News headline writing is an art and a science.
Each news format has its own needs. Newspaper headlines have to fit the space, look good and catch the reader’s eye on a page. Good radio news headlines are simple, unambiguous and to the point.
Online headlines draw on these qualities. They also need to take search engines into account.
From a reader’s point of view the best online headlines are:
- Short. Online readers scan and quickly lose attention. You have four, five, at most six word to grab them. The fewer words the better. Short words are better than long words. Keep the total number of characters to a minimum.
- Concise. Every word plays a role. There’s no room for filler.
- Unambiguous. Nobody should read a headline and wonder what it means. Readers should know what the story is about before they click.
- Simple. Readers shouldn’t need dictionaries to understand your headline immediately.
At the same time you need to make sure your headline is:
- Keyword loaded. So it will turn up in Google searches.
Online writers are often told to add superlatives to headlines as a way of drawing in users. This can work, but for news writing and especially with headlines, adjectives need to earn their place. Only use adjectives when they add essential information. If you need more convincing, remember this, people are far less likely to Google adjectives than nouns.