Considering that you may spend several hours researching, writing, rewriting, editing and spell checking content to publish on the Web, a weak headline can sabotage those hours. A headline that clearly encapsulates your story attracts readers when it shows up on the search engine list. Once a viewer clicks on your link, you want to make it as easy to read as possible by breaking up the text with subheadings. Think of subheads like chapter titles in a book, allowing readers to quickly scan the sections of the content.
Start with a Strong Headline
Your headline should reflect the tone of your content. Is it newsworthy or humorous? Does it appeal to someone who wants to be entertained or to a professional looking for information? Identify your target readers and use language appropriate for that group.
The headline of your article, story or home page needs to be keyword-rich to show up on search engines. Take your cue from how you would search for this subject.
Now that you have the elements of tone and keywords, it’s time to put down the words. Every word in the subject, verb and object has to count. You want your headline to be short and sweet. That calls for active verbs and present tense, rather than past.
Finally, you need to pass judgment on your headline. Could you make it stronger by checking the thesaurus for other more interesting options?
Use Subheads to Organize and Summarize
Like the headline, subheads typically appear in bold face and organize the content. They visually make for easier reading by summarizing how you have expanded on your topic. For instance, you open with an overview, next give the topic background, and finally describe the implications.
To improve the flow, make subheads match in style. That is, use sentences or fragments for each. Use initial caps or lower case consistently. No ending punctuation needed unless it’s a question. However, rather than force subheads to conform to a style format, it’s better to keep the language natural.
Study Style Guides
Writers need to follow the varying style guides for Web publishing. For example, some prefer Web site as two words while others want you to use one word in lower case, as in website. The Yahoo Style Guide Book covers all aspects of writing for the Web. One helpful tip on headlines is to test yours on the search engines. If you find duplicates or others that are very similar to yours, you definitely want to come up with more unique wording. Writing is after all mostly rewriting.