According to Copyblogger, “on average, 8 out of 10 people will read headline copy, but only 2 out of 10 will read the rest.” While it’s true that we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, in online publishing, a headline can make or break an article. It’s what people read on search engines and on social media and on the FANDOM website, so it’s crucial to get it right.
Many writers overlook the importance of a headline, but with some thought and following a few simple tips, your headline could attract more people than you realized.
"Getting the headline right is the most important aspect of any feature. You can write the most brilliant piece of editorial in history, but if the headline isn't compelling enough to get people to click, no one will read it." - FANDOM UK Managing Editor, Chris Tilly
To attract the aforementioned 8 out of 10 readers, there are a few things you need to consider when writing your headline. To stand out, it should:
- Be clear and obvious but without giving the entire article away in one sentence
- Be short, snappy, and to the point. An ideal length is 5-6 words and/or 50-60 characters
- Show personality through emotive words and unique turns of phrase
- Start with the topic your article is about. Readers tend to skim headlines, so best to lead with what your article is talking about
Obvious with a hint of mystery
Your headline should aim to be obvious enough to let the reader know what they’re in for but not so obvious that it gives the whole story away.
FANDOM Contributor Travis Newton’s How 'Fantastic Beasts' Will Solve its Protagonist Problem headline is a great example of the balance you want to strike. Before clicking on the article, a reader quickly knows the following points:
- The article is about ‘Fantastic Beasts’
- There’s a problem with the lead character
- The article will explore the ways in which the movie will solve this problem
Here’s what it doesn’t do:
- Overshare – we don’t know what the solution is
- Click bait – there’s nothing misleading or sensationalized about it
This article’s contents still remain a mystery while giving the reader enough information to know what they’re getting into by clicking the link. As a result, this article attracted over 170,000 pageviews and had more than 3,500 referrals from social media.
Short and to the point
Research suggests that a headline performs best when it is:
- 5-6 words long
- 50-60 characters (including spaces) long
In 2016, out of FANDOM News and Stories’ top-performing articles of the year (those with more than 100,000 pageviews), the average length of a headline was 8 words and 49 characters (including spaces). More than 80% of these top-performing articles also had headlines with 60 characters or less.
This is what 60 characters in the headline looks like in Google:
This is what 58 characters in the headline looks like in Google:
While word/character length isn’t necessarily the only factor involved in making these articles successful, it’s an important element that shouldn’t be overlooked in your process.
Why it’s important
Your headline’s word count is important because that’s what’s seen on search engines. If it’s too long then it gets cut off and potential key information is lost.
As you can see in this example, the key information is lost, thereby losing a large chunk of your audience who came searching for something specific. If you want to test how your headline will look in Google, insert it into CoSchedule’s Headline Analyzer. This Headline Analyzer is a great tool for looking at your headline the way a reader will and comes highly-recommended from the FANDOM Editorial team.
Inject some personality into it
As mentioned in our writing guidelines, just like your article needs to make your readers feel something, so does your headline. You have so few words to play with, so you need to make every one count.
Cold, direct headlines are easy. “This thing happened…” or “This thing came out…” is the most direct way to convey information, but it’s not the most interesting and engaging way to represent your hard work.
A few ways you can add personality to your headline might include:
- Using a clever pun
- Being deliberately snarky or sarcastic
- Adding humor
- Using emotive words
- Asking a question
- Common literary devices like alliteration, assonance, or consonance
- Get creative in your word choice
Lead with your topic
The way we read online is different to how we approach other forms of media. As writers, you need to be aware of these differences so you can use them to your best advantage.
Make your headline easily scannable by leading with the most important information. Some research suggests that readers generally only notice the first and last three words of a headline, so make those words count. Fill the middle with your emotive words and personality, and try not to bury the point of the article behind superfluous words.
A note on numerals
When writing a headline for a listicle, always use the numeral to represent how many things are on your list. Writing the numeral in your headline instead of the word for the number saves precious character space and is an easy shortcut for readers. Research has also shown that readers are more likely to click on a headline with a numeral in the headline – some research even suggests that odd, random numbers other than 5 or 10 are more clickable again – so it’s worthwhile keeping this rule in mind for your next listicle.
Here are some examples:
If you want to read more about how to write headlines, these are useful resources to check out:
How to Write Headlines That Work from Copyblogger
Writing Headlines That Get Results from Copyblogger
Headline Analyzer from CoSchedule – this content marketing company created a tool that analyzes headlines for effectiveness. It has some limitations but is useful for seeing your headline from a new perspective.
Fandom News and Stories Writing Guidelines
Fandom News and Stories Style Guidelines