How To Write A News Headline: Full Guide For Publishers

What is a good news headline? This is the question that, sooner or later, strikes almost all publishers. 

Is it the one able to provide the highest CTR (click-through-rate)? Well, most editors rely on purely CTR figures to gauge the headline performance. But, instinctively, you can feel it’s not the complete picture, right? 

What makes a good news headline

For big publishing companies and blogs that have already earned loyal audiences, the quality of headlines matters greatly. 


When a person enters your website purposefully (either your site is bookmarked, or they type it in manually, or maybe they’re subscribed), they come to find something interesting and valuable. 

How will they decide which news story is worth their attention?

how to write headlines for news stories

If they visit your site intentionally, it means they don’t need just any news. They need good news. They came for quality. 

A good headline is, first of all, the headline that promises a good story. 

Attributes of a good news headline: catchiness

As we said, a good headline pictures that there is a good story inside it waiting for the reader.

Keep in mind that each time the reader enters your homepage, they don’t evaluate your headlines rationally. It either grabs their attention or not. 

So, the first step is to make it catchy. 

What is a catchy headline?

A catchy headline is not the one that burns your readers’ eyes. It’s a headline that offers something intriguing while keeping a formal, respective tone of voice.

A good example

catchy news headlines

A bad example

bad example of clickbait headline

A vague, clickbait headline is recognized by jargon and phrases like “secretly,” “you will be surprised,” “who would think,” “shocking” etc. It refers to speculative, misleading headings that are just spinning mundane topics. If you want your visitors to genuinely enjoy your resource, then crafting honest, detail-oriented, creative headlines is your best strategy.

Attributes of a good news headline: hints at investigation 

If a story is an investigation, or represents various viewpoints, a headline should leave an open question, so the reader is urged to find the answer inside. 

example of a good news headline
engaging news headlines

Attributes of a good news headline: uses figurative language

A thoughtfully written headline makes readers hold their breath: in such cases, it is something that is truly well said. 

Using metaphors, figurative comparisons, or idioms (not obtrusiveness) to create a shortcut to understanding will help readers grab the topic’s essential right away. 

The trick is not to get carried away. It is a news website, not a narrative fiction. 

best news headlines
how to write news headlines

Attributes of a good news headline: uses present tense if the story describes a recent event

If the event occurred in the recent past and is considered breaking news, it’s advisable to use present tense. This way, a reader understands there will be an overflow of events in the article.

A news headline must provide an element of freshness, so you don’t feel like reading stale news.

news headlines examples

Attributes of a good news headline: invites a reader to watch if there’s a video

If the article contains video materials, there is nothing wrong with including this in the headline. This way, a reader knows what to expect from the article, and will proceed to the story to get what it promised: video materials.

Actually, sorting your stories according to the type of content they feature is a great way to provide your readers with a simpler way to navigate through your content.

news headlines with video

Attributes of a good news headline: is shorter than ten words

Everyone is tired of stumbling on complicated sentences, no matter whether it is a news website, a blog, or a children’s book that you borrowed from your 6 y.o. daughter. There is a simpler way to state facts.

Compare two versions below.

Good example

short news headline

Bad example

long news headline

Attributes of a good news headline: reflects the content of the topic

And finally, a good headline is a perfect reflection of what’s inside the article. It summarizes all that is written in the story and gives a clear, concise “name” for it. 

Your article can be very informative, truly engaging, and intellectual, but, if the headline doesn’t contemplate the article’s main point, the reader will find the whole interaction with a story useless. Just think about how much information is passed through our brains every day! Much of it is poorly structured and very unlogic. Readers’ demands are higher than it was before: all unrelated information will be automatically left on the curb. 

headline that captures the spirit

How to measure headline effectiveness 

Now, to the nuts and balls. How do you measure your headline effectiveness?

If the news headline is powerful, it reflects in:

  1. CTR (how many readers clicked on it)
  2. Average-time-on-page rate (how well the headline contemplates the content of topic 
  3. Recirculation rate (how often people choose to read another story after the first one)

For newsrooms that have already gained a loyal audience, it’s crucial to track these three metrics to be able to understand which headlines should stay, and which must be reconsidered. When you’re publishing many stories frequently, there should be a system implemented, able to monitor the effectiveness of each of your headlines. 

For, it’s the headline that does the biggest part: if it doesn’t work, no matter how good the content is, it will fall flat, riding past many readers. 

Want to know which headline works better? Ask your readers!

The surefire way to know if your headline is working or not is to get feedback from your readers. Of course, you won’t literally ask them. There are tools that do a technical part for you.

One of the most advanced content tracking tools is made by IO technologies. The software, that is represented in several solutions, provides a helpful feature for tracking the headline effectiveness by running A/B tests. The best part is that the system does all the work for you: your job is just to write the article, provide several headlines (up to 3), and publish. 

best content tracker

How to increase readership with smart headlines optimization

Once the test is run, the system initiates A/B testing, showing different headlines for one article that you’ve created, to readers.

After a set period, it reports back the results, based on the mentioned three metrics, where you can see which headline performed better. The system automatically removes poorly performing headlines and leaves the one that showed a better outcome. 

content tracking for news websites

“With IO solution, we’ve increased engagement rate by 10% in 3 months just by making our headlines more appealing to readers”

Lisa Maurch, a managing editor, Insight1 Media

Creating powerful headlines from the beginning is a task of a skillful journalist. However, in the world where a customer rules the show, having no analytics means staying a company with its subjective opinion on what’s good and what’s not. Even if you have the most talented team of journalists, it always makes sense to know where to direct their energies.

io technologies for news websites

IO technologies is a content tracker for publishers and digital news that takes over all the dust work and provides accurate results considering most valuable content metrics, so you can switch to other business tasks. With this tool at hand, it is easy to monitor reader’s behavior, day-by-day or in real-time, receive reports on engagement, recirculation, and other important metrics, to lead your content to perfection, making it engaging and profitable. 

Is it for me?

If you’re looking to improve your homepage performance, get in touch with us, and we’ll help you with setting up a free trial of our headline testing tools. 


  • Who specifically will benefit from headline A/B testing?

Honing headlines is crucial for newsrooms and blogs that have non-stop content production. Receiving full insights based on your reader’s preferences helps adjust the workflow and win more with your content. For, being truly interesting for readers means earning more.

  • The sites of what size will benefit more from A/B testing?

Starting from 100,000 homepage views per day.

  • What is an optimal CTR for a homepage?

The median value is 55%.

  • What to avoid while conducting A/B testing?

Stay away from changing your style and principles for the sake of traffic. Drop clickbait headlines – they won’t bring you meaningful results in the long-run.

  • What is the perfect size for a news headline?

A news headline should consist of max. 10 words. Escape complicated structures. A news headline must be short, clear, and should identify the subject.

  • How to make sure your news headline is good?

As we pointed before, a good news headline makes your readers click on it and read what’s inside. It means it is catchy and engaging enough to make readers hit the button, as the same time it perfectly correlates with the topic of material, meaning the reader won’t leave the page because the news headline doesn’t reflect the narrative’s essentials. To improve the quality of your news headlines, it is advisable to use specifically designed tools that will clear the mist around your readers’ preferences.