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

Tuesday, September 30, 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, and labels, 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 appeared in the February, 2014, issue of The Oklahoma Publisher, the statewide newspaper of the Oklahoma Press Association, under "Clark's Critique").

Assignment: Look at the last three headlines on your blog, and the labels. How do they measure up? How can you improve them? Post below today.


  1. I like my headlines, they are pretty clear and they signalize what you can find in each of the posts.

  2. I noticed that my headlines are very simple; hinting at the overall topic (sort of like a tag or a label.) Such as "Baby News:" and then I will go into specifics in the opening sentence of the article.
    I will try to work on making more dynamic headlines and not just little hints.

  3. My headlines are short and simple, and I always try to use a play on words. I need to work on using more tags in my stories, because sometimes I forget. I think that is the main thing I need to work on in order to get more traffic on my blog.

  4. My headlines are simple. I try not to use too many words in the title. I try to come up with creative titles that hint towards what the post will be about, but not too obvious. I need to work on becoming better at staying focused on my original topic. I can tell that I may have trailed off from the purpose of my blog.

  5. My headlines signalize what the post is going to be about without going into too much detail. I could maybe make some of them shorter, but I feel like overall they draw readers in.

  6. I think that my recent headlines are written in "news style". I usually just put a couple words that describe my post as a whole. I could probably make my font a bit bigger; I may work on that today.

  7. My headlines are just to attract readers from listing the location. So when someone puts into a search engine it is directed to my blog, and there is nothing fancy about my headlines. I think I can personally improve them a lot. Maybe use more action verbs, and shorter headlines, make them larger. Then possibly use play on words.

  8. My headlines are all pretty short in length so they are easy to read and simple. I think one thing I do with my headline is it leads into the story, but it doesn't really tell you anything just by reading the headline. I can't decide whether I like it that way, where it leaves the reader wondering, or whether I should have it more descriptive. But one thing I could improve on are using popular words and words the draw peoples attention in.

  9. My headlines are short and sweet, I have them in large font that is easy to read. I feel like I could make my headlines a little more creative or catchy, because the may be too simple. I feel like the brief headlines are a good way to attract attention as well as using play on words, I'm just not that creative.

  10. While my headlines on my blog tend to be longer, they are for a reason: they are song lyrics. I wanted to use song lyrics because one of the major focuses of my blog is music, and I try to use different lyrics for every post that pertain, in a way, to what the post is about. My labels are concise and describe the major elements of each posts for references later. I will try to work on using shorter lyrics or more descriptive and not vague lyrics.

  11. I feel my headlines are decent but I need to improve on what the labels are for posts in order to improve the search engine optimization.

  12. There is no theme to my headlines. Some post do not even have a headline. I do usually try to include a play on words if possible, I feel that is a strength. My blog does not let me make my headline very large, that is a weakness. I feel like I could increase the attention just by enlarging the font. Blogging is a new thing for me, so I am learning as I go. I do agree my headlines could use some work and I will continue to improve on that as the semester passes.

    Susan Phillips

  13. My headlines are really short. Since I have a food blog, my headlines are usually just the name of the food that I post. I think that my headlines really do need a lot of work. My blog headlines should be a little more interesting, so they can capture the reader's attention.

  14. My headlines are informational and to the point. Recently I have tried to create headlines that are more catchy that will make readers want to read it and find out more. I need to start utilizing the tags so that more people will possibly see my blog and so that it can allow readers to see simple words that will give them a clear understanding about the blog content.

  15. After reading this article, I immediately thought about the length of my blogs that I write. I've been getting better with length of the blog but I always have trouble thinking of a headline that would draw attention to the reader. Making my headlines more creative so the blog can grab attention is what I'm looking to get better on since I may not be that creative like others that write blogs.

  16. I feel that my headlines are to the point and give the reader an idea of what the story will be about. I do try to make them informative as well as catchy.

  17. I think my headlines might be a bit too vague, with the intent to capture reader's attention, though I'm not sure it is working. I will try to keep them short and to the point but utilize playing on words when I can think of it.

  18. I think my headlines are interesting and leave the readers questioning what I mean by the headline. But they might not be attractive enough to get someone to actually read along. I need to work on explaining the content a bit more.