How to write a great headline

by Urs E. Gattiker on 2013/08/16 · 7 comments 5,542 views

in making it work for you

What you measure you can manage
How it was: You came up with a story title and that was it.
Today: How Jeff Bezos teaches the staff of The Washington Post to write great story headlines.
Keywords: KPI, marketing, measure for impact, ROI, social media audit
CyTRAP BlogRank - logo The CyTRAP BlogRank is a measure made up of statistics that help rank blogs. Of particular interest is how blog content is shared with others, and whether these blog entries elicit comments – engagement – from users. Here, headlines play an important role.

Fiat’s Luis Chilmingras, head of digital innovation and telematics, put it well when he said:

You can’t reduce [fuel consumption and emissions] if you don’t measure.”

Of course the same applies to blogging and headlines, how good are yours?

By the way, how good is your headline? Check CyTRAP BlogRank – who won?

1. Target audience

Obviously, a headline that uses a well-known brand name, such as Nike or Adidas, fits a sport blog better than it does a banking blog.

Of course, a headline using a term such as drug addiction can raise interest from a few people, and even more when combined:

2. Keep it short and sweet

Besides hitting your target group with a headline that raises their interest, short is usually better.

For instance, Google does not show more than 60 characters in titles when serving search results.

If you can say it in fewer words, such as only 40 characters (letters and spaces), you are likely to get the message across even better.

3. Ubiquitous blogger ‘list’ posts – how to

The ‘how to’ headline is everywhere, online and off, since it works like a charm. An example might be this blog entry’s headline, How to write a great headline.

CLICK - more INFO - FT CyTRAP BlogRank April 2013 - Top 10 => 3- and 4-year rankings.

4. Newsworthy helps

August 5, 2013 saw the purchse of The Washington Post by the founder of, Jeff Bezos. This made the headlines of many newspapers even a week after it happened (see FT example above AND below).

Put simply, the idea is that by playing on a newsworthy item, Lucy Kellaway’s weekly column might pique more people’s interest.

5. Be direct

Jeff Bezos is a disrupter. Such a title is short, newsworthy (brand Jeff Bezos), and most importantly, direct. Direct headlines go straight to the heart of the matter. For example:

  • New Social Media Monitoring tool: 30 percent off

The above headline states the selling proposition in a direct way. Another example could be, Get a free web analytics e-book.

6. Raise curiosity

Jeff Bezos is a disrupter, but not at home, is direct, and the second portion (but not at home) raises one’s curiosity.

CLICK - more INFO - FT CyTRAP BlogRank April 2013 - Top 10 => 3- and 4-year rankings.

7. Print is not online

As the above examples from Lucy Kellaway’s column show, the printed newspaper’s front page had a teaser for her column in the header. Interestingly, that was quite different from what the FT chose as a teaser for its online platform (print – Lucy’s headshot, online – Jeff’s headshot). One reason could be that regular readers are likely to check out her column. Online readers might be different and become more interested through a photo of Jeff Bezos. At least this appears to have been FT editors’ reasoning.

Similar to the teaser for the column, its online title was also different than that of the print version. Also, the teaser for the online article plays with buzz words, such as Watergate, creepy, and so forth.

The above illustrates that you can reach many more people with a blog or online news story, but because many are irregular readers or new visitors, it seems the online headline needs to be punchier than the print one.

Do your own test. Most savvy newspaper editors that understand the difference between online and print will respond by adjusting the headlines as the Financial Times did for Lucy Kellaway’s column (e.g., The Guardian, New York Times and Le Monde).

8. Regular reader versus Google search visitor

As pointed out above, your regular readers are more likely to respond to certain things, such as a headshot of yourself (see FT examples above), than those stopping by via Google search results.

By the way, the URL for the blog post should not be the same as your story’s headline (i.e. give more info to potential readers and Google that way).

9. Culture and language – will the why headline work?

Some things might work well in only one culture, country or language, so do not make the mistake of thinking that whatever may work in your country – US, China – works in Luxembourg or Kazakhstan. See also:


“… even though you must try your hardest to get people to read on, you must never assume you’ll succeed,” (Lucy Kellaway). This points out that regardless of how hard we try, sometimes people simply do not read what we write. Or they might read the first 60 words and then move on (see our upcoming post about why first impressions matter).

  • By the way, sign up for our blog – it is FREE! Get future news about improvements to our FREE software first.

In autumn, I will report here about the new dashboard that provides a heat map, graphics and much more. Stay tuned, AND register yourself to get your own dashboard for free.

PS. Check out how K.D. Paine’s blog posts with punchy and short headlines get shared more!

TL:DR | @CyTRAP and @ComMetrics writes: How to write a great headline: CyTRAP BlogRank

What is your experience? What kind of headlines work best for your blog? Please share below.

Urs E. Gattiker, Ph.D. - CyTRAP Labs - ComMetrics.

The author: This post was written by social media marketing and strategy expert Urs E. Gattiker, who also writes about issues that connect social media, strategy, ROI and compliance (click Google Scholar or else Microsoft Scholar), and thrives on the challenge of measuring how it all affects your bottom line.

His latest book, Social Media Audit: Measure for Impact, was recently published by Springer Science Publishers; he is currently working on his next book, scheduled to appear before the end of the year.

Connect with ComMetrics on Google+ or the author using: Email | Twitter | | Xing

  • Robert Weller

    I totally agree with your point no. 9. What happens to be a very short and consice headline in Englisch may be about twice as long to get to the point in German. Common headline hacks like the famous “How To” just don’t work that easy because it’s not the way Germans speak (or think). And if you start translating common English terms it’ll probably sound like plain vanilla advertising slogans. And who would read those?

    •*/*/*/CEO/top100 Urs E. Gattiker

      Dear Robert Weller thanks for your comment.

      Yes I agree, who would want to read badly translated material. It is very hard to get it right.
      I blog different posts for our English blog on vs our German one on
      I do this so I think and write in either language, translating is tough and means re-writing from scratch as you know very well. Different idioms, wording, punchlines etc. Probably why very good translators are hard to find?
      @toushenne:twitter Thanks again for this comment.

      • Robert Weller

        Because for one my blog is still fairly small and I wanted to drive traffic in total, for the other because the German market is still rather small I sought out “better” opportunities to get started. The German community is growing and people are getting better at networking, so I’m focussing on a German audience again.

        Bonus: As a native speaker I can translate and therefore provide access to English information.

        •*/*/*/CEO/top100 Urs E. Gattiker

          Dear Robert

          Thanks for replying. Interesting approach. I started with an English blog as well (actually in 1999 but then it was still a newsboard).
          In 2008 I began blogging on, our social media blog.
          The company blog at carried corporate info. At the beginning I wrote in English.
          But I soon found that German speaking clients wanted the stuff in their native language. So I had to adjust. I wish I could do one in French as well as Italian, but I neither have the skills nor the time to do so.

          @Toushenne:twitter I also found that readers differ according to language. For instance, generally native English speakers are quicker to comment then German speaking ones. Mind you, the latter may take the time to read most of what one writes for a blogpost, but I digress.
          With the CyTRAP BlogRank we have developed a tool that reveals these differences across countries and / or language. This applies as much to writing style as to commenting and how people comment. Therefore, comparing an English blog from Australia to one from the UK is sometimes as much misleading as doing this between a Swiss, Austrian and / or German blog.

          Each language / country has its culture and this is reflected in many ways how people blog – corporate or private blogs – regardless.
          Robert, thanks for sharing and have a great weekend.

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