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What is a headline, and how do you make it effective?

By Alexandra Sharp

Tips and tricks to writing an eye-catching headline


A man typing on a keyboard with a cell phone near him.Even in Pulitzer prize-winning articles, the story’s content is the last thing read. Headlines are almost always the first thing that catches a reader’s eye. They are the hook, the reason a reader chooses to dive into a story rather than keep scrolling. This makes headlines possibly the most important — yet undervalued — aspect of any story.


When your company writes PR materials, blog posts, or articles submitted for publication, you should explore what makes an effective headline. 



What is a headline?

A headline is a story’s title. It appears at the top of all published content, including blog posts and press releases. 


This differs from a cdek. A cdek is the secondary title of a story. Not all stories have them. However, many blog posts and magazine articles feature cdeks. The cdek should not repeat what the headline says. Instead, it should provide additional context, a new angle, and/or take a deeper look into the headline’s statement.


For example, the headline of this blog post is: “Effective headlines do more than title a story.” The cdek is: “What is a headline, who writes it, and how do you make it effective?” At Axia Public Relations, we bold our headlines and italicize our cdeks to make them stand out.


How should I write a headline?
Because headlines are as important as the content itself, writing the most effective headline takes time and effort. According to Hubspot, you should spend the same amount of time perfecting a headline as you do writing the story.


The headline should primarily be written to attract your audience. Be conversational, and avoid jargon and uncommon acronyms. Don’t forget to optimize your headline for search engines by including at least one keyword or key phrase. Overloading your headline with multiple keywords (aka keyword stuffing) can hurt your SEO though, so make sure keywords are used appropriately.


In many cases, the outlet publishing your story will write the headline. Even so, we recommend providing the outlet with two to three headline options to make sure it’s accurate. Why are news headlines sometimes inaccurate?


What makes an effective headline?


  1. The headline must highlight the article’s primary angle — If you are unable to sum up the article in a one-sentence headline, then your article is most likely unfocused or disorganized. Your headline must directly relate to the article’s main point(s).

  2. The headline must be concise — Avoid using unnecessary words or long-winded phrases. Headlines do not need to be a complete sentence. One way to edit your headline is change all passive voice into active voice and remove prepositions when possible. (Quite honestly, this is a good tip for all writing.) You can also replace the word “and” with a comma. For example, “Headlines should be direct, concise.”

  3. The headline should draw the reader in — This is your first shot to snagging your audience’s attention, so make sure the wording is strong. Some ways to do this are: ask a question that can’t be answered with a yes or no, use alliteration or puns, and use active, powerful verbs.

  4. Above all else, don’t mislead the reader — Nothing betrays your audience’s trust more than when one goes into an article expecting one thing and reads something different. If you propose a question, your article should answer it. If you highlight an issue, your article should discuss it. By the end of the article, your reader’s expectations must be met.


Writing headlines and cdeks are just one aspect of the copy editing process, and they are a very important part. Before you or your company submits material for publication, make sure your story has the best, most effective headline possible.


Photo by Cytonn Photography from Pexels

Topics: PR tips, copy editing

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