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:
Nigeria will spend a billion dollars to fight Boko Haram
Boko Haram, once one of the most feared groups in Africa, is still a problem. Nigeria, however, has decided they aren't putting up with them anymore.
ISIS may have obtained anti-tank missiles from the CIA
Somehow, ISIS has gotten a hold of weapons purchased by the CIA and Saudi Arabia and dispersed, without permission from either, to allied fighters.
How the Army plans to counter massive drone attacks
The United States military is experiencing more and more drone attacks in combat zones, and they have a plan to start shooting them down faster.
Marines want to swarm enemy defenses with hundreds of small boats
It looks like the Marine Corps is ready to get their own boats instead of borrowing them from the Navy all the time. Is this the end of water taxis?
This bearded Marine brings joy to the Corps
He's making a gear list. He's checking it twice. Gonna find out who's boot or grunt. Gunny Clause is coming on base. So stand at ease, kiddos.
This new device helps amputees manage phantom limb pain
Amira Idris designed a device helps amputees experiencing the phenomenon known as phantom limb pain (PLP) — and now she's giving the device to vets.
5 stories you may have missed for the week of December 16th
With everything going on in the world, it's difficult to keep track of every story that pops up. Check the stories you may have missed this week.
This is why the U.S.military uses 5.56mm ammo instead of 7.62mm
A common debate among gun enthusiasts revolves around why the U.S. chose to implement the 5.56mm N.A.T.O. round into service instead of the 7.62mm.
Combat Flip Flops are all about freedom — and not just for your feet
Buy a comfy pair of flip flops — put Afghanistan to work. Buy your lady a sarong — put an Afghan girl through school. This is global democracy, step two.