The 3 questions great headlines address
Make and deliver on your promise
(Read web version.)
If the headline for a piece of writing does not engage then very few will go on to read what follows. A great headline for non-fiction addresses three questions and intrigues readers. They can assess the benefits of reading on and if it is a good investment of time. This post suggests how writers should craft headlines.
The 3 questions
Your headline or title should address these questions:
What is the topic or subject matter?
What promise are you making? Which need or want will be addressed by the insight gained?
Who is the target audience? And, by implication, who is it not for?
Great headlines address the 3 questions (topic, promise and who) without revealing the solution. This is the Curiosity Gap which entices people to read on.
It can be tempting to come up with clever, cryptic headlines, e.g. with a play on words. However, the real art is achieving clarity and engaging readers. The use of simple language also aids discoverability, e.g. via Google searches.
If your headline has done its job then readers will hang around for the main show. The text body must deliver against the promise. If not then the reader will feel cheated by a click-bate and your reputation will be diminished.
Examples of great headlines
The following examples address the 3 questions well, I believe:
Top 10 Tips for YouTubers
Topic: YouTube video production.
Promise: 10 tips to help be successful will be explained.
Top 3 Reasons Startups Fail (And How to Address Them)
Promise: Ways to address the top 3 reasons for startup failure will be detailed.
Who: Founders and others interested in startups.
The Art and Business of Online Writing book by Nicholas Cole
41 Engaging Examples of the Best Headlines to Rally Your Audience by The Daily Egg
Blog well. Think well. by Phil Martin
This post considered the 3 questions that great headlines address. Next Sunday’s post will explore Artificial Intelligence capabilities from OpenAI (partly funded by Elon Musk).
Until next Sunday, consider how the headline for this post addresses the 3 (topic, promise, who) questions. I hope you think it delivered against the promise.