Print headlines and web headlines are two different species. They are only linked by a minor thread of DNA. A headline for a print newspaper can be something as lame as “County Roundup” and people will read that article. That headline might as well say “Don’t Read This”.
Your headline is your first opportunity to grab a potential reader. If it’s a good headline, you will put out enough information to make a reader want to click and read the rest. On average, 8 out of 10 people will read headline copy, but only 2 out of 10 will read the rest.
Let’s look at some headlines that fail the print to web transition.
1. No compelling reason to click the headline
This is far and away the most common problem with newspaper websites. Many of them make no effort to write a specific web headline for the stories. For example, instead of “Late tweaks add conflict to city plan”, something like “Raleigh City Council aims to halt urban sprawl with 5 block Special Study Area”. Hopefully, teasing them with Special Study Area is enough for readers to say, “what the hell is that?”
2. No geographic keywords in the headline that make it findable via search
If a story may be of interest to people outside your everyday visitors, do some research. A headline like “Missing veteran may be found” is weak on many levels, but mostly in it’s findability via search.
It may be found if someone searches on veteran, but chances are, they aren’t looking for that story. The story is about a body the police found and they think it may be John Cheatham, a 76 year old veteran who had dementia. The story is important, but you’d never know by the headline.
A better headline would have been aimed at all the families dealing with a similar situation. Something more like: Durham Police may have located 76 year old dementia victims body. That way someone could search for “durham police” and stumble upon that story, or maybe a search for “dementia durham”. Just adding Durham to the title does a nice job of geo-targeting the story.
3. Too cute to show up for any search
Although there no headlines in the screenshot I pulled tonight, you know what I mean. Headlines that are a play on words, or use some movie title to play off of. Here’s a few I have jotted down in the past:
- Fear and Loathing in <insert place here>
- Don’t Sweat The <insert cheeky finish here>
- There’s Something About Mary <some local mary X’s last name goes here>
There’s a lot of tools you can use to do a bit of keyword research before you pick a headline. Tune in tomorrow for part 2.