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Man bites dog: the secret to writing perfect headlines

Posted 8th February 2019
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Nailing the perfect headlines are tricky tasks for any writer, no matter the subject or intended audience.

We’ve all experienced brain freeze when trying to create a catchy title. Even if you’ve just reeled off hundreds of words of complete brilliance.

In journalism studies, one teacher always used the same headline example:

‘Man bites dog’

“He did what??” 

It’s short and unusual for sure. But it also plays with perceptions in a way that makes the reader want to find out more.

But headlines like ‘Man Bites Dog’, ‘Gotcha’, or even ‘Super Caley Go Ballistic Celtic Are Atrocious’ don’t come along every day.

Think about the target reader

The most important step is to put yourself in the shoes of your target reader.

If you’re trying to persuade the reader to continue, trigger words like ‘what, why, when, how’ can be your best friends. They draw readers in by highlighting key messages explained within the article.

Take a popular subject, like Game of Thrones, and look at the top articles. A quick Google search found these examples:

  • Why it’s the right time for ‘Game of Thrones’ to end.
  • ‘Game of Thrones’ season 8: What fans should expect.
  • How will GoT bosses stop plot leaks in the final season?

Use eye-catching stats

Statistics and numbers can also be a quick way to secure the perfect headline.

Sticking with GoT:

  • Game of Thrones: 14 reasons why Lady Olenna Is the show’s best character.
  • Game of Thrones ratings top 16.1m viewers.
  • Game of Thrones 20 most shocking moments.

These informative headlines make statements on their own and tend to be the most shared on social platforms.

But be careful not to trick your readers with a headline that doesn’t accurately describe your content. No one likes clickbait and it will put readers off from returning.

Be honest and craft an attractive headline that will introduce the content your audience is expecting.

Different headlines will work for different platforms. But a short and punchy title is best, so try not to go over 50-60 characters. This will help readers to easily share your content, even on platforms with limits like Twitter.

So consider your audience and give them a reason to click, read and share. But most importantly, be expressive and be original!

More reading: The guide to increasing ROI through PR

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