Why the Headline is So Damn Important

collage of headlines

We’ve all been told how important a headline is. Now comes this from Copyblogger: Eight out of 10 people will only read the headline.

Kind of puts the headline’s importance in perspective, doesn’t it?

But what makes a good headline? What makes people claim that “Butt Seized by Terror Police” is a bad headline (and a real one from the British network ITV), and what makes “For Sale: One Used Internet Company Called Yahoo” a good headline (and a real one from NPR)?

If you want more of those eight people to read your words, you’ve got to know what it takes to craft a winning headline that will put the eyes on your prose.

There is only one thing that matters and that’s readers. The headline acts as the first impression that invites people to read on. Some might think a headline should make people care about the story. It doesn’t matter if they care. All that matters is if they read.

So, the reason ITV’s “Butt Seized by Terror Police” is a bad headline is because it makes you laugh and think it’s some kind of Onion headline not to be taken seriously. The real story is that a man named Hassan Butt was arrested at Manchester Airport on suspicion that he recruited British Muslims to join al-Qaeda. The headline doesn’t convey the seriousness of the story.

Similarly, NPR’s Yahoo headline works because it’s easy to understand, is specific, is not overly clever, and leads to some sort of reader reaction.

When 80% of readers only read the headline, its importance cannot be overstated. Make sure your headlines lead to your desired results: the story getting read.

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