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

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Getting "ahead" in blogging

When I started writing a monthly newspaper trade column  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,  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?

For bloggers, they're more important than ever. 
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 Association, under "Clark's critique).

Bookmark this evaluator on your blog or computer to test the heads you write. Spend 10 minutes playing with it.

Head's up!  


  1. My only two headlines right now seem to good enough. But moving forward I can make sure it's short and to the point.

  2. I tried a headline I have always used and then a few that I was thinking about for my next blog post. I was surprised that they all scored so slow, but I think I need to work on adding more uncommon words to my headlines.

  3. The website said that my headline was "generic." Bummer. I need to be more creative and add emotion.

  4. I really liked my first headline "Read This or Els-a", but unfortunately it came up as generic. I will improve my headline posts by choosing more creative, and uncommon words.

  5. My first real headline got a pretty good score after a couple tries with the headline analyzer. Adding uncommon words is a good thing to do I think when thinking of a headline.

  6. I think I could just be more creative. Golf can be pretty boring for someone who doesn't watch or play, so spicing it up with a play on words would certainly help.

  7. I got a decent score for my recent headline, but I think the headlines that need most of my attention are the letters that I want to publish. I want to think of something creative for them, but at the same time it is a serious blog, so I don't want it to distract from the topic.

  8. I got decent scores for both of my headlines. I need to use different, more emotional words to empower readers to read my blog posts.

  9. My headlines have been decently creative. I think moving forward I can definitely be focused on coming up with creative titles that intrigue possible readers!