Do your headlines suck? Mine, too.
You want to hear a juicy secret?
This is something I have never admitted out loud before. It is something I have carried around for a while now, and it really eats away at me. I think it might be a great idea to get it off my chest. Today is as good a day as any and you are a nice bunch of people so I know you will support me. Just make sure you are sitting down. Are you sitting down? I can wait a minute until you get a chair.
OK, here we go.
*Takes a deep breath*
My name is Shari Berg, and I suck at writing headlines.
I know, right? It is utterly shocking. How could such a skilled wordsmith struggle with writing compelling headlines? Yet, I do. This horrible affliction goes all the way back to my days in journalism school. I used to break out in a cold sweat and feel nauseous every time I was tasked with coming up with an attention-grabbing headline for the student newspaper or a class assignment. I would watch all my fellow journalism students and student newspaper staffers generate awesome headlines like it was second nature. No matter how much I practiced, headline writing never got easier.
Back then, there were not many tools to help spur your creativity. Sure, you could do some good old-fashioned brainstorming with other creative folks. But then you would have to admit that you sucked at writing headlines. Nobody wants that, Amiright?
If you are a bit headline-challenged like me, headline analyzer tools are a saving grace. There are plenty of choices on the market, so I reviewed a bunch to save you the headache of wading through them.
Here are my top 3 choices. They all have their pros and cons but do share one common benefit: they are all free. That is right, my friends. Free, free, free, free, free, free, free. One of the best-sounding words in the English language.
Free does not mean inferior. Give these headline analyzers a try. I promise they will make you a better headline writer.
EMV Headline Analyzer
Of all the headline analyzers I am sharing with you, this one is my go-to for writing amazing headlines. Created by the Advanced Marketing Institute, it targets a reader’s emotional side. Research tells us the best way to get someone’s attention is by appealing to their emotions. Writers do this by using “power” words that evoke action.
When I put the headline for this blog post through EMV Headline Analyzer, it rated it at 33.33 percent with a “spiritual” classification. What does that mean, exactly? Well, according to the analysis provided with my score, words with spiritual impact make up the smallest number of words in the English language. They also have the strongest potential for influencing your readers’ emotions. I was advised to aim for headlines with scores between 30 and 40 percent if my goal is to influence others’ emotions and prompt them to act.
Capitalize My Title
This handy tool is my runner-up because it challenges me to keep tweaking until I have the right balance between readability, SEO, and sentiment. Simply enter your suggested headline into the analyzer bar and then ask the tool to either analyze or capitalize it.
Using the same headline that I generated for this blog (the one EMV Headline Analyzer loved), I earned an overall score of 64. My score was circled in green, which indicates it is sufficient for achieving my goal of getting people to read my article. How did it come to that conclusion? It averaged out my scores from the three categories it rates. Here is how it breaks down:
- Readability: 90
- SEO: 70
- Sentiment: 30
Capitalize My Title uses the Flesch-Kinkaid Readability Score. Here is how it works:
What my score tells me is that my headline is written at a reading level that makes it accessible to most people. That is a good thing. At least when you are writing news stories or informational pieces. Now, with academic writing, you would want a readability score in that 0 to 30 range. Your audience matters, so do not always aim for that 90 to 100 range.
My SEO score also performed well. I kept my word count between 5 and 7 words (Google likes that sort of thing) and used both power words (do, your) and appropriate SEO keywords.
Capitalize My Title ranked my sentiment score close to what EMV rated it, so that was nice to see the tools shared the same opinion in that category.
As previously mentioned, this headline analyzer also offers a “Capitalize” option. What does that do? It makes suggestions on capitalizing words within your title for more effectiveness based on writing styles (AP, Chicago Manual of Style, APA, MLA). I have never really used this option. It might come in handy if you are trying to generate titles for email campaigns.
This headline analyzer is my third choice. It does a decent job but is not as effective as my top two choices. Since it is free, I hesitate to criticize it too much. It does have value. When you plug in your suggested headline, it will generate a quality score just like the other two headline analyzers on my list. It breaks your score down into strengths and suggestions. When I fed it my title for this blog, my limited use of positive sentiments and passive language earned me a 59. That is a good thing, according to this analyzer. As they like to say in the news industry, “if it bleeds, it leads.” Unfortunately, negativity sells. At the very least, it attracts attention.
ShareThrough also gives me a list of suggestions for improving my title. With my current blog title, it recommended the following:
- Increase your headline length
- Include your brand identity
- Reference the body of the blog
- Use context words
- Try adding a celebrity
This is the part of the tool I am not keen on. Some of those suggestions – increasing headline length and brand identity – are good suggestions. The rest? They are not always appropriate depending on your topic. I also disagree that I did not reference the body of the blog. I think it is clear I am going to discuss writing crappy headlines from my title. Still, the analyzer has value, so it never hurts to plug in your title and see what it has to say about it.
Getting your money’s worth
Yes, I know. These tools are all free. (I told you I sucked at writing headlines). What I am going for here is the sentiment behind that phrase. If you are going to use these headline analyzers, make sure you use them to their fullest potential for the best results.
While EMV Headline Analyzer is my favorite, I am going to let you in on another secret today. I never just use it when crafting headlines or sub-headers. I take the time to sample my headlines in all three of these tools on my list. It gives me a different perspective and helps me create more well-rounded titles and sub-headers. Give it a try. I promise it will make you a better headline writer.
If you try out any of these headline analyzers, I would love to hear what you think about them in the comments. Have other favorites not included here? Toss those out for consideration as well. I am always looking for new tools to try to improve every aspect of my writing.
Happy headline writing everyone. Try not to suck.
Can you provide me with a source for your claim?
How many times have we all seen that challenge issued to someone online? Usually, it happens during a nasty back-and-forth between two or more parties disagreeing on a topic. Facebook is great for this. Go there right now and I will wager that within less than a minute you will witness it. News pages and community groups are rife with them.
It is exhausting feeling like you must do research for other people all the time. Why are they not capable of Googling themselves? Some people state as much when confronted with the demand for a source. Even when the other person plays along and lists a source, they are likely to be met with accusations of #fakenews.
Sometimes legitimate information is deemed fake news because the other person does not want to concede that their points in the discussion are invalid. Other times, they may be right that the source another person is using to back their claim is less than reliable. I am about to drop a truth bomb on you. Not everything you see on Google is true.
After you pick yourself up off the floor, read that again. Not everything you see on Google is true. There are entire websites that are chock full of someone’s opinion without any real evidence to support their claims. There are even so-called online “news” sites out there that post derogatory claims and twist facts to suit their narratives to garner views. They do this because they know it is darn near impossible to prove libel and defamation. Quite a bit of damage is done when people read and believe without verifying that what Google spits out in the search results comes from trustworthy sites.
You cannot blame Google for offering up choices. The search engine giant uses an algorithm and web crawlers to search websites for keywords searchers are using. Then, it generates a list of websites and online resources with any mention of those keywords. It is up to the consumer to validate the information they are reading.
This brings us to the topic of our post: how to ensure the information spit out by the all-knowing Google is from a credible source.
Yes, this means you will have to do some digging. Yes, it means you will have to be responsible. Trust me, it is worth it. Knowledge is power. Make sure yours is gained from credible sources.
Here are the top 3 ways to spot “fake news” and to validate the information you find online.
1. Consider the source
Website credibility lends a lot of weight when determining the accuracy of information. For this reason, I suggest avoiding websites and other online sources that are user-created when digging for verifiable facts. It may rile a certain segment of the population when I say this, but Wikipedia is a perfect example of a user-created online source that is less than reliable. While it may look credible because there are sources cited, oftentimes those sources are misconstrued or misrepresented by the Wikipedia authors. If you want to validate any of those sources, go to them and read them directly from where they originate. If it is a scientific study, read it. Make sure what the Wikipedia post is claiming the study or research is saying is true. YouTube videos are another source rife with misinformation. Just because a “talking head” is stating something does not make it true. Many viral hoaxes begin on YouTube. Sometimes people create them for grins and giggles, and other times they are intended to deliberately deceive. YouTube’s algorithm is a huge part of the problem.
So, how do you know when a website is legit for quoting as a source? Websites with articles, news, and even blogs that are verified by experts in the field it is representing are considered reliable. Here is a perfect example of what I mean. This website requires all materials to undergo a review by healthcare experts to verify information shared is accurate and follows best practices for the industry. If you look right underneath the headline for the article, it states who reviewed and verified the facts in the piece.
Online resources that have expert reviews and cite sources are considered safe bets as well. Healthline is great at following this protocol. Their articles come with a fact-checked guarantee (along with information on who verified the facts), plus links to cited sourced within the text of the articles.
2. Check for satire
The Onion. Babylon Bee. Sports Pickle. What do these three things have in common (besides being incredibly entertaining)? They are not real news sites. You would never know it, though, by how some people quote them online. These online publications are the first to loudly proclaim to their readers they are satire. Some people who miss the proclamations are utterly fooled by the content. I have witnessed more than one post consumed by outraged individuals convinced that articles with headlines like “CIA Replaces Waterboarding With 12-Hour Lectures On Intersectional Feminism” are even remotely factual. Even when someone else points out the article is satire, the original poster sometimes sticks by their claim that it is a valid source. I do not know what to tell you when that happens. Sometimes arguing with the ill-informed is not worth the energy.
3. Conduct an advanced search
Google has this handy setting on its search page that allows you to get specific about where you would like it to look for search results. Here is how it works. Once you enter a topic into the search bar, you will see the options for settings at the top right. Click on it and from the expanding menu select the option for advanced search. Here, you have a variety of options for streamlining your results. One I like to use is under the site or domain option. It allows you to require Google to search only sites with .edu or .gov, where information is fact-checked and verified via multiple sources. You also can head over to places like Research Gate to find peer-reviewed studies.
Just the facts, ma'am
These are just three of the ways you can make sure your sources are reputable before tossing them into the fray. Interested in learning more about spotting fake news? Check out my interview with Nour Negm, where we discuss some of the best sources online for verifying information before you post it. Happy fact-checking, everyone! And remember…there is no such thing as alternative facts.
When I was a reporter, I often found myself smiling and nodding my head while secretly wondering what in the world some of my sources were talking about. Covering education and politics can have that kind of an effect on a person. I am certain if you all think about it long enough, you will come up with a time (or several times) this has happened in your lives. You struck up a lovely conversation with another person, only to find they began talking about a subject you know nothing about. To make matters worse, they used jargon specific to the topic, which further confused matters. No matter how educated you think you are on a subject, there always is someone who knows more.
Any time I found myself struggling to understand what a source was conveying I would ask them to explain it to me like I’m 5. It was my way of indicating that while they may be an expert in their field, neither myself nor the people reading the article were as well educated on the matter. Using simple words to break down complex ideas was going to be necessary for me and for my readers. It was a method that served me well throughout my reporting career.
Flash-forward to today and this method is everywhere. If you regularly visit social media and other online platforms, you have likely encountered the “explain it to me like I’m 5” phenomenon. Sometimes it is simply conveyed with the alphabet soup ELI5. Sometimes people use it as a sort of underhanded insult to suggest another person is out of their element and should leave the conversation. Other times, they are genuine in their request to have a topic explained in simpler terms so they can grasp another person’s view on a topic or issue. When an ELI5 suggestion is made online, how well it is received depends on the parties involved in the exchange.
It is an unfortunate possibility that the listener to whom the information is being conveyed will feel the communicator is insulting their intelligence by “dumbing it down” for them. The communicator also might feel slighted if they are asked to explain something in a way that they feel does not showcase their knowledge of the subject. A third possibility is that both parties will agree ELI5 is a great idea, and an amazing exchange of information will occur.
To help increase your odds of achieving that third outcome, here are five secrets to simple communication anyone can use. Whether you are having a face-to-face conversation, giving a lecture, or writing a blog post about a topic, the ELI5 technique works well when you incorporate some (or all) of these strategies.
Shari L. Berg is the owner/operator of The Write Reflection, and a writing professional for 25 years.