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

Thursday, February 5, 2015

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?

 Ive 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 are 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. I try and keep my headlines short but I also want them to be direct to the point while letting the reader know what they are about to dive into. But I probably need to focus on using attention grabbing writing to keep the reader involved. It's sometimes difficult to balance between writing an exciting and interested piece while also saying in the least amount of words possible.

  2. All of my headlines are short and pretty to the point. I try to play on words where possible or use common phrases to grab attention, but I probably need to work on making them more interesting and enticing.

  3. Most of the headlines for my posts seem to not relate to the story well enough to tell the reader what the story is about. I might need to improve my headlines by making them more easily relatable to my story and stop trying to be so dang witty.

  4. I will improve on my headlines. These are the most important things because it is the first thing your reader will see. When they read your headline they will determine if they do or do not want to continue reading

  5. I feel that my headlines are dead on. Especially since my blog is about defining words. However, like I have stated in previous comments, I need to focus on the word and not go off on a tangent. Also, trying to get straight into the point and not over analyzing/describing things.

  6. Writing about sports thus far I have always tried to include enough information to interest the reader but not so much that they can see the outcome of my piece. I want to always take an interesting point of view of every article I read and make the person reading think about what I am saying.

  7. My headlines are short phrases that get straight to the point. I think I will start using play on words more so they'll draw more attention to my posts. Try to be careful and not make them misleading as to the content in the post.

  8. Some of my headlines are good and witty t relate to what I'm talking about, but others need work. I need to put more thought into my headlines because it is the first thing the reader looks at on your page.

  9. Keep it short and juicy. I catch myself clicking on new sport information that I didn't intend to look for, but when you see 6'7 400 lbs Committed to BYU that makes you do a double take. Play with words that sound more impactful and roll of the tongue elegantly.

  10. One thing I need to work on is to use words that are trending in search engines.

  11. After reading this post I want to have shorter headlines that are attractive to readers. If it doesn't attract my own attention it won't attract others.

  12. I need to work on writing more attention getting information on my blogs. All my headings have been very sweet and simple, but I may need to work on making them stand out more and explaining what my post is about.

  13. I feel like for a first time blogger my headlines are pretty good. Currently I'm working on making them attention getting to pull the reader in. Also, I want to make sure my headlines are not lengthy.

  14. I want to improve my headlines. I want find catchy headlines what will led people to read my story.

  15. I need to use more keywords and work on what I am tagging because so far I haven't tagged anything and I think that would greatly increase my chances of getting hits from strangers.

  16. After reading this, I will improve on making sure my header is using words that are most likely to come up in search engines and using action verbs. I believe those will really help me in getting my blog out there more for people to read in the future.