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:
How African nations boosted a strong anti-terror force to fight jihadis
African nations have decided to battle against the spread of Islamic extremism in Africa. France, along with several European countries, supports them.
Watch the trailer for Clint Eastwood's new Spencer Stone movie
In Clint Eastwood's new movie, "The 15:17 to Paris", he made the boldly cast the three American heroes as themselves. We Are the Mighty has the trailer.
Why the US is suddenly willing to talk to North Korea
The U.S. said it has a direct line of communication with North Korea; coincidentally a day after Dennis Rodman said he wanted to intervene on their behalf.
10 reasons all troops should have a pet
Two of the greatest things ever are pets and our troops coming home. Nothing will pull at your heartstrings like when the two are combined.
12 important things that need to be in your bug-out bag yesterday
There are a lot of disasters happening these days. Our resident operator says you need these bare essentials in case of a fast, unplanned evacuation.
These are the insane dangers of being a combat engineer
Once a combat engineer locates an improvised explosive device, the danger's just begun. These guys are tough as nails as they face danger on each patrol.
Yes, the Army has fixed-wing aircraft and it flew this tank for 30 years
This obscure United States Army transport could bring 30 troops or three pallets of cargo to a location where a C-130 Hercules was unable to land.
5 life lessons today's troops could learn from Vietnam vets
The truth is, that old Vietnam vet you met at the Legion while trying to get cheap drinks isn't all that different from the men and women fighting today.