journalism, news, socialmedia

Importance of writing separate headlines for web and social media

Updated, 21 May 2013: Writing for the web isn’t like writing for print. That’s not to say you cannot still be creative with headlines and intros, but you need to give your content the best chance of being found and shared as it can be seen in many different ways, on different screens at different times…

A couple of useful articles below, checklists to make sure you’re following the best strategy for online content publishing. Essentially you are turning print strategy on it’s head, front-loading your headline and intro with key words/phrases/names to draw your reader in, attract browsers scrolling through headlines, posts or tweets.

And to reiterate, print is not web (is not mobile, is not Twitter is not Facebook), but we’ll start with general digital headline writing:

Inspiration from 10 questions to help you write better headlines on

Help when choosing headlines for digital audiences from Matt Thompson on Poynter (from 2011, but still relevant) with some personal thoughts…

1. Is the headline accurate?

2. Does it work out of context?

Imagine it being seen alone/on Google/on Twitter/Facebook or an RSS feed etc.

3. How compelling a promise does it make?

Or “What will this story do for me?”

4. How easy is it to parse? “keep your headlines straightforward and unadorned”

Is it easy for readers to quickly take in when scanning/skimming page, e.g. on mobile device…

5. Could it benefit from a number?

Written numbers are less easily noticed/scanned, four vs 4

6. Are all the words necessary?

Less is always more in the time-poor digital world

7. Does it obey the Proper Noun Rule?

Use common names/subject words, keep it simple, straightforward

8. Would it work better as an explanatory headline?

e.g. If a secondary story/background to a lead

9. Does it focus on events or implications?

e.g. if it’s a follow-up to a big news event, an objective piece, link back to original & use similar keywords

10. Could it benefit from one of these 10 words?: Top, Why, How, Will, New, Secret, Future, Your, Best, Worst.

and my own 11. Also consider writing Twitter headlines and how they might be retweeted. Important to leave space for RT @username

Also: 8 common mistakes when writing for the web – and what to do about them

Paul Bradshaw’s own checklist for getting your digital head on when sending stories to your digital platforms, key points for me: getting to the point, writing in brief paragraphs, link to your sources

Are you doing the following?

  1. Getting straight to the most newsworthy, interesting piece of information in your first par?

  2. Linking to your source whenever you refer to a piece of information/fact?

  3. Linking phrases (e.g. “a report”) NOT putting in full URLs (e.g. “”?

  4. Indenting quotes by using the blockquote option?

  5. Using brief pars – starting a new one for each new point?

  6. Using a literal headline that makes sense in search results and includes key words that people might be looking for, NOT general or punny headlines

  7. Splitting up your article with subheadings?

  8. Ending your post with a call to action and/or indication of what information is missing or what will happen next?

In detail: 8 common mistakes

Further reading/examples:

More found links on writing headlines on Delicious

More writing for web tips from BBC College of Journalism, e.g.:

Tell the story up front. For it to work across all possible platforms and devices, it needs to be told in essence in the first four paragraphs, around 70 words

and a four-point checklist for their headlines.

Copyblogger’s The Art of Writing Great Twitter Headlines

Yahoo! Style Guide’s Shape your text for online reading’s How to: write headlines that work for SEO.

The Economist’s Style Guide –  on being understandable and adding clarity


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