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Writing better headlines

Writing headlines and story titles is tough work, but if you spend ~10 minutes brainstorming a story title, I can guarantee that you will come up with a better, more engaging title for your story that will draw in more listeners or even purchasers to your piece.

First, let’s talk about BAD titles and why they might not be helping us.

  • Very Long

Example: Joe Bob and Marty Frank – musicians – in Conversation: Talk about their favorite music – newshole version

Simply put, very long titles look bad and often times they are hard to read on mobile devices. Keep your titles short and catchy.

  • Vague

I know the urge to name your title something sort of vague and artsy. I am a poet, that’s basically what I was put on this earth to do, but having a title that you think is cool (like for example, a cool quote from your story) doesn’t always do your story justice. It doesn’t help us understand what we’re about to listen to or why we should take the time to listen to it. Give your listeners a reason to give your story a shot.

  • Part of a series/no title

Some of you may have a weekly series and may not feel the need to even come up with a title. I see a lot of titles on PRX that look something like this…”Episode 202.” If one of your goals is that people listen to your story on the web then a title like that will give someone zero reasons to click on your story and listen.

Let’s move on to GOOD titles and what makes them good.

  • Short/catchy

You probably read this a dozen or so times a day, but I’ll reiterate: Facebook and Twitter have changed the way people are consuming media. You have just a few characters to get people to click on something you’ve shared. Make them count.

  • Shareable

I’ve started up a listener newsletter where I share audio stories that I love and the first thing I do is give each story a better headline/title. When you’re brainstorming your titles, put yourself in the shoes of someone like me. Or an editor at a blog that writes about podcasts. Or an editor at a major public radio station who might air your story and share it on the web to their huge list of Facebook followers. Rather than quickly coming up with something on the spot, think about what will make people want to share your story. What makes it compelling to lots of people?

Now get to work!

I highly recommend trying this exercise which we gleaned from the folks at Upworthy, a site for viral content. Set a timer for 10 minutes. Now, try to write as many headlines as you can. Shoot for 25. At first, you’re going to write a lot of really crap headlines, but don’t let that discourage you. Keep writing until 10 minutes have passed or you’ve reached 25 titles. I swear it will feel like running through mud and then miraculously you’ll realize you reached the heart of your story and you’ve come up with a pretty awesome title.

More headline writing resources for you to check out:

- Upworthy’s Secret Sauce to virality. This is pure gold. Flip through these slides (like the images above) to see why people share things and what you can do to make your work more likely to be shared by lots of people.

- Buffer’s guide to How to Write The Perfect Headline: The Top Words Used in Viral Headlines.

- More tips on writing “pearls of clarity” for your titles, headlines, and subject lines.

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