short (because people don't read much online)
rich in information scent, clearly summarizing the target article
front-loaded with the most important keywords (because users often scan only the beginning of list items)
understandable out of context (because headlines often appear without articles, as in search engine results)
predictable, so users know whether they'll like the full article before they click (because people don't return to sites that promise more than they deliver)
Microcontent moves: Web headlines are likely to show up alone in indexes, on social media and in search engine results.
That means your headlines and other online display copy — aka microcontent — must be clear regardless of whether the reader sees them within the context of the original page.
One job of the headline is to get web visitors to read your web page. But even the most catchy headline rarely gets that job done.
That’s because few web visitors read online paragraphs in detail. Mostly, web visitors skim and scan the headlines and other display copy. So if you want them to know something, put it in the display copy.
So tell the story — don’t tell about the story — in the headline.
I love clever headlines in print. But funny headlines don’t work well online.
Why? See context-free, above. And because Google never laughs.
Instead, make your headlines and other microcontent explanatory.
When viewing a list of articles on a search engine results page or an index page, web visitors spend less than one second looking at headlines. So focus on the front, or on the first 2 words — 11 characters — of the headline.
The average BBC head that made Nielsen’s list weighs in at 5 words, or 34 characters.
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