Factor #1: Search Engine Optimization (Write Headlines Google Will Love)
Content writers today must please Google with their headlines as much as their readers. This may entail sacrificing clever ideas in favor of targeted keywords.
If you’re a writer, the pressures to consider SEO can be frustrating. But it can actually be fun channeling your creative juices into coming up with something brilliant under severe constraints. Kind of like writing a few sonnets or a haiku.
And the payoff can be huge: A grabby, well-optimized headline can attract traffic to your site not only today, but potentially for years down the road. That’s why SEO knowledge is an essential skill for anyone writing online headlines.
Factor #2: Social Media (Write Shareable Headlines)
Social media is playing an increasingly important role in determining which of our site pages are read, and by how many people. Consider this: if an article you write—with a great headline—gains traction on Facebook, you’ll see a surge in traffic to that page. And with social media, the effect can be nearly instantaneous. Instead of waiting days for Google to index your pages, you can gain thousands of immediate visitors by going viral on Twitter.
Something else to consider is the fact that social media optimization is now overlapping with SEO—meaning that Google looks for “social signals” when calculating page ranking. If your page is widely shared on Twitter and Facebook, it gets a thumbs-up from Google that can be just as powerful as a link-back from an authority domain.
Factor #3: Word Count (Write Headlines That Say More with Less)
Writing short, punchy headlines pays—in more ways than one.
For example, on Twitter, the maximum length of a Tweet is 140 characters—including the shortened URL, which typically is 17 characters in length. When you factor in leaving room for the retweeting command (which allows others to share your tweet), you could be left with as little as 80 characters for the headline. If you can get your point across in that limited space, you’ll have a tweet that can be easily shared by others again and again.
And shorter headlines simply do a better job of commanding people’s attention. Remember the lightning bug headline from earlier? It’s a mere 5 words long. Pick up any newspaper and you’ll spot a similar trend. Whether standing in the checkout line or viewing a web page, readers scan before they read in-depth. So piquing their interest as quickly as possible is crucial.
Factor #4: Isolation
As content writers, we generally assume readers will see the headline right above the body content—or at least with an accompanying photo, image or block of introductory text. In these instances, the headline works only when read in conjunction with one of more of these other elements.
But what if your headline is read as part of an RSS feed, on Facebook, or Google+?
With social media, we must write headlines with the knowledge they may be read in isolation, without supporting text or blurbs. On social media sites, when headlines are seen alone or listed with hundreds of other headlines, they must be fully understandable and compelling enough to get the reader to click through.
Factor #5: Design
Is the visual design of an online headline important? You bet it is. When people scan a page quickly on a social networking site like Digg, for example, it’s critical to catch their eye and command their attention. Consider these two headlines:
* Photo of Octopus with Nine Arms
* Octopus With 9 Arms! [PHOTO]
The second version has been designed with social media in mind. Which version of the headline would catch your eye in a fast-moving Twitter stream?