You’ve finished the perfect piece of content. It recognizes some of your customer’s pain points and helps solve them.
Everything is perfect.
You even, in a stroke of genius, created an incredible headline. It makes people want to click.
But should “to” be capitalized or not? Should you capitalize the first word and not the rest? How do you choose?
No matter what you decide, consistency is important. You don’t want to switch between capitalization styles. Consistent capitalization across all headlines shows that your brand has the eye for detail that is expected from a professional publication.
There are a handful of styles to choose from.
In title case, all the “important” words are capitalized.
This style is derived from pre-digital publications like newspapers and government documents.
What are the advantages of using title case in your brand’s content?
- More symmetry – using title case in your brand’s headlines and headers means that it will look more symmetrical than using another style
- It stands out – Title case makes words stand out. It makes it clear that whatever your reader is looking at is important
- Add authority and formality – The reason that news publications and government documents used title case so consistently is because it adds authority to whatever you write.
Governor warns residents to stay off roads due to winter weather warning
Governor Warns Residents to Stay Off Roads Due to Winter Weather Warning
Apple uses title case in most of their work. But one thing that is very unclear about title case is which words you should capitalize.
If you choose to use title case for your brand, don’t think your work is over just yet. You then need to select a style guide to follow for some of the more nitpicky rules of capitalization.
If you look around, you’ll notice that many brands still follow AP style title case when it comes to capitalization. This style guide is ever-evolving, ever-changing, and is what most modern newspapers use. It has moved away from using Title Case as default, but here were the rules before that shift.
The rules of headline/header capitalization are as follows.
- Capitalize Principle Words – these include the first and last words in a title. You also want to capitalize verbs, nouns, pronouns, adjectives, adverbs, and some conjunctions.
- For verbs – if you use “to look” both words need to be capitalized
- Don’t capitalize – articles, prepositions, or conjunctions that have fewer than four letters.
- Remember to capitalize short verbs like is, to be, was, etc.
This great cheat sheet from BKAcontent summarizes the rules in a visual format. The article they write on the subject is also incredibly easy to read and understand.
If you are going to use title case to capitalize your headlines, I recommend AP style title case. The rules are reasonably straightforward, and the style is popularly used in many publications. And although the Associated Press no longer uses this as default, it doesn’t mean you can’t. Just be sure to note the exception in your brand’s style guide.
Let’s take a look at that style next.
This is perhaps the most common capitalization style nowadays. As we move away from formal decrees and more towards creating conversations with our readers, sentence case has increased in popularity.
— AP Stylebook (@APStylebook) June 1, 2016
I can’t find the exact edition where this switched, but it seems to be sometime in 2016. The rules are simple: capitalize the first word in the sentence and any proper nouns. That’s it.
The advantages of sentence case are:
- Easy to read – capitalizing words throughout a headline makes it harder for the brain to read. Sentence case makes it easy to communicate with readers.
- The rules are simple – as you read on, you’ll notice that the rules for sentence case are simple and clear, making them easier to follow and less likely that you’ll make an error
- Titles are hard to define – is the header at the top of your newsletter pop up a title? What about an action item on your app? You don’t need to change the rules each time if your brand sticks with sentence case.
- It’s easier to identify proper nouns – we live in a world where just about every word is a brand name. With sentence-style capitalization you can easily identify which words are proper nouns, increasing clarity.
- It’s approachable – we are moving away from brands telling you what you want and increasingly attempting to start conversations. Sentence style capitalization is the manifestation of that. People want to be talked to like they communicate, which means stepping away from capitalizing words.
Sentence-style is the business casual dress of headline styles and you’ll likely find your audience responding to it.
This is the style that Google uses in just about everything they write. They want to be approachable and clear in their communications, which is likely why they use this style.
If you want your brand to embody those characteristics, try using this style.
Some brands find success using all capitals. HIPB2B’s current website styling makes our subject lines all capitals.
It’s an intense style of communication.
The advantages are:
- IT STICKS OUT – There is no better way to get attention than using sentence case.
- IT LOOKS GOOD IN SOME DESIGNS – If you consistently write short and sweet headlines, then all caps can work. The spacing of letters is more consistent in all caps. You can also use it if you use a lot of acronyms in your headlines.
Consider carefully if all capitals is the right choice. NO ONE LIKES BEING SHOUTED AT. That’s the risk you run by using this style.
I can’t think of many cases where you would literally use all lowercase words for your headlines.
Maybe if you want to be overly casual.
The advantages include:
- This is the way many people communicate digitally – think about how you send a text or chat. In many cases, unless autocorrect capitalizes your sentence for you, you won’t make the effort to add the uppercase.
- It can look modern – because of the above reason, all lowercase headers or headlines could look very agile and up-to-date.
I think with the right styling and branding, this might work as a headline style, but I’m struggling to unearth an example of this.
It all comes back to testing. If you really want to determine what works best for your brand, first think about your branding and the audience you are trying to reach. Then test these different capitalization styles for the same content.
If you don’t have the ability to make the same web page look different depending on who is viewing it, you can test this via A/B testing social media posts or emails. Simply write the headline in two of the styles shown above and determine which one your audience likes better.
Let us know how it goes.
Let us know what you think:
- Which style do you use to capitalize your subject lines?
- Why did you choose it?