The Ultimate Headline Checklist A Tough Mudder for Headlines

The Ultimate Headline Checklist: A Tough Mudder for headlines.

What doesn’t kill your headline makes it stronger.

You’ve no doubt heard of the Tough Mudder, an obstacle course event set up by the British Special Forces.

Thousands of people test themselves at Tough Mudder events across the country. They crawl under barbed wire. They scale walls. They run through mud.

And when they finish, they know they are ready for just about anything.

Well, that’s what you need to do with your headlines—by running them through the Ultimate Headline Checklist.

If one of your headlines makes it through, you know it’s ready. For your blog. For Facebook. For Twitter. For just about anything.

Can your headline survive?

Take a headline you’re planning on using and ask these questions:

  1. Is it short? One of the most successful blogs I know has an average of 8.83 words per headline. Now, not every single headline you write needs to be this short. But if it’s significantly longer, make sure you have a really good reason.
  2. Is it clear? Seems obvious. But there is always a danger your reader may not even understand your headline. So make sure its meaning is plain. If you’re not absolutely certain, have someone read it then tell you what she thinks it means.
  3. Is it relevant? In other words, is your headline talking about something that matters to your target audience? Sometimes, in the excitement of coming up with headlines, you may find that you have strayed off course.
  4. Is it interesting? Does your headline talk about something that piques the interest of your target audience?  This is a pretty low hurdle. Still, make sure your headline clears it.
  5. Is it suspenseful? Some headlines tell the whole story. And some don’t effectively hint at what’s to come. Make sure your headline excites some curiosity in your reader so she’ll feel a strong desire to read further.
  6. Does it pass the Flesch Test? By going to and pasting in your headline, you can get its Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level. My research suggests that a grade level of 5 to 6 is about right for headlines.
  7. Does it use the keywords you targeted? Make sure you haven’t left those by the wayside in your flurry of headline-creating activities.
  8. Does it use a pun or other word play? Wordplay calls attention to itself. You want to call attention to your content. So in most cases, avoid wordplay. It doesn’t do a good job of drawing people into your article.
  9. Has it been used before? It’s always possible that your Headline-To-End-All-Headlines has already been used. So do a quick Google search and find out. This will keep people from searching for your article and finding someone else’s.
  10. Would you be okay with your mom reading it? I’ve written some headlines that my mom wouldn’t have liked. And I didn’t use them. In retrospect, the headlines that I ended up using were always better.
  11. Does it make you want to read what follows? Imagine your headline on someone’s else’s blog. Then ask yourself honestly: if you were to encounter this headline, would you feel strongly inclined to read further?
  12. Did you run it by someone you trust? Try to identify a friend who is a good barometer of headline-awesomeness. Then run your most important headlines by her. Don’t ask if she likes the headline. Ask if she’d want to read what comes next.
  13. Does it excite you? My best headlines give me a great feeling of anticipation, like I just can’t wait to see what comes next. Not every headline will make you feel this way. So watch for the ones that get you excited—and don’t let them get away.
  14. Does it challenge you to make sure the rest of your content is exceptional? A good headline will make you want to read your article one more time to make sure it measures up. If your headline makes you do that, you’ve got a good one.
  15. Do you love it? Okay, I saved this one for the last. Because sometimes, it’s the only test that matters. If your headline doesn’t do so well on the other obstacles—but you still love it—you may want to go with it anyway. Your intuition may be telling you that you have one of those revolutionary headlines that breaks all the rules.

So how did your headline do? Did it survive?

If so, it’s ready to face the onslaught of the outside world.

Of course, the real test of any headline is how well it works. But the Ultimate Headline Checklist will drastically increase the odds that it will do an amazing job.

And if your headline didn’t survive? Sorry. But some headlines are better off left behind, lying face first in the mud under the barbed wire.

Was this article helpful? How did one of your headlines do on this checklist? Leave me a comment below.

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