Headlines don’t have to cause headaches


Confession: I don’t love writing headlines for my content marketing writing assignments.

I started my writing career in journalism. As a high school student, I worked on an amazing award-winning student-run newspaper and, in addition to writing articles, I was the copy editor and the go-to headline writer.  

In journalism, headlines are simple and straightforward. It’s all about action and, if you can work in a pun, you’re golden.

In content marketing, headlines are a different animal. But, in all honesty, the basic elements of a successful content marketing headline are actually pretty much the same as in journalism. 

Here’s what I know:

  • Shorter headlines perform better.
  • Readers like interesting headlines, both thematically and visually. 
  • Content marketing audiences like lists (“X Ways to Write a Hot Headline”) 
  • Would you believe that question marks can get more clicks? 

If you’ve ever read an article about how to write a successful headline, you probably knew some or all of those claims already. They’re all well-documented and backed up by data.

Don’t stop there.

Here are a few more tactics to create a stellar headline:

  • Don’t make the mistake of making all headlines positive.
  • Lean on data with numbers and statistics in your headlines.
  • Contextualize your content by calling it what it is: an introduction, a how-to guide, et al.
  • Make it timely by referring to current events or trends.

Become the author of killer headlines, without succumbing to frustration and brain aches, takes a lot of practice. And even when you develop the skill, you can’t expect to write the perfect headline every day of the week. Just as with other creative abilities, dreaming up great headlines is a skill that ebbs and flows over time. But you’ll never strengthen your headline muscles if you don’t exercise them, so don’t shy away from the opportunity. When I’m feeling hot, I might write two or three different headlines for a piece. Sometimes I narrow it down to just one before submitting to a client, and other times I might include a couple of options so they can choose what sparks excitement on their end. And, obviously, a big factor in content marketing is SEO, so it’s wise to keep that in mind when you’re drafting possible headers. 

That’s one way to build your headline-writing skills. Another is to run those possible headlines through a headline analyzer. I like this one from CoSchedule, which is a free tool that evaluates readability, sentiment, clarity, and other factors that will impact how your headline might perform. You’ll get an overall score, an SEO score, and specific actionable advice on improving your headline. Over time, the practice of using a headline analyzer will improve your writing skills, because you’ll learn what to look for and many of the strategies will become second nature. 

If you’re not quite feeling confident enough to write better headlines and you need to know more, read through Content Marketing Institute’s A-to-Z tips for headline writing. There’s a lot of great advice there. But the best advice I can give you is to learn the basics, avoid overthinking it, and just start writing. A bad headline can always be improved, and practice will help you build your skills and avoid the headaches of headline writing.