Headline Writing Tips and Tricks

Writing headlines is becoming a lost art. On the internet, with unlimited amounts of space available, writers and editors have become very lazy with their headlines, with some very unfortunate results.

On the other hand, digital publishing also forces some fairly stringent rules upon headline writers if you are interested in search engine optimization.

Here are some tips about how to write a really good headline:

  • Headlines must be as brief as you can possibly make them. Delete every extraneous word. Following good grammar rules often results in poor headlines.
  • Our style rules require a minimum of 38 characters (including spaces and punctuation marks if there are any.) The reason for this minimum is that our home page design requires that all headlines take up at least two lines.
  • The maximum character limit results from the need to keep headlines from bleeding over into a third row. Search engines are also limited to search for 66 character headlines.
  • Use well-known abbreviations whenever possible. U.S. instead of United States. UK instead of United Kingdom. (Note that U.S. requires periods to differentiate it from the word “us” while “the UK” does not require periods because there is no such word as “uk.”)
  • Do not use questions as headlines.
  • Avoid all punctuation marks in headlines including quote marks.
  • You can use colons: but use them very sparingly.
  • There is a theory that your headlines should be so vague as to force the reader to click into the story. There’s another theory that your headlines should be as explicit as possible. Our take on this is that search engines ignore vague headlines. We think headlines should tell the reader what the story is about. This is however a matter of choice for you.
  • Headlines should begin with the Keyword. The keyword is the single word or phrase that identifies the most important factor in the story. If the story is about Donald Trump, the first word in the headline should be “Trump.” If the story is about the New England Patriots, the keyword – and the first word in the headline – should be “Patriots.” If the article is really about Tom Brady, start with “Brady.”
  • Profanity is not permitted in headlines.
  • Try to avoid using conjunctions and prepositional phrases in headlines.
  • The editors reserve the right to amend your headline without notice.