Headlines and Headings for Online Articles
Actually it’s just a couple of words, but they can certainly be a defining factor: it’s all about the heading of a text. Besides the colorful images, it’s the first thing to catch the eye and often determines whether the user reads the text or not. And yet it should be distinguished here between texts in a daily newspaper, for example, and articles on the internet. A person who buys a newspaper will most probably also read the sports and culture sections, even when local news and politics are more his sphere of interest. It will be read because it was paid for. On the internet texts are available at no charge and in great abundance, so the user may have a hard time deciding what to read. Based on experience, an internet article is only given a rough scan by the reader where he notices the headlines first, and based on those decides if he will read on or not.
What Do Headlines Need to be Able to Do?In a nutshell, the headline has to get to the heart of the text in a few words, and thereby awaken the user’s interest, as well as be so informative that he will immediately know if the text is useful to him. So the headline shouldn’t be too short or too long – a meaningful and interesting title can be crafted with five to seven words. Keywords should also be included in the heading.
When creating a text title one can draw on several tricks, for example the W questions. It is admittedly nearly impossible to be able to answer all questions, however the W questions (Who?, What?, Where? When?, Why?, How?) are a good way to construct an informal heading. In “Federal Chancellor Travels Tomorrow to Talks in Italy” nearly all questions are answered, and according to this, the reader should find an informal article that will relate the particulars about Angela Merkel’s trip, and the discussions taking place in Italy on the next day.
Users react in an especially interested manner when lists or numbers are included in original or creative headlines: “Ten Tips for…” or “Five Mistakes When…” make people curious and encourage them to continue reading. If you combine this with the next tip, using expressive words or even superlatives, the reader usually reacts immediately. The heading then reads “The Ten Best Tips for…” or “The Five Biggest Mistakes When…” The text then goes into the promised points and explains to the user what he definitely shouldn’t do, or absolutely should adhere to.
With advice texts, convenience shouldn’t be left out. A reader who searches with Google usually has a very specific question, a special request or is looking for help with a problem. The benefit of the text must therefore be directly emphasized in the heading. With “…Efficiently Combat” or “Effective Measures…” it is immediately clear that many tips the reader can utilize for his problem await him in the article.
Obscure statements that have no distinct connection to the subject, or from which the reader can’t discern what the article is about, should be fundamentally avoided in headings. And even though short headings are always better, reductions that are too extreme are of no use, as they only leave behind unclear statements. Likewise one should refrain from using commentary and empty phrases in titles. Meaningless phrases don’t entice readers, and assessments should also be left out of headings.
How Headlines and Headings Ensure More TrafficNot only users scan through texts, but search engine crawlers also use this method. A crawler, also known as a spider, robot or search bot is a type of computer program that searches the internet and analyses all pages found. Search engines use these crawlers to index sites. So that a search engine can even identify a headline as such, it must be marked with the HTML tags <h1> through <h6>. With a keyword in the heading, the search engine is told what subject the article is about. Google for example takes keywords mentioned in a heading more strongly into account, also weighted according to the levels. <h1> is the main heading and only appears once in the text. With that is has the greatest importance, and the keyword should appear in the first position when possible. The second most heavily weighted heading is marked as <h2>, the third with <h3>, the fourth with <h4> etc. If the keyword is missing from the headings, Google doesn’t recognize the topic and doesn’t display the article among the first search results. And whoever appears in the top results with Google & Co. will be read.
The HTML formatting has an advantage for visual reasons too. Firstly, a longer text with sub-headings appears more structured and is easier to read. Secondly, depending on the hierarchy, headings are depicted in browsers in different sizes.