Writing Effective Headlines for Web and Mobile Devices

You have two audiences online: readers and search engines.

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

For search engines: 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

Now practice by rewriting these newspaper headlines from the Star-Ledger…

Example 1: A Super Letdown

They rule the skies over every major sporting event.

example1Cruising majestically overhead, airships long have been an iconic symbol of the big game, patrolling the fairways of the PGA Championship, providing unique camera shots for the World Series, watching over the Daytona 500 and following the field action for countless Super Bowls.

But it’s unlikely there will be a blimp hovering over MetLife Stadium in New Jersey come February for this season’s Super Bowl XLVIII. Greg Poppenhouse, chief pilot for Goodyear, almost shivers at the thought of flying over East Rutherford on Groundhog Day.

“We won’t have a blimp up there,” he said of the upcoming Super Bowl. “We put our ship in the hangar in the winter.”

That’s because no one in a lighter-than-air craft ever wants to get into a snowball fight with the weather.

It’s not so much the cold that worries Poppenhouse, but what typically accompanies it during New Jersey winters.

Flying through a rainstorm in the summer can suddenly add 400 pounds of weight to a blimp, he noted. In the winter, though, that precipitation turns into snow and freezing rain, which can accumulate on the wide expanse of an airship’s helium gas envelope, adding enough weight to quickly give a blimp the flying characteristics of a brick.

Not even MetLife, whose name is emblazoned on the stadium that is home to the Jets and Giants, will chance its two U.S.-based airships — Snoopy One and Snoopy Two — to the uncertainties of the winter skies on Super Bowl Sunday this February….

Example 2: Tragic Tale of a Death Born on a the Practice Field

As Ryne Dougherty took his defensive stance on the north end of the Montclair High School football field on Sept. 18, 2008, he knew he had one job to do. Knock the ball carrier down.

example2For the junior linebacker, a borderline varsity player standing 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighing 180 pounds, practice was the one place where Ryne could show his coaches he didn’t belong on the junior varsity team anymore.

It was the sort of drill that football coaches have used since the game was invented to gauge their players’ toughness. The live blocking and tackling drill.

Fifteen minutes in, Ryne joined in on the tackle of a varsity player. But as the scrum broke up and players returned to their positions, Ryne was still on his back, complaining that his head hurt and that he didn’t want to get up just yet.

“I am dizzy and I have a headache,” Ryne told the school’s athletic trainer when she rushed from a nearby soccer field to find him facedown on the turf.

Minutes later, Ryne was vomiting.

Twenty-five days later, Ryne would be back on the field, facing off against Don Bosco Prep — one of the powerhouses in New Jersey high school football — in a junior varsity game that would be his last.

Two weeks ago, the Montclair Board of Education agreed to pay Ryne’s family $2.8 million to settle a 2009 negligence lawsuit alleging the school’s decision to let their son back on the field led to the 16-year-old’s death.

Pre-trial depositions obtained by The Star-Ledger offer the first glimpse at the case Montclair school officials were facing as they tried to defend the actions of their athletic staff.

Taken some two years after Ryne died, the depositions provide the most detailed account to date of the head injury Ryne suffered in practice less than a month before the Don Bosco game.

And they offer fresh insight into the thinking of the school’s trainers and coaches in the weeks before Ryne played his last game as a Mountie….

Example 3: After 140 Years, Rutgers Changes Its Tune

After years of debate and complaints that the lyrics are sexist, Rutgers University is changing the words to “On the Banks of the Old Raritan,” its 140-year-old alma mater.example3

The song — sung at football games, commencement and campus events– will no longer begin “My father sent me to old Rutgers/ And resolv’d that I should be a man.”

Instead, the first verse will begin: “From far and near we came to Rutgers/ And resolved to learn all that we can.” The chorus and second verse will remain the same.

The new lyrics will make their official debut at the start of Saturday’s nationally-televised Rutgers-Arkansas football game at 3:30 p.m. on ESPN. The all-male Rutgers University Glee Club will sing the revised song as the lyrics scroll across the digital message board that rings the stadium in Piscataway.

The change comes after decades of debate at the 65,000-student state university, where half of the students are women.

“I’ve been here for 20 years and the issue has been on the table since I got here,” said Patrick Gardner, Rutgers’ director of choral activities and author of the new lyrics. “Fifty percent of the student body shouldn’t have to sing they want to become a man.”
Video: Rutgers alma mater Rutgers University alma mater “On the Banks of the Old Raritan” being sung by the football team following a home victory in Piscataway. (Video by Andre Malok/The Star-Ledger)

Rutgers officials said they are aware the decision to rewrite the opening lines to an alma mater that has been sung since the 1870s will be controversial. Over the years, some alumni have been adamant the lyrics stay the same. Numerous previous attempts to rewrite the song were rejected or failed to catch on….

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