Hashtags & headlines: Keys to better writing online

By Greg Dardis / Guest Column

Here at Dardis Communications, our instructors are receiving an unprecedented number of inquiries about writing for the web, from how to craft better blog posts to how to leverage them on social media. It’s all part of public image and managing your brand. We address every angle, from the use of graphics – which the Corridor Business Journal incorporates on Twitter to great effect – to tips on the timing of posts.

Our Business Writing course remains a popular program for all ages, including recent college graduates trying to stand out in a competitive market and retirees looking to refresh their skills for the next chapter. Our instruction on writing more effective email breaks down a range of common mistakes. (You might be surprised how many you’re making.)

We also stay up to date on best practices for social media. I like to focus on two sure-fire methods to expand your reach: hashtags and headlines. These are powerful mechanisms to cast a wider net.

Let’s begin with headlines. It doesn’t matter how good your content is, if you don’t write a compelling headline, no one will read it. This applies to headlines at the top of a blog post or a Facebook post, as well as the 140 characters chosen in a tweet, which function as a headline.

A headline should entice and also invite – that is, it shouldn’t be daunting. That’s why numbers work so well. A quick digit feels easier to process than a long word. Make your headline a list and use numerals rather than spelling out the number: 7 reasons, 20 tips. Placing the number at the beginning of the headline draws in more readers.

Some writers weave in bold claims to make their lists more attention grabbing: 7 reasons you haven’t considered, 20 tips you’re not following, etc.

Of course, not every headline can be a list. But every headline can offer to teach readers in a fast, painless way. Use words such as “introduction,” “The beginner’s guide,” “101,” “In 5 minutes” and “DIY.” These phrases grab more readers than the traditional “how to.” So instead of a headline that states: “How to grow your business through social media,” try, “The 5-minute guide to growing your business through social media.”

Those first few words in a headline are essential. Make them work for you.

You can also borrow from research on keywords that make headlines more viral. Some of those words are: smart, surprising, science, history, hacks, huge and critical. Try incorporating several in one punchy headline: “6 surprising insights on the science of social media,” “6 hacks to grow your business through social media,” or “The 5-minute guide to the history of entrepreneurship in Iowa.”

Don’t forget that your analytics can provide a study in headlines. Review which headlines generated the most traffic and look for patterns. Were they shorter? Did they pose questions? Use a first-person voice? Tag others?

The second tool to widen your reach is to use hashtags to be spotted by people who aren’t following you or haven’t heard of you. This is such a simple way to boost your traffic. Use the pound sign followed immediately (no space) by a word or phrase, which becomes your hashtag.

The key to effective hashtags is choosing something that’s not too broad. For instance, a business selling baby products could skip #parents and instead use #newmom.

Keep your hashtags short and straightforward. This isn’t the place to be offbeat.

Poke around online to see what others in your industry are using. Consider the hashtag of someone following you – or someone you’d like to follow you. Borrow hashtags from colleagues and competitors.

Brand hashtags do not have to mention your name, but rather, represent your brand. That’s why the Iowa Tourism Office created the popular hashtag #ThisIsIowa. It’s easy to remember, and it feels more organic and less sponsored to regular Iowans.

When it comes to writing for the web, if you’re getting your headlines and hashtags right, you can’t go wrong.

Greg Dardis is the CEO of Dardis Communications, based in Coralville. For more information, visit www.dardiscommunications.com.