Official blog of Clark's Blogging for Journalists class, Mass Communication department

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Getting "ahead" in blogging

When I started writing a monthly newspaper trade column almost 20 years ago, the Internet was relatively new, as was email. There were no blogs, no Facebook, no Instagram, no twitter. Digital cameras were high priced.

I remember teaching headline writing in classes and for the Oklahoma Press Association.  At the time, I always said the headline was the most important element on a page, because it accomplished four different chores at once. They grab attention, tell the story, rate the news, and help dress up your pages.

Today, there are still headlines, and all of that is still true.

But while the way we write headlines has changed dramatically with digital type—rather than having to “count” spaces, we just tap a key to reduce or enlarge sizes to fit, they’re more important than ever.

In fact, they accomplish even more. Ever hear of SEO (Search engine optimization)?  Of course you have.

Tell me,  isn’t that what a good headline has always been?

And today, as our attention spans get shorter and shorter thanks to digital media and the explosion of speed delivering news in all media, they’re crucial to attracting impatient, hurried, distracted-by-other-media readers.

I just “read” the New York Times this morning. How? By scanning the headlines on the computer.  Check any other news outlet on line. People scan the headlines and expect to come away with a general sense of what has happened. We’ll go back and read the ones we want more information in later. All the Internet search engines spend lots of money trying to come up with catchy headlines to attract you to their pages, and thus boost ad hits.

Nothing new, is it, except the media and the speed?

 I’ve found I need to teach my blogging students how to write “headlines” on their blog posts. I took it for granted until I found my blog traffic going up depending on the words in the headlines, and that most of my students had no clue.

All those old headline practices and tips that I’ve taught, or written about in the past have changed with the digital world. To me, there are only two rules in headline writing these days: Be accurate. Don’t be boring.
They one important key to attracting readers to your posts.

So, here’s a brief how-to checklist on writing  headlines, in any media, especially blogs.
  • What’s the key point of the article?
  • What will most appeal to your readers?
  • Make a list of the strongest, most concrete nouns and verbs
  • Have you chosen words that are trending in search engines?
  • Use action verbs when possible
  • Use short words   
  •  Look for anything unusual 
  •   Is there any play on words you can use to heighten interest?
  • Use the shortest words possible 
  • Use the biggest type you can (for print version)
  • Use consistent legible type (no fancy fonts)
  • Get to the point early
  • More label heads are ok—one or two strong words—with or without a verb (Let a subhead add essential details)
  • Edit—ask yourself if you can write it more briefly
Students: check the headlines on your posts and see how they measure up.
Below, comment on one thing you will improve.
(A version of this article will appear in the February, 2014, issue of The Oklahoma Publisher, the statewide newspaper of the Oklahoma Press Assocaition, under "Clark's critique).


  1. My headlines have been just thoughts I have during my writing. I use some songs lyrics or have my headline be something I mention in my blog post. My first one was an Italian phrase that means a lot to me and I translated it in my post.

    I think maybe I should put more thought into my headlines. They are not anything special and I would like them to be more creative.

  2. I did not think about my headlines enough in previous stories. Because of this, past headlines are poorly thought out and poor color choices. I will get better starting by making them more bold and catchy.

  3. My headlines have been short and concise, often just including buzz words from my story or a clever way to summarize the post.

    I could improve by including more buzz words and increasing the creativity of the headlines.

  4. For the moment, I think my headlines are simple and to the point. I would to make special mention to this one, "Game developer King trademarks the words 'Candy' and 'Saga'….What?!" The headline speaks for itself. But I hope that my headlines aren't to long in the future.

  5. So far my headlines have been pretty short. Only one or two words long. However i haven't really been doing a good job of including buzz-words or key terms from the article.
    I'd say i need to work more on being creative.

  6. I've always wondered how I could make money by being a blogger. The point you made about search engine websites spending a lot of money on headlines to attract people in order to boost ad hits answered that question. I didn't realize how important headlines were, so I'll definitely work on making mine catchy from now on.

  7. My headlines are way too simple and not really noticable so i really need to be more specific about the topic i am posting on and make sure they stand out!!!

  8. My headlines have been short and simple. I need to be more creative and define a more specific style of writing for what I want from my blog. I have an idea of what I want to talk about but I need to be more specific.

  9. I try to make my headlines as catchy and short as possible, summing things up in just a few words.

  10. My headlines have been pretty short and to the point, but I can work on using more exciting words to grab the readers attention!! My headlines are good but not great, and they can be better.

  11. My headlines are to simplistic. I want to make them catchy somehow so people will notice.

  12. With my headlines, I tend to foreshadow what is to come in the post. I want it to provoke the curiosity in my readers by the headlines I concoct. I should try to make cultural references so that can be the "reeling" point of my readers and will want to read on how this reference came about in an Alfred Hitchcock blog.

  13. I never really thought about having a very nice headline that makes the reader want to read your blog post. I always thought by having good content that was enough but with SEO it make sense to have something that will bring traffic to your site.

  14. so far my headlines have been boring and short. I need to thing of something catchy to bring in more traffic. I never really put a lot of thought into having a catchy headline but now it is something to consider.

  15. I think my headlines need some fresh elements, for now it is to simple. I just use the formal form. Change the headline colorful or new fresh to attract people's eyes.

  16. Sometimes I feel like my headlines should be shorter. Not so much on this blog so far, but on past blogs.