An article’s headline has an important job: get someone to read the story.
It places that huge responsibility on about 60 to 70 characters. You have to get creative to make sure every word, letter, space, and punctuation mark in your headline is totally necessary and carries its fair weight.
What makes a good headline depends largely on the context where a reader sees it—on social media, on Google, in their inbox, or on a website.
To write a headline that gets the click, you’ll need more than one, because readers on different platforms are looking for different things.
Four headlines each article needs
To make the most of every promotional platform, write a headline tailored to each, including these major platforms:
- Social media: How will you catch readers’ attention as they scroll through myriad distractions?
- Search: Which keywords and information will you include in the title tag to get clicks from search results on (most often) Google?
- Email: What about the article is most attractive to your loyal readers?
- Your website: What will entice readers who visit your home page to click into the article?
Tools to publish multiple headlines
Your publishing tool (usually a content management system or CMS) lets you publish a headline that’ll show up at the top of an article page. Usually the same headline is displayed where the article appears on your website (like in a “latest news” section on the home page).
To get platform-specific headlines to show up when links to your article appear outside of your site, you’ll need to take advantage of some additional tools.
Depending on what your CMS allows, try these options to publish a tailored headline to other platforms where you’ll promote the article:
- Yoast SEO plugin for WordPress: Write a keyword-targeted title tag that’ll appear in search results but not on your website.
- HTML editing: If your CMS doesn’t offer options for multiple title fields, see if you have access to HTML editing for each article page. If you do, adding an SEO title is easy. Look for the <title> tags, and edit the copy between them to change what appears in search results. (Read more on title tags from Moz.)
- Buffer or Hootsuite: These social media schedulers let you rewrite the headline that shows up in the preview of your article when you share it on social media (regardless of your CMS capabilities).
- Open Graph protocol: Implementing this on your site lets you set the headline, description, and image that appears on social platforms when anyone shares an article link. On WordPress, you can set it up through the Yoast plugin mentioned above. On another CMS, talk with your developer, or use these tags in the HTML to do it yourself.
- Mailchimp or ConvertKit: Use these or another feature-rich email marketing platform to easily build emails that include custom images, headlines, and snippets for articles you want to promote.
Five characteristics of a great headline
Each platform has its own audience, context, and purpose you need to appeal to with tailored headlines. But some basic characteristics of good headlines apply across platforms.
Regardless of where your headline appears, it should:
- Be eye-catching: Your first hurdle is to catch a potential reader’s attention on the platform where you promote an article. Your post competes with everything else they’ll encounter on the platform, so it has to stand out—what we call a “thumb stopper.” That’s just as true for noisy social media as for your brand’s email newsletter.
- Make a promise: What will a reader get out of reading your article? The headline should tell them not just what you know an article is about but exactly how it’ll serve them.
- Leave a curiosity gap: Now you have to get a click. If your headline gives away—or appears to give away—the main points of your story, readers have no reason to click through and learn more. Make the promise clear enough to pique interest, but leave enough questions in the reader’s head to get them to read more.
- Be honest: Whatever promises you make and questions you raise in the headline, you must follow through in the article. Don’t be salacious just to get a click; it’ll cost you trust with the reader.
- Apply to the whole article: Consider your article as a hierarchy with the headline at the top. The headline should be a comprehensive explanation of the article. If it only teases a single detail from the article, you’ll likely exclude some readers and disappoint others (as well as potentially spread incomplete or incorrect information).
Want to learn more about writing effective, clickable headlines? Check out my webcast in the ACES Academy, Headlines That Work: How to Capture Readers’ Attention on Any Platform.
Header photo by Ian Dooley on Unsplash.