70 Characters or Less: Why Headlines Matter

Ever since the first newspaper boy stood on a soapbox and yelled, “Extra! Extra! Read All About It,” headlines have become an integral part of our news reading society. Now, what was once considered the norm in newspapers has quickly spread to the digital world in the form of website headlines. From catchy titles in just a few words to informative news headlines that are designed to grab attention, here’s a handful of newsworthy reasons why headlines matter.

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First and Foremost: Headlines Grab Attention

The single most important factor that comes before everything else in the realm of headlines is the fact that they’re meant to grab the reader’s attention. Although this may seem obvious, writing a headline that grabs attention is much harder than it seems, and it’s sometimes difficult to accomplish.

An attention-grabbing headline combines elements of the story and concise writing to create a minimally worded title that strikes curiosity in the hearts of readers. For example, if you’re adding a post to your health blog about weight loss tips, the headline “Put Down the Fork: 10 Weight Loss Tips That Are Sure to Shed Pounds” grabs more attention than “10 Weight Loss Tips.”

Headlines Inform the Reader

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How do you know if you want to read a website or newspaper article? Well, it’s all in the headline. Part of the attention-grabbing equation is constructing a headline that also informs the reader. The informative factor is fairly easy to include in news articles where the event itself takes precedence, but including information in other types of headlines is a bit more complicated.

If a headline doesn’t inform the reader, then they are less likely to read on or click-through in the case of online articles. Something many blogs and news agencies use is a headline subject. For instance, Buzzfeed recently ran an article with the headline “Germy Cross-Stitches To Cure What Ails You.” The subject is the curative abilities of Germy Cross-Stitches. This not only informs the reader on the subject, but also makes them want to keep reading to find out what germy cross-stitches actually are.

Headlines Create Traffic (When Done Correctly)

A website’s success largely depends on traffic, which boils down to the almighty click-through. Headlines drive traffic to copy-based websites, but only if the headline is written expertly enough to result in a click-through. And, with an online landscape of dwindling attention spans, clicking on a headline is a bigger commitment than you might think.

Click through worthy headlines include everything mentioned above, but they also make a promise that the attached content is unique and unlike anything else on the web. If a reader comes across a headline that promises “The Real Truth Behind the Government Shutdown” only to deliver facts that are easy to find anywhere, then readers probably won’t visit that website again.

Headlines Present Shock Value

When it comes to reading for entertainment’s sake, nothing works better than headlines that include a certain level of shock and awe. This of course works with news stories where horrific events are the shocking aspect of the story, but creating shocking headlines for other types of stories that aren’t inherently shocking takes skill and engaging writing.

There are a number of websites that use shocking headlines to their advantage, like the website Vice. Shane Smith and the writers at Vice throw caution to the wind when it comes to the type of stories they report. Some are breaking news stories, some stories are just for fun, and some stories use headlines that combine the two types of reporting. Here’s a perfect example:  “North Korean Meth, Motorcycle Gangs, Army Snipers, and a Guy Named Rambo.” With headlines like this, it’s no surprise Vice is the king of the click-through.

Headlines Entice Readers

A great headline not only serves the purpose of informing readers, it also entices them to read further. Enticing readers is different from grabbing their attention because enticing involves making the reader an offer they simply can’t refuse. Although an attention-grabbing article gets the story’s foot in the door, a headline that also entices will make sure that door stays open.

When a headline entices readers, it pulls at their heartstrings and asks them to read on. For example, the website Mashable recently ran a story with a headline that read “Mattress Saves Cyclist Struck by Vehicle.” A headline like this affects people in many ways. On one hand, it’s improbable. On the other hand, it’s frightening, and yet it’s also humorous. All of these factors entice.

Headlines are RSS Friendly

Millions of online users rely on their RSS feeds to grab headline worthy stories and filter them directly to their computer. In terms of the technical side of why headlines matter, they’re perfect for streamlining the RSS feed process for readers.

In other words, an attention-grabbing headline will stick out in the sea of RSS feeds. This is especially important in the case of readers who have hundreds of other websites in their RSS feed, but only have time to click-through to one or two news stories a day.

Headlines Show Up in Search Engine Results

Another technical reason why headlines matter is the fact that they show up in search engine results, which is essential in today’s online world. If you’ve ever skimmed search engine results just to find the headline that matches your search criteria the closest, then you already know how important headlines really are and how they function in Internet searches.

Although the search results process is a complex one that heavily relies on page rank among other things, headlines are still the bread and butter of listed results. Without a solid headline, readers wouldn’t find the stories they’re looking for unless they’re already familiar with the website. As the importance of page rank increases, so does the importance of quality headlines that inform, entice, and grab attention.

When it comes to ascending into the click-through heavens, it’s plain to see that a great headline is the first place to start.

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Disclosure: In full disclosure, it is safe to assume that the site owner is benefiting financially or otherwise from everything you click on, read, or look at while on my website. This is not to say that is the case with all content, as all publications on the site are original and written to provide value and references to our audience.

5 Comments

  1. Ann07 April 8, 2014
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  3. Arun Kallarackal April 12, 2014
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