All data points we look at today tell us that great digital headlines point to great engagement. Yes, great content also equals great engagement, but it all starts with getting the reader to click.

I wrote in the past about the obvious need for news organizations to write headlines the way digital news companies do.

And today, I am still quite passionate about the topic. Unfortunately, too many news organizations haven’t shifted enough to a digital workflow, especially when it comes to headline writing. Headlines are boring and very straightforward, and so many are clearly just ripped right from a print page.

For so many reasons print headlines don’t work digitally. For one, in a top stories section, you don’t have the print elements, the image and the summary, for the reader to grasp the headline if it’s a feature approach. Two, digital readers want to be engaged differently when it comes to headline writing. Very direct messaging works, as does a more playful, fun approach. Third, SEO is pretty important. Headlines that have no keywords and proper nouns, will not get you any search benefit.

I looked across a few small to medium size newspapers outside of GateHouse Media and found a few examples that clearly were using print headlines on digital platforms.

Here they are:

1. Headline: Solid as a rock

It’s a story about a child who is battling cancer. He loves Dwayne Johnson, i.e. The Rock. And he reached out to The Rock on Instagram, sharing his story of struggle. The Rock engaged back with him on Instagram, and the youth was thrilled. Neat story. And a headline that you could imagine worked quite well in print. No so much online.

Revised headline: The Rock’s Instagram connection with a local kid will give you all the feels

2. Headline: LHF earns an ‘A’

A local high school, after years of ‘B’ and ‘C’ ratings, finally received an ‘A’ grade from the state.

Revised headline: What did Lafayette High School do to go from a ‘C’ school to an ‘A’ school?

3. Headline: Player Profile — Ty Tabor

This is a Q&A with a local multi-sport athlete. The Q&A covers everything from his thoughts on the season to his heroes. Looks like a weekly Q&A with an athlete feature.

Revised headline: Multi-sports star Ty Tabor on his future and why Hines Ward is his hero

4. Headline: What a Show

This is a letter to the editor commenting on a recent play, “The Curious Savage.” It’s a common letter many newspapers receive, applauding the local theater group for the performance.

Revised headline: No wonder extra seating was necessary for great performance of ‘The Curious Savage’

5. Headline: Pirates’ special bond

This is a feature story about the impact a coach has had on his team. The coach, basically, has played a father-figure role and helped players with personal issues, in the classroom and on the court. It’s a nice feel-good piece.

Revised headline: How Pirates basketball coach Al Lacofano has become a father figure to his team


The republishing of print headlines to digital just has to stop. It doesn’t work. It’s not engaging. And for those who aren’t doing that, there just has to be a more energetic and conversational approach to headline writing.

It’s all about giving your readers a reason to engage. Being bright and fun and smart will give them a reason to click. A print headline on a digital platform just won’t cut it.

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