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

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Getting "ahead" in blogging, and labels

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?
(That's also why you need to put labels after each post...they help your readers search for your ideas, and increase SEO) 

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 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 post?
  • 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
What makes a bad headline? A good one? 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 Oklahoma Publisher, the statewide newspaper of the Oklahoma Press Assocaition, under "Clark's critique).


  1. I haven't really had very many "headlines" so I probably just need to work on that in general. Typically, a headline does grab readers' attention so they're pretty important and I need to utilize that more!

  2. I am TERRIBLE at headlines! I definitely need to work on my creativity while also remaining simplistic.

  3. I am TERRIBLE at headlines! I definitely need to work on my creativity while also remaining simplistic.

  4. I know sometimes with my headlines I do play on the words, but I think I need to improve on looking at what is trending. Then see how my headline would get more coverage if choosing from stuff that is trending.

  5. I've noticed in my headlines, I tend to get stuck on the same style. What I'm trying to do better is keep it fresh by being more creative and working in different styles.

  6. I want to improve making my headlines more interesting by possible making a play on words and definitely using short words because that flows with the theme of my blog also.

  7. If there is one thing I think I may need to work on most, it would probably be the choice of words I choose to get the readers attention. I plan to put a little more time into why or how I choose my headlines.

  8. One thing I would try to improve about my own headlines is to try and make them more concise by using short words and being to the point.

  9. I am going to work on making my headlines stronger and shorter. Some of my headlines tend to be too long.

  10. I want to improve bringing people in. I kind of just half-ass a title most times, and it just usually kind of correlates with my story. There isn't really a continuity throughout.

  11. I need to be using words in my headlines that bring people to my page.

  12. I have only had to write a couple of headlines so far and they were simple. I need to work on making the headlines more creative to grab the readers attention.

  13. Headlines, definitely. I need to have catchy ones, headlines that attract views.

  14. I have only made two blog headlines so far, and I thought they were pretty creative. I do think I can improve them by making them more mysterious or creative.

  15. I need to work on making my headlines better. I also need to get rid of writers block

  16. I don't have very many headlines so far so it's hard to saw what I can improve on. My first one was "Introduction" which got a score of 0, but the title for the post I'm writing now got a B+ with a score of 27. I think the analyzer tool will be really helpful and will try to be mindful of my headlines while I'm writing.

  17. My average tends to be B+. I think my titles are pretty okay. At least compared to some that I've encountered online. I guess I could try to push the envelope more.