How to write a headline: Discussions and rewrites in my Writing for the Web course

Following the online headline writing tips, students in my open online course, Writing for the Web, discussed how to improve the headlines of sample articles. Readers of this blog may be interested in reading some selected student critiques and rewrites.

After studying the headline writing tips in the lesson, course participants were asked to choose one sample article and discuss how he or she would apply the lesson guidelines and make changes to the headline.

Below are a few sample article headlines, each comes with a link to the actual article and is followed by one or two student comments. Leave your own comments if you think some of the student comments make good sense to you, or tell us why you disagree with it.

Article: Uncluttering the Pathway to Diploma

Student comment

I think this article needed a better Headline/Title. This title is NOT informative and it has very little SEO value. My proposed title is Strategic Steps to Improving College Completion Rates. Because:

  • It is concise and informative
  • I believe it has great SEO Value, as per lesson guidelines, because I thought of the words I would use if I were looking for information about how to  improve college completion.
  • The title is rich in information scent as explained in the article World’s Best Headlines: BBC News. Which means it clearly summarizes the target article. I do not think the same can be said for the original article.
  • The article above also pointed out that titles need to be predictable(so users know whether they’ll like the full article before they click). which I believe is what my new proposed title is.

This headline puts the keyword ‘community colleges’ at the beginning thus increasing its feasibility on Google and other search engines.

I probably should have included the word “diploma” in the headline too so as to have two keywords on the title. In that case my headline would be How community colleges get more students to finish diploma courses.

Article: Why Privacy Matters Even if You Have ‘Nothing to Hide’

Student comment #1

I think this is a good standard headline. But still you can play with it for more attention.
1. List. –> 3 Reasons Why Privacy Matters Even if You Have ‘Nothing to Hide’
2. Arouse! You can use the likes of word ‘kill’ to get more attention. –> 3 Reasons you privacy can be destroyed even if you have ‘nothing to hide’

Student comment #2

I actually think the tittle is perfect. Below are my reasons:

  • The tittle is attention grabbing which was one of the component of a working tittle during the lesson. A headline needs to draw attention to entice people to read it.
  • It uses a power word Privacy and the topic has been known to raise numerous discussions thus emotions running high which is a good pointer when looking for a headline which according to  HEADLINES: A 9-Letter Cheat Sheet for Writing a Winner Every Time is a good characteristic of a good headline.
  • It also has nothing to hide…which for me translates into a power statement . something that grabs your attention and stays with you.
  • It is an informative headline , gives you the gist of the story and leaves you wanting to find out what more the story has to offer. In this weeks lesson they said the tittle should be informative but not give away details of the story in the headline.

Article: Are Blonds Having More Fun?

Student comment

I  chose to change it because

  • the headline would have little SEO if it remains this way. This is because it is standing alone and does little to express the severity of the stories attached to them.
  • It does not really capture a readers attention.
  • Tells to little about what the article is really about. The only thing that has a little touch on the article in the heading is the word ” Blonds.”
  • It is a very common title that it comes off as a lazy way to gain feeds and clicks. The heading is so common that it makes no impact to stick in a potential readers mind.


  • Stuck to the key words and set the right in front of the headline
  • Does not tell the whole story, it just tells enough to understand the article but still want to understand more and grasp the fullness of it.
  • It is focused on the most exciting part of the article. Why i say this is because, the article was built and inspired by the brownies to blondies that her mother made when she was a kid. When the article was being written it was the brownie incident and the lead in the article that set of the tone ( full of excitement and fun tone) for the rest of the article.

Reading list: Headline writing tips

Other than the lesson that was mentioned in some student comments, here is the list of additional course readings that some students referred to in their comments:

The grammar of (newspaper) headlines

15 Hilarious Newspaper Mistakes and Apology Notes

World’s Best Headlines: BBC News

The Dark Science Of Naming Your Post : Based On Studying 100 Blogs

HEADLINES: A 9-Letter Cheat Sheet for Writing a Winner Every Time

A List of Reasons Why Our Brains Love Lists

A Scientific Guide to Writing Great Headlines on Twitter, Facebook, and Your Blog

6 main rules of writing compelling headlines

↓↓↓ Look Down ↓↓↓

Take A Minute To Watch The New Way We Make Web Headlines Now

11 Brilliant Headlines You Can Steal From The World’s Best Selling Magazines

5 easy tricks to help you write catchy headlines

Want to learn more about effective web writing? Check out these popular books at Amazon:

About Mu Lin

Dr. Mu Lin is a digital journalism professional and educator in New Jersey, United States. Dr. Lin manages an online marketing company. He also manages MulinBlog Online J-School (, a free online journalism training program, which offers courses such as Audio Slideshow Storytelling; Introduction to Social Media Marketing; Writing for the Web; Google Mapping for Communicators; Introduction to Data Visualization; Introduction to Web Metrics and Google Analytics.
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