Making Headlines: The Surprising Secrets Behind Writing Better Titles

Your title is a promise to the reader. The key to success is crafting it with care and delivering on it.
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Writing a great title is a lot like getting dressed to find a suitable partner. Your title is the first thing people see, and whether they read any further often hinges on how interested they are after that first glimpse. Your title is a promise – and a good promise is hard to pass up.

So how do you make a good promise? Do you make it short and to the point? Do you tease? Do you ask hypotheticals? Do you sensationalize? Do you make it witty? Different types of posts will call for different tactics.

The Basics

Writing a tutorial or walkthrough?

Put “How” at the head of your title or “Walkthrough” somewhere in your title. What’s the difference? A “how to” article will typically cover how to do a very specific thing, such as “How I lost more than 100 pounds” or “How I gained more than 100 pounds.”

A walkthrough is a more in-depth guide that could, in theory, be broken down into multiple tutorials.

Writing a review?

Put “review” and the name of the movie, game, gadget, or whatever you’re reviewing in the title. People will typically search for (and click to read) “Star Wars Review” over “My fave Space Movie.” Making sure those two basic elements are in your title doesn’t mean it has to be bland, though. You can still add your own take as part of the title: “Spectre Review: More ‘Mission: Impossible’ than Bond?” or “I wept only with frustration: Spectre reviewed.”

As may be obvious from the above, choosing the right keywords is important but indiscriminately filling a title with the most popular keywords may not have the effect you really want. If you’re concentrated on a popular topic, it’s very easy to get lost in the noise. Instead of focusing directly on top keywords when writing, focus on niches around them.  Is there a slightly different angle or TWIST (see what I did there) you can take on a topic to offer a new perspective?

A Promise is also a Tease

It gives a hint of what’s to come, but it doesn’t reveal the nitty-gritty details. Putting a little mystery in your title (such as the “surprising secrets” in this very post) can go a long way toward drawing readers. Putting a little drama in your title (“How Samsung is killing Apple”) can ignite passion in your readers, though you should be prepared for flames when you add drama.

Turns of Phrase

Wit and clever turns of phrase can also be your friend (when used sparingly). If you abuse hyperbolic or ironic statements for a cheap chuckle, you run the risk that your readers will take some of them literally. Puns are also a fun way to introduce a sprinkle of humor. Don’t over-season your titles with puns, though, or the flavor quickly sours.


In Conclusion

If you think of your title as a promise, make sure you deliver in the post. If you spend a lot of time crafting a great title, spend even more time polishing the post behind it. Don’t overhype and underdeliver.

Further Reading

Want some more in-depth advice? Here’s a few good places to start:

Want some useful practice?

The best way to improve any skill is applied practice. If you want better headlines, practice writing them. Try a few of these practical exercises to improve your headlines.

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