What to avoid when writing online headlines

Headlines are lifelines to our readers. They grab attention, build trust and help time-pressed consumers focus on the stories they care most about. They link readers with our content, giving us a chance to reach our audience across a sea of information.

Headlines also help search engines decide whether our offerings match what users are looking for online or on mobile. Here are some guidelines for choosing your words--and deciding what to leave out of headlines.

Wordiness. Headlines longer than about 55 characters make for undesirable results, because they can cause page titles to be truncated in search results.

Puns and oblique references. Puns may be one of the joys of headline writing, but they’re not terribly compatible with search engine optimization.

Obscure words. Headlines, especially on the web, are no place to show off your wide vocabulary. There’s no reason to use “temblor” when “earthquake” will do.

A word of caution: You are writing for readers, not search engines. Sometimes headline writers get carried away with SEO. It’s counterproductive to put these goals ahead of clarity and common sense.

Taken from Writing Online Headlines: SEO and Beyond, a self-directed course by Eric Ulken at Poynter NewsU.

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    Vicki Krueger

    Vicki Krueger has worked with The Poynter Institute for more than 20 years in roles from editor to director of interactive learning and her current position as marketing communications manager.


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