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Possibly The Greatest Article About Headline Writing Ever Written

With the rise of social networks like Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest the way content is discovered has changed dramatically the last few years. If you want to be successful, your content strategies have to evolve along with the discovery mechanisms.

From a content creation standpoint, one of the things that has changed the most the last few years is the the headline.

When I first started writing blog posts ten years ago I treated the article headline as an afterthought.  I’d spend hours on a blog post and then approximately thirty seconds on the headline.   As I got a bit more savvy I started writing keyword-rich headlines with search engines in mind.

As Facebook and Twitter have taken off, my focus has evolved further.  Facebook and Twitter users are barraged with hundreds of posts/links a day and make the decision on whether to click or not in just a few seconds.  To succeed in this competitive environment you have to make your headline click-worthy.  A headline has to grab readers attention and compel them to click.  A click-worthy headline is a way of pushing the snowball down the hill.

One media company that gets the importance of headlines is Upworthy.  Upworthy requires writers to draft 25 headlines for every single article.  They then test the headlines to see which ones generate the highest click rates and use that as the permanent article headline.  All the effort pays off.  Upworthy has found that “an item’s traffic can differ by as much as 500 percent simply because of the headline.”

Here are some examples of click-worthy headlines I found on Upworthy today:

The thing about these examples is that the content isn’t necessarily click-worthy in and of itself.  These aren’t listicles or articles about cute animals or Ryan Gosling.  These are pieces about immigration, the plight of our schools and poverty.  Great headlines are what make you want to click, not necessarily the subject matter itself.

As I work to improve my own headline writing, I’ve found these two simple tips to be helpful

  1. I consciously think about what all the headlines I write will look like when I post them to Facebook and Twitter.  I still consider search engines, but my headlines are now written primarily for social networks.  As a result, my headlines have gotten a bit more casual and tongue and cheek.
  2. I make myself write ten headlines for every article and take my time in choosing which one to use.  I haven’t gotten to the point of doing testing like Upworthy does, but by taking the time to brainstorm my options I’ve found the quality of my headlines has improved and I’m seeing more clicks (and shares).  I’m no longer just using the first headline I come up with or writing exclusively for Google’s bots.

I’m still not a great headline writer, as evidenced by the headline to this article.  But by giving more thought to the headlines I’m getting a bit better every time out.