4 easy-to-use elements which combine to make a great headline

What makes a good headline? It’s hard to say, but one thing is certain: most promotional articles produced by companies in the engineering or science sectors are let down hugely by this one component. And it’s a critical one: I’d argue that if a headline scored 3/10 on importance 25 years ago (when I was a trainee engineering journalist), nowadays it scores 8/10 or more.

If I click on the “news”, “blog” or “articles” link on a company website (and not many people do), the list I’m given rarely compels me to click further. Headline writing has become both an art and a science, but it’s probably as important a skill as good writing in the article itself.

The “science” bit sounds like there’s a formula involved, and in turn that sounds like a shortcut, right? Well, partially. I think that by following the format below, you’ll come up with something which might get dozens or hundreds of clicks, rather than just the one click (from your MD) which a lazy headline would get.

I apologise profusely to whoever came up with the concept, but it’s been so widely appropriated now that I can’t find the originator to acknowledge. So here we go: a simple headline-writing formula. It is:
…Number or Trigger word
+ Adjective
+ Keyword
+ Promise

How does this work in practice? Well, the trigger words you most often see in headlines which beg to be clicked are things like “weird,” “free,” “incredible,” and “secret”. These are unlikely to be appropriate to us, but there are still words which might appeal to an engineer or scientist and don’t sound cheap.

So you might end up with something like “Effortlessly reduce processing time by 50% with low-cost widget extension” which contains a number (50%), an adjective (“low-cost”), a keyword for the searchers (“widget extension”) and a promise (“reduce processing time”). There’s even a trigger word (“effortlessly”) as well as the number.

That’s not a remarkable headline, but I’d bet that most articles on the subject would have been given something like “Blue Widget Company launches new extension solution”. And consequently strangled at birth.

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