Headlines for the Web must be specific

By · Thursday, February 18th, 2010

In my editing class yesterday, the topic was “headlines and search engine optimization.” Guest Stephen Masiclat, a faculty member at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, led the discussion.

Headline writing is an art for print alone. But when online search engines are taken into consideration, headline writing also becomes a science.


With print, readers make choices by scanning headlines, and we hope the headlines engage them. The readers already have the product in their hands.

With the Web, many readers arrive at the product by searching for stories that interest them. That means that the words in the headlines — and associated content — must be relevant to the story.

Puns? Not a good idea. Catchy phrases and cute word plays? They won’t lead searchers to the story.

Online, the more specific the headline, the better. We take this into consideration each time we write a headline for this blog. We hope we succeed, but we acknowledge that some of our headlines could be better.

In “Think Like an Editor,” this topic is addressed in Strategy 41: Headlines, Keywords and Metadata. As we say, “A role of an editor is to understand how readers and search engines process information. Editors who grasp this can present and sell their content efficiently on all platforms.”

Emilie Davis

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