“Headline writing is telling the story and selling the story,” said Greg Rasa, news editor for the Seattle Times, sharing tips at a recent SPJ-W workshop. A graduate from the UW’s Comm Lead program with 26 years of journalistic experience, Rasa is an expert on this topic and shares tried-and-true methods on how to make articles “clicktastic”. Bloggers take note: the same techniques that garner readership for a news story can make your content searchable and successful.
Six Tips For Great Headlines
1) Be specific
Front load the good stuff because Google crawls top-down to determine SEO. Rasa describes this as the “Mullet Rule”; keep business in front. Use full names and keywords that people are searching for. Refer to Google Trends to compare popular searches and refine the search by time and location. Also, given the search trend history, if you use the word “free” in your headline that is a safe bet.
2) Make headlines conversational
Rasa described a writing tactic called “Hey Mabel”. If someone were to read the headline aloud to a friend, would it strike a conversation and interest in the topic? Use conversational language and steer clear of jargon and unfamiliar terms. For example, say “money” instead of “funds”. It is also important to avoid using the word “still”. As Rasa explained, “if something is ‘still’ happening it is not news.”
3) Stay on point and use the right detail.
Pay attention to the interesting keywords and phrases used in the story as people are likely to search for them. Attempt to “spin the story forward”. Use attention-grabbing details that lure the reader in. Remain light-hearted or neutral; readers don’t like articles that bum them out and have less interest for stories that aren’t local (assuming that your’s is a local publication).
4) Be clear rather than clever
Give the reader a fair understanding of what to expect. without giving too much away. Sometimes it’s ok to leave things out of the headline to encourage clicks but use “click-bait” in moderation. It is best to be clear and straightforward.
5) Before you send, look again
Collaboration really helps. Bounce ideas off each other and get advice from others. Step back and “slot” yourself, read the story cold and see if the headline makes any sense. Read the headline as a potential viewer would and react/reflect accordingly.
6) *Bonus tip*
Never use the word “iconic”. It is overused and therefore means nothing.