Gotcha! Catchy Headlines Cause Readers to Slow Down, Take a Look  

© 2017 Beth Gooch

You’ve put the finishing touches on a blog post or an article, but your work isn’t complete until you’ve topped it with a headline that tempts readers to stop and learn more.

Catchy phrases aren’t enough, though. To capture the attention your masterpiece deserves, your headline must be SEO (Search Engine Optimized).

Why are online headlines different? Many readers arrive at your blog or article via search engines such as Google, so your headline must include key words that would be used by someone seeking articles on that topic.

A good headline captures the thrust of the story in just a few words. It also lures readers.

First think of what message you want to express and the key nouns you need to include—words that someone doing a search on this topic would likely use. Then consider replacing the verb with something more interesting. A strong verb can power a headline’s click-through rate by making it more interesting.

Six Ways to Critique a Headline

  1. Is it accurate? There’s no such thing as “kind of” accurate. Are the facts correct?
  2. Does it undersell the story? The headline should be as strong as the content allows.
  3. Does it oversell the story? Don’t exaggerate.
  4. Does it make the right point, getting at the essence of the article?
  5. Does its tone match the writing? Is it a light-hearted headline on a serious subject? A flat headline on a post packed with emotion?
  6. Does it match the overall personality of the website for which you are writing? Who is your targeted audience?

What to Leave In

  • Key words:  Zero in on words that describe the subject of your story.
  • Proper names:  Names of people, places, companies and organizations are all common search queries.
  • Unique stuff: What is it about your story or article that people might not find elsewhere?

What to Leave Out

  • Wordiness: For SEO, headlines should be no longer than 55 to 60 characters.
  • Puns and oblique references: Puns may be fun, but they’re not compatible with SEO.
  • Obscure words: This is no time to show off your vocabulary. Choose everyday words or phrases.

The Take-Away

When you’re writing for any online medium, the headline is the first element of your piece readers will see. Give it the attention it deserves.

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Beth Gooch has spent most of her career penning newspaper headlines, but when her job title changed from “copy editor” to “digital producer,” her focus shifted from phrases that look good in print to words that attract clicks. When she’s not at her day job, she writes fiction. She can be reached at gooch.beth@gmail.com.


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