David Griner was kind enough to agree to fill in a session slot for a speaker team that had to cancel at the last minute for personal reasons. He’s talking to us about headline writing, which I think I’m pretty good at, but I’m nowhere near as good as he is. This is, um PG-13. Or maybe TV-17
It all starts with the headline. If you can’t title it in a way that’s going to be effective, no one’s going to read it.
In 2005, “7 Super Pickle Recipes” would have been great.
Vague and artsy: “Vinegar for the Spicy Soul”
Impossible to ignore: “7 Spicy Pickle Recipes So Easy You’ll Want to Abandon Your Career and Open a Terrifying, Ikea-Sized Pickle Store”
The old rule: a headline must be searchable. (True, but Google has gotten much smarter)
The newer rule: A headline must be clickable.
Today’s rule: A headline must be shareable.
So what makes a great headline?
- Personal and insightful (“11 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started My Business” “I Went on the World’s Deadliest Road Trip”)
- Stops you in your tracks (“This Epic Front Yard Dildo Battle Suddenly Becomes a Pretty Amazing PSA”)
- Finds just the right descriptive word (“These Shameless Cocaine Ads Prove the ’70s Were a Hell of a Time to Be Alive” “Meet the Hero Designer Who Publicly Shamed Showtime for Asking Him to Work for Free”) This is NOT about clickbait. This is NOT about getting the reader excited. it’s about conveying YOUR excitement about the post.
- Should be provocative without being salacious (“The Slide That Launched a Thousand Arguments at Cannes” aka FUCK BRIEFS, “Ad of the Day: Here’s What Happens When You Open a Gun Store in the Middle of NYC” “Groupon Posted This Product on Facebook, Then Replied to Everyone Who Made a Sex Joke”)
- Relates to the reader AND their friends (“The Definition of Hell for Each Myers-Briggs Personality Type” [Yes, I totally shared that one.] “The Worst Things You Can Say to Each Type of Agency Employee”)
- Isn’t clickbait. Clickbait is a false promise. It’s a tease with no substance. It’s an entire post that could exist in a single tweet.
- Presents a mystery that can only be solved by reading further. (“24 People Who Applied for the World’s Toughest Job Were in for Quite a Surprise” “After 1,000 Meals, Here’s What Made the Frozen Food Review King Call It Quits” “Watch This Ad Carefully and You’ll Be Transfixed by the Car Sitting Quietly on a Street” “Tinder Users at SXSW Are Falling for This Woman, but She’s Not What She Appears”)
- Makes you emotionally curious (“Here’s a Pretty Amazing Ad That Will Make You Feel Awful, Then Wonderful” “The Story Bring One of the Most Beautiful Real Moments in Advertising”
- Conversational (“DiGioroni is Really, Really Sorry About Its Tweet Accidentally Making Light of Domestic Violence” “Never Thought We’d See This, but Here’s an Axe Ad That Has Two Men Kissing” “Whoa, Walmart.com, Why Do You Have a Section Called ‘Fat Girl Costumes’?”
- Rarely written alone [Confession: I often IM people before deciding on some of my blog post headlines] (Carefully crafted headlines can come from extensive conversations with someone else you’re bouncing off ideas of; find a headline buddy!)
- As long as it needs to be (ignore any SEO advice you’ve gotten about this unless there’s an actual space limitation, but try to keep it short enough to be shared on Facebook and Twitter without cutting off)
- Is one that works. If you come up with a headline that goes against every piece of advice in this presentation, GREAT.
These aren’t really rules. This is about experimentation and finding the right vibe to convey your content.
Always question. Always experiment. Always measure.
- Is it accurate?
- Does it oversell? Does it undersell?
Still use an SEO headline! Or you can make your URL your SEO headline.