It seems odd that I’m sitting here trying to write a blog post about about headlines and subheads and I can’t come up with any content. On the other hand, perhaps that is not odd at all. Headlines and subheads only matter if they are the glue holding a useful, well-written post together. A good example of this is my partner in crime Shelby’s “My guidelines for headline writing for visual hierarchy” post from yesterday. If you go skim that post (or better yet read it, it’s a well put together and useful post), you have a pretty good idea what to expect from that post just by reading the headline and subheads.
Bloggers have a lot to learn from journalists
It’s not that I think I’m terrible at writing headlines and subheads, but after reading Shelby’s post it’s pretty clear someone with 17 years of journalistic background understands the task better than I do. Shelby mentioned that during her journalism education there were entire classes devoted to the writing of headlines and subheads. There’s a sound business reason for that: Headlines sell newspapers. If, however, you read her post closely, you’ll also learn that editors don’t mind enticing headlines … as long as they are not misleading.
Linkbait is unnecessary
There had better be good solid content to back up a headline that entices you to pick up a newspaper or click on a link to read a blog post. As my friend Liz Strauss said earlier this week in a Twitter conversation about this topic, “A great headline with a mediocre post to back it up does more harm than good.” Or in terms a salesperson like me can understand, it’s better to undersell and overdeliver than the reverse. If you write good solid useful content people will find their way to your blog posts – really.
When headlines matter
There are two times that headlines matter. First, when you’re working on topic ideas for your writing. For example, at the moment the headline for this post is “Headlines and subheads.” I certainly hope that working title won’t end up being the finished title, but it is a descriptive reminder of what it is I am supposed to be writing about.
Then, once you have a finished post and have self-edited it a couple times, the proper title will become more clear. You may have noticed I’ve used “title” and “headline” interchangeably. Honestly before Shelby’s post yesterday I never really gave it much thought, but I think she’s right. It’s not a post title; it’s a post headline. Your blog has a title; and each post or article you publish has a headline to distinguish it.
The power of the subhead
As I mentioned earlier in this post, subheads should help you skim a post and understand what the hundreds of words contained within the post will teach you or help you understand without taking the time to read the entire post. If you’ve written a solid useful post, then the subheads will also reveal themselves to you as the post develops.
When I started this post an hour or so ago, I didn’t really know where I was going to go with my thoughts on this topic. It wasn’t that I didn’t have ideas about what to write – I had too many ideas. I decided to just type a few broad overarching thoughts to get myself focused. Those thoughts are now the subheads for this post.
Now forget it all and break the rules
That’s how Shelby closed her post yesterday and she’s right. All I’ve shared is what works for me, and I’m not yet and may never be an A-list blogger. You need to do what feels natural and right for your writing. If creating linkbait headlines gets folks to your blog and they stick around to do things that help you make money, then the more power to you. Test, measure and then do what works whether it be with headlines, subheads or your actual content.