Greg Rasa has worked at the Seattle Times for 27 years. Suffice it to say, he’s seen a lot of headlines. He’s also written a lot of them … thousands of them. At a recent talk he was giving on writing clickable headlines, I asked the long time news editor if he could recall the very first headline he ever wrote. “I can’t,” he said, “but I bet no one clicked on it.”
The headline is … arguably … more important now than it has ever been in the news and PR industries. Ads, paywalls, enticing paying customers, and attracting attention to important issues depend heavily on lassoing some incredibly short attention spans. People may last only a few seconds on your page or your story or your press release before fluttering away, but it behooves you to at least get them there.
But how do you write a compelling, clickable headline without always depending on the age-old use of yellow journalism/clickbait? Mr. Rasa, The Times’ news editor, offered up numerous solutions during his hour plus seminar, but these were some of my favorites.
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USE ACTION VERBS – Honk, Fizzle, Careen, Blast, Chew, etc. … Action verbs are known attention grabbers.
- Have some fun with the English language (or whatever language you use).
FRONT LOAD BEST STUFF – Google crawls content from the top down, first to last, and that includes headlines.
- Use Google Trends to locate relevant keywords based on specific criteria.
- If you’re writing a press release, always get your company name into the headline when applicable.
BE CONVERSATIONAL – Write headlines like the way people talk … use natural words and syntax. An example:
Bad Headline = Jobs Report Pressures Obama Re-election Outlook
Would you ever say, “Hey, you’re pressuring my outlook?”
Good Headline = Lingering Joblessness an Election Problem for Obama
BE SPECIFIC AND CLEAR – Don’t be too general and/or vague. It’s OK to tease the reader a bit, but try to be as straightforward as possible.
Vague Headline = NYC Looks to Stop Spreading Bedbug Infestations
Specific Headline = Bedbugs: 1 in 15 New Yorkers Had Them Last Year
BEFORE YOU SEND, LOOK AGAIN – Take a moment to put yourself in the readers shoes.
- Does the headline you wrote make sense to someone who has no idea what the story is about?
More tidbits and thoughts on Mr. Rasa’s presentation can be found here and here. And if you ever get the opportunity to see Mr. Rasa speak, I cannot recommend doing so enough. Headlines are important … go learn a thing or two about them.