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Back around half a century ago when I first started seriously studying communications, one of my courses had a section that dealt with outdoor advertising. I don’t remember much of it, but I DO remember the key concept that the professor hammered home – we had to get our message across in six words or less. That was the amount of time most drivers had to glance at our billboards and digest the selling point. If we were clever enough, they’d remember us when they got to the house.

Fifty years later, I don’t care much about billboards, but I still like the idea of trying to get someone’s attention in six words or less, say like when I’m trying to get them to read a blog I’ve written. I feel like there’s a good chance that if I don’t tire folks out with a 17-word headline, I might have generated enough intrigue and they might have enough energy and interest left to read the article.

Thanks for reading this far

But beyond just being clever – when you have 6 to 12 articles on a page, they can get really messy looking when headlines range in length from 7 to however many words. While we can control the amount of excerpt text that appears before the ‘Read More’ link, our headlines (or titles if you prefer) are a different critter altogether. It’s best to tame them from the start because most content management systems don’t incorporate a good way to control headlines. Even if they did, who wants to read half a headline? And don’t even get me started on subtitles. They can take a page from being really pretty to being pretty ugly in a heartbeat. They’re just one more element to control. Avoid them if you can. Life’s too short.

And then maybe using that kind of discipline will carry over into the content of the article. I like to be concise without coming across as terse. But bear in mind that this is coming from a guy whose father used to say “If you ask Brent what time it is, he’s liable to tell you how to make a watch.” I hope that’s more in conversation than in my writing, but as you may have guessed, I do enjoy telling a story.

Back to the point. I’m not here to tell you how to write. Heaven knows there are way better teachers on that subject than me.

This is about headlines. Clear and concise. Six words or less. Attention grabbers. Clean looking pages. Happy designers. Contented readers. What a wonderful www.


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