How to Write Effective Web Headlines

You have two audiences online: readers and robots.

For readers: Headlines should be simple, literal, and direct. They must motivate readers to click.

For robots: Search engines look for keywords. If a headline contains keywords that are also repeated in the text of the article, it will show up higher in search engines.

Suggestions for writing better online headlines:

1. Be descriptive – say clearly what the story is about

2. Use keywords

3. Use conversational language

4. Avoid puns that confuse or are unclear

5. Engage readers

Go to in-class exercise below…

Try rewriting the following newspaper headlines for the web. First identify five key words. Then write a descriptive and compelling headlines using at least two of those key words. Post your headline in the comments field below. 

Example 1

Rich Man, Poor Man

KEVIN COLEMAN doesn’t need a thick, glossy report from the Pew Research Center to tell him that the wealth of black families in America has decreased sharply since the middle of the 2000s. He’s lived it.

The Philadelphia man raised five kids as a single dad after a bad marriage to a woman who struggled with drug addiction, and he even saved enough in a 15-year run as a full-time cable-TV installer to finally buy a home in Olney in 2006 – right at the peak of the housing boom.

Then came the crash of 2008, and Coleman lost his job. Within a matter of months, he’d lost the home as well – to foreclosure – and thus any equity he’d accumulated on the house.

“It’s just the way of the world,” said Coleman, who has stoically dealt with the brutal economic downturn even after he and three daughters who are still in school moved in first with his mother, then later with Coleman’s new girlfriend. “It’s the recession.”

For sure. But Coleman, 53, is also warm-blooded proof of some cold statistics regarding the traditional gap in wealth, or net worth, between African-American households and their white counterparts – numbers that startled many Americans when they were revealed earlier this summer.

The Pew Research Center found that white families in the United States now have 20 times the median wealth of black households – the greatest disparity since Pew began its surveys of net worth and race more than a quarter-century ago.

You read that right. Twenty times. Twenty. Two-zero.

In raw numbers the median net worth of white households in America, according to Pew, which relied on 2009 data from the federal government, is now $113,149.
The median wealth of African-American households? Just $5,677.

Hispanic families don’t fare much better than do blacks. Their median wealth is 1/18th that of whites.

Although the wealth gap between whites and minorities has existed ever since studies of the topic began, it did narrow dramatically over the course of the 1990s and 2000s. That was partly because of gains for African-Americans in the workplace in the booming ’90s, and then because of greater homeownership among black families.
Nearly a half-century after the civil-rights era, many blacks have made remarkable strides in the workplace and in professions like medicine or law – not to mention the White House. But the statistics show that too many minorities are still left behind in poverty or the increasing struggles of the lower middle class…

Example 2:

There’s Something In the Air

Even as it acknowledged that air quality across the country had improved over the last decade thanks to stricter regulations, a report released yesterday by Environment New Jersey was no breath of fresh air for Mercer County residents.

The greater Trenton area tied for 20th in the nation for poor air quality, a report released yesterday by the environmental advocacy group said.

The report, compiled nationally by Environment America, examines smog pollution levels in 2010 and 2011 from the nation’s network of ozone air quality monitors, as reported to the U.S.Environmental Protection Agency from the states.

The ranking is based on the number of “smog days,” or days when the ozone level exceeded 75 parts per billion over an eight-hour period.

The Trenton area had 15 such days in 2010, the study revealed, alongside the greater Cleveland region of Ohio and the Fort Worth-Arlington area of Texas.

“The source is three main things: it’s power plants, industrial facilities and cars,” said Megan Fitzpatrick, a spokeswoman for Environment New Jersey. “It’s all contributing to this buildup of smog.”…

Example 3:

Filling A Hole In Local Eateries

Chef Michael Solomonov and his partner Steve Cook were playing the part of bakers one recent morning, so were up with the sun, flour dust covering their aprons.

The pair, one of the city’s top restaurant partnerships, were mixing and weighing ingredients, tasting sugar and spice combinations, and tweaking the doughnut recipe for their latest project, Federal Donuts, set to open next month.

The doughnuts are the final hurdle in the trio of takeout offerings for their new shop. The other two items – Korean fried chicken and coffee – already have been perfected.

An odd combo? Maybe. The two chefs had been brainstorming about what was missing from the city’s food scene, and fried chicken and doughnuts kept coming up. They decided, why not put them together?

Actually, the idea falls right in line with how these two create new eateries. Decisions are based on passions and talents, rather than a five-year plan. That’s how they’ve come to own a barbecue restaurant, Percy Street, and a critically acclaimed Israeli restaurant, Zahav.

Federal Donuts would be no different. “We wanted to do something we knew we could handle,” says Cook. Translation: a creative concept that lacks the high costs and hair-pulling that opening a full-service restaurant does….


About Nick DiUlio

My name is Nick DiUlio, a freelance writer and editor from New Jersey. I have been passionate about the craft of writing since I was old enough to spell, and this love has led to a successful career in journalism and creative nonfiction. As a freelancer, I have covered a wide range of topics and personalities, as my published work has focused on everything from profiles of artists and important political figures to hard-news stories with both national and local appeal; from restaurant and beverage reviews to tips on fashion and finance; from health and wellness pieces to celebrity Q&A’s. My work has appeared in several local, regional and national publications—both in print and online—including Philadelphia Magazine,, Miller-McCune, New Jersey Monthly, Eating Well, and Delaware Today. Additionally, I am the South Jersey Bureau Chief for New Jersey Monthly and an adjunct journalism professor at Rowan University. To be sure, the broadness of my body of work seems only to be matched by my boundless interest in almost every subject imaginable (except Warren Zevon). Check out some of my most recently published work here.
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21 Responses to How to Write Effective Web Headlines

  1. Pingback: Blog Post 3: Original 300-500 word web article with two sources | Southern Accents

  2. Christian Hetrick says:

    I would change the Philadelphia Inquirer headline to “Free at last” or “Alive”, something that emphasizes that these individuals were prisoners and faced hard times.

  3. kategasch says:

    Example 1:
    The startling gap in net-worth between black and white families in america

  4. ACmusic23 says:

    Example 3 (Filling A Hole in Local Eateries….)

    New Headline:

    “Bakers Changing City’s Food Scene with Fried Chicken and Donuts”

  5. John Logue III

    Example 2: Trenton Receives “Poor Air Quality” by Environmental Advocacy Group

    certain key words like these would help with finding this article in a web search.

  6. Example 3:
    If this was a web-based article, I would rename the title “Fried Chicken and Doughnuts, a more popular combo than you’d think.” It is right to the point and tells the reader a little bit about the story. But for a print-based article I would rename it “Time to Make the Doughnuts” which is referring to what they are actually doing, and the a common phrase to make money.

  7. Example 2: Air Quality is Down in Trenton, NJ

    The key words to this headline will come up more frequently in a search.

  8. Shannon says:

    Rich Man, Poor Man
    New ideas:
    Baby You’re (not) a Rich Man, too -sub headline- A look at the nation’s divide in economy
    The Space Between -sub headline- A look at the nation’s divide in economy
    and so on and so forth..

  9. cmeiswinkel3 says:

    Example #2: “Smog plagues Trenton area in recent study”

  10. The “Rich Man, Poor Man” is not a good headline to me. It can be taken in a bad way. In the picture, it seems like the man holding twenty dollar bills is caucasian, while the man holding the one dollar bills is African American. It can be taken out of context and they need to be care that they don’t offend anyone.

  11. ashleychiaradio says:

    for “there’s something in the air” I would change it to “Smog taking over Trenton” to include keywords that people would be searching for.

  12. trayc529 says:

    Example One:
    Economic Edge: The Financial Division Between Black and White Families

  13. mattkazin11 says:

    Example 2;
    In Need of a Breath of Fresh Air

  14. Example 3: Federal Donuts bringing unique combination to city’s food scene

  15. Rich man, Poor example

    Change of headline would be:
    “Minorities left behind”
    “Struggling but still surviving”

  16. Michael Scrabonia says:

    Example #2: I would change the title to “EPA report on Trenton: Get the Smog out of Here”

  17. foleyb76 says:

    Example 3:
    The Perfect Trio: Donuts, Coffee, and Fried Chicken

  18. kelpeterson says:

    Example 2:
    Trenton Industries Create Substantial Air Pollution
    Trenton Air Pollution Among Worst in US
    Hold Your Breath: Trenton Air Polluted

  19. Vinny says:

    Example #1 – Down With the Economy for Some, up With the Economy for Others
    Example #2 – Can’t Breathe With No Air
    Example #3 – The Perfect Mix for Local Eateries

  20. Vinny says:

    umm I think I posted in the wrong one, argh

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