How to Write Better Headlines

Many more talented marketers have spent a lot of time on this subject. I’m not sure I have anything much different or more meaningful to add.

But, I’m also reasonably confident that an automated WordPress widget doesn’t either.

Every time I write a headline for this blog, a little box appears with a 0-100 score. When you click, it dispenses an analysis of the title, including insights on “word balance,” sentiment, and other important-sounding, quantified metrics.

So far, I’ve seen no evidence that higher scores from this widget result in differential outcomes. “Better” titles don’t appear to generate more or happier readers.

But, it has made me stop to think about who I’m writing for and why.

Writing used to be about reaching a human being. If you did it well over time, a writer might build a relationship with a reader through their work. And, if that happened with enough readers, a writer could start to build a reputation. People read Michael Lewis and Malcolm Gladwell because they’re Michael Lewis and Malcolm Gladwell.

But, we – as readers – treat searching and search engine results differently. There, we immediately extract the one piece of information or insight we need and quickly move on to the next thing. When’s the last time you started following a writer because of a result served up from a search query?

An audience’s relationship is no longer with a set of writers they know and love and trust. The relationship is now with Google’s search algorithm.

As a result, writing has morphed into an exercise of chasing increasingly fickle and fleeting audiences through an algorithm, using concepts like keyword density and backlinking strategy. Tools like the headline widget, while innocuous enough, nudge us even farther down that path.

If you’re wondering, the headline for this article scored an 84 out of 100, my highest score yet from the little widget. The irony is not at all lost on me that this post has nothing to do with writing better headlines.

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