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5 Not-So-Secrets to Writing Great Headlines

Headline Writing Tips

You dream about these too? 

I am happy — dare I say, damn proud — to be a Texan. However, I am one of the most enthusiastic fans of the New York Post I know. One reason — headlines.

The copywriters there are allowed to swig Red Bulls until their eyeballs as jittery as Justin Bieber’s hands following a long night out. (Because he’s never used that stuff. Yeah, right.) Some of the most ballsy headlines for major events comes from the scrivener wonderland, and it got me thinking: “How many methods have we forgotten when it comes to writing headlines?”

I’ll bet many. So, here’s the Top 5 for your flacky needs…

number1. AP Hates Numbers; Readers Do Not. Quick poll: Who reads BuzzFeed? Out of that group, who reads PR Daily? You know what they have in common — click bait by numbers. We call them “listicles,” because our minds have stayed in the 5th grade, but they work. At times, most of these posts seem perfunctory, but they don’t have to be, such as the “5 not-so-secrets to writing great headlines.” BTW, don’t always do that. Show a little diversity with your headline writing abilities. Mmmkay?

kiss it2. K.I.S.S. it. Remember that acronym? “Keep It Simple, Stupid.” Well, that. Some people (present company included) try to over think headlines. There’s no need to make them a fully diagrammed sentence. Make them concise but convey a powerful thought. If the reader has to breathe in the middle of your headline, it’s too long. And, by the time of that breath, the reader (preferably someone you are pitching) has moved on anyway.

NYP Weiner3. Because Giggles Work. Why is the Post or even our buddies from across the pond known for great headlines? They aren’t afraid to take a chance to make you laugh, think and say, “Now I have to read this!” When you read the double-entendre laden headline pictured here, you buy a copy of the paper or click here to read. You have read the story dozens of times, but if the writer can do this, then maybe there’s something special inside.

Perked ears4. Pique Curiosity. Statistics show that 8 of 10 people only read the headline. If the headline doesn’t grab someone, you just lost a reader. This comes with those boring and monotonous subject lines in pitch emails, kids. Writing a headline or subject line has to become an invitation to read the rest of what you are trying to say. With odds like that, you may now understand why some folks in the media aren’t calling you back.

extra-headlines5. Count the Characters. This actually may be a secret — 65. That’s the magic number to Google, as in characters for a headline. The almighty search engine will truncate your daftly written headline if you can’t do it yourself. How many characters end up in the SERP? Yup, 65. Also, it fits into a subject line, so there’s that too. Lastly, this helps for retweet purposes so the narcissistic folk can add their own thoughts (possibly, present company included there, too).

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