Writing online headlines that work

The first Covid vaccine arrived in the UK last week and The Sun newspaper’s headline was: ‘The needle has landed’.

It’s a great pun. The Sun is particularly good at ‘punny’ headlines.

But it’s a headline that only works well in print because there is a picture, caption and additional information – a subheading – to help readers understand what the story is about.

Photo by Bruno Bučar on Unsplash

Did The Sun use the same headline for the online version?

No.

Why?

Because if people are Googling stories about the vaccine they aren’t likely to use ‘needle’ or ‘landed’ in their search terms. Headlines are an important part of search engine optimisation (SEO).

In addition, if you saw a list of different news headlines, would you immediately know what ‘The needle has landed’ was about?

When we are online we tend to make snap decisions. If there are other search results that more readily fit what we are looking for, are clear what the story is about then we’ll more likely click on those.

So the good news, when you are writing headlines for your online content, is that you don’t need to be a whizz at puns.

What a headline needs

Your headline needs to include some key search words, give the reader an idea what the piece is about and make them want to click on the link to read.

The last bit is the trickiest. Writing compelling headlines isn’t easy.

Large news outlets will have sub-editors who are highly skilled at writing headlines.

If you want to test your headline before you publish, imagine it as a Tweet with a link to the story. No extra information just the headline and a link.

If someone saw this ‘Tweet’ in their feed, would they have an idea what the content was about? And would they care enough to want to click on the link and find out more?

There have been some brilliant pun-tastic tabloid headlines over the years, do you have a favourite? Here’s a compilation from website Shortlist.

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