Writing headlines is becoming a lost art. On the internet, where some websites give you an unlimited amount of space, writers and editors have become very lazy with their headlines, sometimes with some very unfortunate results.

On the other hand, digital publishing also forces some fairly stringent rules upon headline writers if you are interested in search engine optimization. Here are some tips about how to write a really good headline.

  • Use AP/APA Headline Style Rules (click here for more details on those style rules.) 
  • Headlines tell the story in a single sentence…or less. Ambiguous headlines don’t work.
  • Always insert your headline before you do anything else. It is difficult to find articles in drafts that do not have headlines.
  • Headlines can be changed, but the slug that identifies your article will be based on the headline that was in place when you published the post for the first time.
  • You cannot change the slug for an article. (Only editors can do that.)
  • Never use “ALL CAPS” in a headline.
  • If your headline is a question, and you have run out of space, you can eliminate the question mark.
  • Do not use the same headline ever again.
  • Our style rules require a minimum of 46 characters (including spaces and punctuation marks if there are any). The reason for this minimum is that our home page design requires that all headlines take up at least two lines.
  • The maximum character limit results from the need to keep headlines from bleeding over into a third row. Search engines are limited to search for 56 character headlines. However, we allow you to use up to 68 characters, although we advise against using that many. (Note that search engine rules are constantly changing.)
  • Headlines must be as brief as you can possibly make them. Delete every extraneous word. Following good grammar rules often results in poor headlines.
  • Use well-known abbreviations whenever possible. U.S. instead of United States. UK instead of United Kingdom. (Note that U.S. requires periods to differentiate it from the word “us” while “the UK does not require periods because there is no such word as “uk.”)
  • Avoid all punctuation marks in headlines including quote marks, whenever possible. (There are times when they are absolutely essential…but those are rare.)
  • You can use colons (:) but use them sparingly.
  • There is a theory that your headlines should be so vague as to force the reader to click into the story. There’s another theory that your headlines should be as explicit as possible. Our take on this is that search engines ignore vague headlines. We think headlines should tell the reader what the story is about. However, this is a matter of choice for you.
  • Headlines should begin with the Keyword. The keyword is the single word or phrase that identifies the most important factor in the story. If the story is about Donald Trump, the first word in the headline should be “Trump.” If the story is about the New England Patriots, the keyword – and the first word in the headline – should be “Patriots.” If the article is really about Tom Brady, start with “Brady.”
  • Profanity is not permitted in headlines.
  • Try to avoid using conjunctions and prepositional phrases in headlines.
  • The editors reserve the right to amend your headline without notice.