Developing a good article headline that’s going to pull in readers on an online platform is much more complicated than simply requiring expert wordsmith skills. Things like search engine results truncation and smaller screens on mobile devices create a length-restricting use case where article titles need to accomplish all the traditional summarization and marketing purposes while doing it under tight restrictions. Back in the day of print publishing things were a bit easier; the available space on the page determined the length of your content headlines and you only had to compete with the other articles in the publication for readers.
It’s important to be concise with your headlines: get to the point with as few words as possible. While the Internet as a publishing platform created a situation where article headlines physically have no limit, writers and editors that write content titles are very restricted by how much space they have to write a good title. Google will cut-off your article title on the search results page somewhere between 50 and 65 characters depending on the size of the text characters. This means that any article that uses more than 50 characters stands a chance of being cut short in search results. The content will be received poorly by SEO rankings because the important keywords are not in the text that’s displayed within the results.
Potential viewers may not be able to interpret what the article is about if vital information doesn’t appear in the results. However, the size limitation can actually help out by forcing headline writers to be concise. If someone is browsing through search results or their Facebook feed, a shorter title that immediately gets to the point stands a better chance of attracting the viewer’s attention and a click-through.
The AP Style’s title rules are great place to start with getting help writing shorter titles, even if you’re not in the news industry. For example, using the abbreviation “No.” instead of writing “number” and writing the digit instead of spelling out a number as word. Also, titles don’t have to be complete sentences, so sentence fragments like “Police: 3rd St. Murder Suspect Innocent” are acceptable. If you’re writing a list or have a main point of an article that can be quantified, use numbers in your headlines. Something like “10 Tips for Teachers” is more appealing than “Tips for Teachers.” Colons can also be helpful with eliminating unnecessary words.
It’s important to write a headline that entices the viewer but doesn’t give away the reason for someone to read the content. For example, instead of posting “Johnson wins Governor Election,” you could write “Governor Election Results In.” Additionally, injecting some sort of emotional element to your headline can help appeal to your audience and encourage more people to view your content. However, you should be cautious with the emotional appeal and avoid getting into situations where you’re pandering. While you may get a strong reaction out of an emotionally pandering headline, it can reflect poorly on your reputation.
Dan S is a former news journalist turned web developer and freelance writer. He has a penchant for all things tech and believes the person using the machine is the most important element.