Everything you ever wanted to know (or didn't want to know) about headlines, by someone who writes more than 200 of them a month. (Thread)
First let's get one thing clear: Writers generally don't write their own headlines! If they're lucky, they might get consulted in the headline writing process, but usually editors have the final say. Good editors won't stick writers with a bad hed.
Headline writing is half formula, half skill. I have to consider the character limit of my site, keywords for Google to pick up, what other headlines are on the homepage, and what headlines we've used in the past—all before I even get to making it fun!
A good headline writer hates clickbait. Before I was an audience editor, I was a reporter and a fact-checker—I care about accuracy. So if we publish a gear story that says The Best Tents of 2020, I'm signing off and saying those are the best tents of 2020, the end.
Most sites have at least 2 headlines for every article, including one that shows up in search and one that shows up on social media and other places online. The former will likely be more straightforward, while the latter will be more playful. Here's one story from Outside:
Headlines are rarely written in a vacuum by one person. Every headline I write is worked on or approved by at least one other person, and sometimes involves as many as 8-10 people if it's a big, important story.
I write lots of headlines that never see the light of day—some stories get as many as 20 headlines written for them in the editing process before we choose 1 or 2 for the published product. Here are all the heds we brainstormed for @RebeccaRennerFL's feature we published today:
Whew! All this to say, if you see a headline you don't like, don't take it out on the writer. Someone like me is probably to blame, and they (hopefully) would love to hear from you on how to make it better. The end! (9/9)
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