Web headlines have to work harder than print headlines. Here’s why

Over on the brand new Content Desk site, I’ve written a post on the craft of online headline writing. Underscoring the piece is an argument that web headlines have to work harder than print headlines. Here’s why:

Invariably a print headline, whether in a magazine or a newspaper, will be supported by:

– a standfirst (sometimes known as the sell, intro or kicker)
– an image or photograph
– an image caption
– a pull-quote; and
– the article itself

All of the above help sell the article. If the headline doesn’t pull you in, the image might; if not the image then the standfirst, the image caption, the pull-quote or even the opening few paragraphs of the piece itself.

By contrast, an online headline will often act alone – seen among a list of links on your website, a link on someone else’s site, on Twitter or on a search engine results page. And because it frequently works alone, the headline must do more.

We can argue over the merits of some online headline (link bait, anyone?) but what is more difficult to dispute is this: if a headline gets clicked on, it has succeeded; if it doesn’t, it has failed. That’s web meritocracy in action.

Click here to read ‘How to write headlines for the web‘ in full.