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Headline Writing Drives Traffic


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?

About Geoff Livingston:

130 Comments on “Headline Writing Drives Traffic

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  2.  by  carol

    “attention spans have shrunk”

    I agree, especially over the internet! can you believe it, even an email from my client was all subject and no body of the email? he managed to squeeze everything in it and relay message even without having me open the email itself! funny but true.

    furthermore with the headers, it’s somewhat saddening to see headers without value but too much keywords. maybe we have search engines to blame for it but I would love to see relevancy there too.

    great post by the way! :)

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  6.  by  Geoff Livingston

    LOL, the header only emails. I have been increasingly guilty of those. I even end them like this — [EOM] — signaling end of message.

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  8.  by  Michael Whitlow

    This caught me at a good time – Headline writing time for the next blog…Now, how do I make GE sound sexy? (CEO Jeff Immelt and I are dealing with the same problem today! Thanks for the great tips.

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  23.  by  Jorge Barba

    You covered valuable angles to which I would add:

    Remember to follow the 7 words or less rule. Be concrete, use emotion and inspire curiosity.

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  27.  by  Elizabeth

    I agree. Don’t be afraid to write with spunk! Don’t bore your readers to death. Add some personality! Write directly, don’t use a 15 words for something you can write in 5.
    Good tips!

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  44.  by  Tiffany Monhollon

    Great list! I’d add one tip, though: Add the unexpected into the process.

    My team does a headline writing brainstorming game where we take random words and pair them with content topics to force us into a creative thought process that is a lot of fun and also keeps our ideas fresh. Sometimes that just starts us on a train of thought we wouldn’t have approached the subject from and sometimes it results in a killer headline.

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  79.  by  Amy

    Lists! In fact, I clicked thru to this post via SmartBrief bc the subject line/link was named “5 tips for catchy headlines.”

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  92.  by  Nicole

    I’d like to see links to headlines that you or someone else has written that exemplify the suggestions you’ve made. The piece feels a bit fluffy as is, but it has great potential to help! Show me, don’t just tell me.

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  94.  by  Geoff Livingston

    Jorge, Elizabeth and Tiffany: Thank you for your additional suggestions.

    Nicole: Then I suggest you read the blog more regularly. I’ve written more than 800 headlines here.

  95.  by  Erich Bridges

    “Less words”? Is it too much to expect decent grammar? I may have a shorter attention span, but I noticed that. FEWER words! Your Dad would hit you upside the head ….

  96.  by  Geoff Livingston

    Carol and Erich: You are correct. If this was a proposal or a formal research report I would change that. As this is a blog, I intentionally write in a colloquial manner, and am comfortable with this foible. Thanks for pointing it out.

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  104.  by  System44

    I love these ideas and tips. They are all invaluable and innately worthwhile. Especially the part about being sassy. Some people might see this type of writing style as inappropriate, but it’s actually the opposite. If you can add a bit of edge to your writing and still have it flow, then you are obviously confident in your writing and knowledgeable about the subject. That’s a given :)

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  108.  by  monica levy

    ditto on “fewer words.”

    and how about spell check? “segway” is the name of the mobile stand-up scooter. you meant “segue.”

    so long as we’re talking about good writing, let’s make sure we “write good.”

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  123.  by  Todd Hampton

    “Take the time time to relentlessly review and cut the fat.”

    The irony of where that is placed is beautiful. Otherwise, great information.

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  126.  by  Julius Hahn

    You made certain nice points there. I did a search on the theme and found the majority of people will have the same opinion with your blog. Hot hotel news. Thank’s for you advise.

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