How-to-headlines

We are taught that great content drives readership. It’s true for newspapers, magazines, TV, and radio. But it’s not as simple as that for websites.

Newspapers and television news stations are visible and have a brand name. Few websites do. We need to steer the reader to us.

Great headlines steer and drive the reader to your website. Great content keeps the driver parked at your website.

Headlines are sometimes one of the most difficult things to write – especially for online. In the past the headline only had to tease the reader and, of course, summarize the story in a special way. The whole idea was to get that reader to sit down and read your story. Online news writing changed all that. Now we have to write headlines for the reader but also for the searcher.

And that’s where SEO comes in.

SEO equals search engine optimization. What that means is making your story easy to find on search engines like Google.

One way to do that is to write a headline with searchers in mind. Think like a searcher. If you were trying to find a story about a great Italian restaurant in DC, what would you put in the search engine to find that story? What are your key words?

Let’s see. Italian, food, restaurant, DC, and best.

Now think of a headline with those key words. How about “Best Italian Restaurant in DC?”

Here are a few rules:
1. Google puts first things first. Your first word should be the most important, and the second the next most important and so on. Those are words that are plugged in the search engine.
2. No headline should be longer than 65 characters with spacing. For our purposes at UPIU, we are asking for headlines no longer than 50 characters. That’s because Google doesn’t fully read headlines past 65 characters, which means the lazy searcher is NOT going to select your story if it can’t be fully read.
3. No puns. Sorry, sports fans, a searcher won’t use puns.
4. Make sure the headline is about the story. A headline is a promise. It is our job to deliver.
5. Google does not understand synonyms.
6. Google is literal.
7. Be concise.
8. Be descriptive.
9. Think like the searcher.
10. If you are concerned that you can’t write that awesome headline because of these new restrictions. You might find out you are writing much better headlines. Someone once put it this way: “It’s not about writing for Google. It’s about writing for humans, with search engines in mind.”

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