Don’t get your head cut off
Web headlines must fit on mobile apps and more
Not everyone wants to play, “What’s the last word in the headline?” says Andy Bechtel, associate professor, School of Journalism and Mass Communication at UNC-Chapel Hill.
So write web heads that don’t get truncated by Google, social media channels, mobile apps — or your reader’s attention.
How short? Make sure your web heads are short enough to:
1. Get seen on Google.
Google’s search results display only the first 63 characters of your headline. To avoid getting your head cut off on Google, keep headlines to 55 characters or fewer.
Remember: Google never bought a product, voted in an election or supported a cause. So write headlines for humans; optimize them for Google.
2. Get shared on social media.
How will your headline look when it shows up on Facebook, Twitter and other social sharing sites?
To avoid getting your head cut off on social media, aim for 55 characters or less.
3. Get seen on mobile devices.
Mobile apps and websites often truncate long headlines. To avoid getting your head cut off on mobile apps, follow the Associated Press’s guideline and limit headlines to fewer than 40 characters.
4. Reach readers on the go.
You have only a few seconds to reach mobile audiences before they swipe left or leave for another site. They want to scan at a glance, not study for a minute.
Plus, long headlines get lost below the fold or take up too much valuable real estate of mobile screens.
To avoid getting your head cut off, keep your web head to 8 words or fewer, or about 40 characters. That’s the length readers can understand at a glance, according to research by The American Press Institute.
But online, shorter’s better. My personal preference is web heads of 6 words or less, or about 30 characters.
Off with your head
Hey, all those extra words aren’t worth losing your head over. So when writing for mobile audiences, write headlines to go. Keep your head short.
Sources: Andy Bechtel, “Writing Headlines for Digital and Mobile Media,” Poynter News University, Dec. 5, 2013
Eric Ulken, “Writing Online Headlines: SEO and Beyond,” Poynter News University
Eric Ulken, “Writing Headlines for the web 2010,” Poynter News University, July 29, 2010