Headline Heartache – Writing Headlines for the Web

Headlines: such a simple thing can create such heartache; hours spent pouring over a handful of words. When constructed correctly, a headline speaks directly to your clients, as if written just for them. When constructed poorly, your headline won’t speak to anybody, and that means the time spent preparing that article, press release or blog post has gone to waste.

Let us relieve some of your anxiety about headline perfection. By following some simple guidelines and taking your time, you can improve the impact of your headlines dramatically. But before we get to the tips, it’s important to understand why your headlines aren’t performing.

Why do some headlines fail?

Headlines fail when they don’t engage the needs of the reader. Just because a topic is very interesting to you, doesn’t mean that it will immediately appeal to a potential reader. It’s the job of the headline to convince the reader that he or she needs to read what you have to say.

Headlines may also fail to attract readers because:

  • There are no stakes. The reader should feel that he or she has something to gain by reading your piece.
    Bad Headline
    : Five Effective Marketing Strategies
    Good Headline:
    Five Marketing Strategies To Earn You More Business Fast
  • They are too vague.  Core details like “what” and “why” are often left out of headlines. Be specific!
    Bad Headline:
    Five Effective Hotel Marketing Strategieshow to write headlines for websites for hotels
    Good Headline: Five Hotel Marketing Strategies to Boost Presence on the Internet
  • There is no emotional appeal. If a reader has a need, then he or she is naturally worried about that need. Appeal to that emotion.
    Bad Headline:
    Maximize Your Presence Online
    Good Headline:
    Are You Maximizing Your Presence Online?
  • They are not written for the web. While print headlines are static and presented in a tightly-controlled context, web headlines don’t have that luxury. See tips about writing headlines specific to the web below.

Tips? Tricks? Magic phrases for writing headlines in web content?

In many ways, writing headlines for the web is no different than writing headlines for print publications. The same headlines can succeed or fail in either venue. The following tactics can be mix-and-matched depending on the article.

  • Ask a question
    People are naturally inquisitive. When they see a question, they HAVE to know the answer.
  • Present the problem, not the solution
    Readers are more likely to click if you connect with their problems. So instead of “How to Make Your PPC Campaigns Perform Better”, try “Are Your PPC Campaigns Underperforming?”
  • Engage the curiosity of the reader
    Maybe your reader has seen it all. The only way to get them is to engage their curiosity. So, instead of “5 Effective PPC Strategies”, try “Are you using these PPC strategies?” The use of “these” makes your information seem unique or exclusive.
  • Keep it short
    It’s not a graduate thesis, it’s a web article. Be specific, but keep it brief. The ideal is 5-10 words.
  • Write specific for the web
    When writing headlines for the web, you have to keep in mind that your headline can end up anywhere. So, you want your headline to be both brief and specific enough to be effective in any context. Here are some things to keep in mind:

    • Web headlines appear in many places: title tags, headers tags, blog post headings, RSS feeds, news tickers, Twitter and Facebook, social bookmarking aggregators
    • Web headlines can’t depend on context. The images, font style, font size and your subheaders may not be included on third-party sites. Is your headline still effective without them?
    • Web headlines must get the point across. When a headline is all you get, you can’t afford to be vague.
    • People can change your headline. When 3rd parties co-opt your story (a good thing), they might change the headline (a bad thing). The better your headline from the get-go, the less likely they are to change it.
    • Headlines can CHANGE! Not getting the clicks you want? Change the headline.

Most importantly, take your time when crafting a headline. Don’t assume your first effort is good enough, and don’t be afraid to review and rewrite your headline many times until you know it’s perfect.

Keep these simple tips and tricks in mind when preparing headlines for all of your web content, and you’ll start seeing more clicks and a more invested audience as soon as your next piece.

About author View all posts



Steven Mayo is the Director of Client Services for Valet Interactive. He has over 8 years experience in marketing with a specialization in web content and content marketing. Off the job you'll find him brewing beer, listening to death metal and spending time with his family.