov. 22, the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial was updated to include Afghanistan and Iraq in the list of campaigns that runs along the memorial's base.
ISIS may focus on a virtual caliphate after losing real-world war
As the Islamic State loses the in real life war they've waged against the world, they've moved their game online- waging war in the virtual world.
Everything you need to know about Zimbabwe's ousted dictator
The dictator of Zimbabwe announced his resignation on Nov. 21, 2017 after the county's army took of the capital and family, forcing the resignation.
Watch this Marine get pinned by his 3-year-old son
Watch this adorable little boy steal into the hearts of all the Marines and civilians present as he promotes his dad and pins on his promoted rank.