Writing Online Headlines: SEO and Beyond


Writing Online Headlines: SEO and Beyond

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Perhaps one of the biggest changes in the practice of journalism over the last decade or so has been the increasing degree to which journalists are putting the reader (or user) at the center of their work. If we think of being user-centered in terms of tackling “jobs to be done”—all the ways in which our journalism can help our users inform themselves, navigate their communities, answer pressing questions and generally lead fuller lives—then the headlines we write are like job applications: “Here’s what we can do for you, the user.” Each time a user clicks, we score an interview.

As with job applications, there are techniques and tools that can help increase our likelihood of earning that interview and a chance to develop a deeper relationship with a user. That’s what this course is about.

Writing good headlines for the web today isn’t just about improving search or social media performance, though those are important components. It also isn’t about optimizing for the click—testing and tuning a headline simply to increase clickthrough rate—though, again, there are gains to be achieved there. Getting a compelling “job application” in front of as many relevant users as possible requires a holistic approach that considers all of this, along with journalistic soundness and overall user experience impacts.

We’ll walk through basic principles of SEO, examine how headlines show up in social media and discuss the fundamentals of A/B testing. This course comes with tools you can use repeatedly to help reinforce principles, including:

  • The Headline Helper, which analyzes your headline and story to see whether you’re using the right keywords.
  • The Headline Dashboard, which shows you a preview of how your headlines will appear on different platforms from Google to Facebook and Twitter


  • How to write headlines that work well in search results, social media feeds, mobile apps and other contexts
  • How search engines work and how to choose keywords that will help your content find a search audience
  • What to include—and leave out—of web headlines
  • How you can tune your CMS to handle different headlines for different purposes
  • Tools for testing and optimizing the effectiveness of your headlines
  • Common pitfalls that make your headlines less likely to be read—or clicked


Editors, copy editors, producers, sponsored/native content creators and other online publishers who want to learn more about how to write arresting headlines for digital platforms that help users and publishers alike.

Eric Ulken

Eric manages the digital projects and storytelling team at PMN, the publisher of The Inquirer, Daily News and Philly.com. He also serves as the newsroom’s leader on content management tools, training and video strategy. He joined the company in 2014 as executive director of digital strategy before moving into the newly unified newsroom last year to oversee digital efforts. He previously led digital news and product development at The Seattle Times and held a number of digital roles at the Los Angeles Times, where he co-founded the paper’s award-winning Data Desk.