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Dec 9 / B/R Quality Control Team


Part 14 of Playbook: The Basics of Writing for Bleacher ReportClick here for more information and to download all of Playbook for free.

Evaluating headlines can be tricky, as headlines are often written by editors, not writers. But it’s a valuable metric because the feedback encourages writers to play a collaborative role in the creative process. Just as Bleacher Report doesn’t want writers to accept assignments they don’t agree with, we don’t want writers to settle for headlines they think can be improved.

The best B/R headlines appeal to both human readers and algorithmic search engines by using compelling hooks that include popular keywords. In concrete terms, that means that search-optimization by itself isn’t enough to make a headline a good one—not when it’s real-live readers who will ultimately choose, or not choose, your headline from among a list of search results.

So what’s the key to getting picked? As noted in B/R’s Engagement Guide, the best headlines are readable, specific and clickable.


If you were writing for a series of search algorithms, you might get away with plugging as many keywords as possible into an ugly and ungrammatical headline. As it is, though, you’re writing for an audience of human beings, and human beings have a funny way of preferring titles that are, you know, humanly readable.

Awkward Headline: “Miami Heat in NBA Playoffs: The Team To Beat”

Readable Headline: “Miami Heat Are the Team To Beat in the NBA Playoffs”


Retail 101: Buyers won’t commit to a purchase if they’re not sure what they’re getting into. The same principle applies when you’re trying to “sell” your story to potential readers, which is what your headline is doing. Readers aren’t going to take the plunge on the basis of a vague or esoteric advertisement.

Vague headline: “The Best of the Best in Today’s NBA”

Specific headline: “Kobe Bryant vs. LeBron James: Who’s the Bigger Star?”


A “clickable” headline is any head that makes people want to read your article instead of the next one. We’d be lying if we told you we had the alchemy down to an exact science—but we’ve had pretty good success striking gold with three basic techniques: Take a stand; Ask a question, or hint at an answer; and Make a list.

  • Take a Stand

In an age of 24/7 news feeds, readers are drawn to articles that deliver argumentative analysis instead of merely regurgitating information. The more forceful a stand you take in your headline, the more likely you are to attract people to your writing.

Bland headline: “NBA: LeBron James Signs With the Miami Heat”

Clickable headline: “LeBron James Signing Makes the Miami Heat the Team to Beat in the NBA”

  • Ask a Question, or Hint at an Answer

There’s nothing like a bit of mystery to draw information-saturated readers into your writing. More often than not, your best headline option will be to hint at the substance of an article without giving away the whole story, for example by asking a question or incorporating open-ended words like “Why” and “How.”

Bland headline: “NBA: LeBron James Signs With the Miami Heat”

Clickable headline: “How the Miami Heat Lured LeBron James Away From the Cleveland Cavaliers”

  • Make a List

On the list of 10 Things You Should Know About Internet Readers, No. 1 is that they love lists. That’s not to say you should pander any more than you want to—but it does suggest that you’ll never go wrong by coupling numbers and superlative adjectives in your headlines.

Bland Headline: “NBA: LeBron James Signs With the Miami Heat”

Clickable Headline: “The Top 6 Reasons LeBron James Signed With the Miami Heat”

A lot to digest? Maybe. But remember that the overarching message is a simple one: Make readers an offer they can’t refuse. If you do that much, you’ll be well on your way to getting the exposure you deserve.

Next post: B/R Style and Formatting
Previous post: Authorial Voice

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Playbook: The Basics of Writing for Bleacher Report Writers is an 18-part series outlining the metrics and criteria of B/R’s objective Writer Evaluation system. The system complements the subjective assessments made by members of our Editorial Team, which means that a solid evaluation is a necessary but not sufficient condition of success with B/R. You can find more information and download the full Playbook for free at this link

Playbook Table of Contents:

Three story types
News Report Story Angle
News Report Narrative Structure, Information Aggregation
Argumentative Articles: Thesis, Rhetorical Structure, Factual Evidence
Ranked Lists: Ranking Logic
Ranked Lists: Topic, List Composition
Attribution and Hyperlinks
Textual Correctness
Sentence and Paragraph Structure
Authorial Voice
B/R Style and Formatting
Multimedia Assets
Common Mistakes: General
Common Mistakes: Three Article Types