web analytics

Applying headline writing advice to weaker, old headlines on my site, I realised others might find it useful to see how it works.

So here is my headline improvement clinic. I’ve taken a weak headline and beefed it up:

Are reader donations a publishing business model?

At seven words and 50 characters this headline is short enough. It fits inside Google’s 64 character limit. Yet it could be tighter.

Like all version of ‘to be’, the verb ‘are’ is weak. It’s strengthened because it forms a question, but the headline needs backbone. ‘Can’ isn’t much better than ‘are’, but it’s a step forward. Adding the verb ‘save’ kicks things up a gear.

Articles, like ‘a’ rarely add anything to headlines – they act like padding. It’s best to lose them.

‘Publishing business model’ is jargon and off-putting for most readers. It has to go.

The story isn’t about general publishing, it’s about a print magazine. I could use ‘print magazine’ as the headline’s object, but I prefer brevity, so I’ve opted for ‘print’.

Put these parts together gives me:

Can reader donations save print?

We’re down to a snappy five words and 32 characters. It’s more active than before thanks to the verb ‘save’. It’s also more direct and less off-putting.

Can you think of a better way to rewrite this headline?

4 thoughts on “Headline writing clinic

  1. Tips for new mags?

    OK, maybe a bit obscure. Trying to pun off “cash for old rags” etc.

    • @Bruce – Puns are best left out of the picture when it comes to online headlines, because

      a) only a tiny subset of readers will get the joke as most puns have a cultural context

      b) puns are terrible for search engines. I don’t aim to get too heavily into search engine optimisation, but I don’t want the stories to be found

  2. Using your criteria, I’d go with “Can reader donations save magazines” – given that “print” is also industry terminology that may not mean much to general readers. (Don’t know which is better for Google though – is print a good keyword? Worth investigating.)

    Nice to see your site back to blog format, by the way – I think the redesign works well…

    • I though about using the word ‘magazines’. Strictly speaking it should be ‘print magazines’ as there are online magazines which face different funding issues. And that’s why I reverted to print.

      ‘Print’ is a more popular with Google than ‘magazines’, but I’m not sure which is the better one to use as a keyword in this context.

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