Nov 9 2009
by Geoff Livingston
It doesn’t matter what the property is (image by junkerjane). From Twitter and email to document and blog post titles, your ability to write great headlines (or 140 character writing) matters more than ever. Great headlines drive traffic and interest.
Attention spans have shrunk, and if you can’t interest someone right off the bat with a great, witty headline then you’re out. Done, finished, out! That’s why Peter Shankman is right in valuing writing skills above all else.
Below find five basic tips from my experiences writing headlines:
1) Active versus passive: Man, it drives me crazy when I see one of my posts using a passive verb. People want exciting, fun titles. Active headlines inspire emotive responses, while passive ones invite reader to click visit someone else’s feed! Passive headline writing means I’m sloppy and that I didn’t care enough to review my work thoroughly.
2) Get sassy with it! Yeah, I said sassy. Seriously, throw some edge into it. You can call it tabloid, I call it interesting. Who wants to read business writing anymore? How exciting are all of these press releases? Oh boy! No thanks!
That doesn’t mean write sexual entendres into every communication. You may not like what you get back! Plus, great writers infuse edginess and excitement into their writing without resorting to juvenile tactics (at least most of the time). This is a great segue for…
3) Genuine headlines: Your headline serves as a preview. It should be genuine in describing the actual content, as opposed to teasing readers into a false experience. Consider this: You want them to come back, right? So write authentic headlines that do relate to your copy. Further, back the headline up right away in the first paragraph with a great thesis statement.
4) Less words: My dad used to be managing editor of the Philadelphia Daily News. Growing up with him editing my documents was a Dantean experience at times, but one for which I am now eternally grateful. His mantra: Cut the fat! What can you cut? How can you say a six word headline in four? What words can you replace with a new singular word. Take the time time to relentlessly review and cut the fat.
5) Intentionally incomplete: Sometimes I’ll just drop a phrase or even one word as the headline. It accurately depicts a part of the story, but is so open ended it’s the complete tease that draws them in. The post or document must be well described by such a phrase so the headline’s abstract depiction resonates.
What would you add to these five headline tips?
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