Craft more powerful headlines: get more eyes on your content

Craft more powerful headlines: get more eyes on your content

Did you know that 80 percent of people read a headline while only 20 percent will read the rest of the article?

Advertising legend David Ogilvy said: “On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy.”

So crafting a powerful headline is important. Especially in 2016 when so much of what we read is online.

Dinner at William’s

I was round at my mate William’s house for dinner last year. Will’s a senior journalist of 20 years’ standing. One of the best.

I was waxing lyrical about all the new online tools PRs can use to do their jobs better. He humoured me. Warming to my theme, I suggested some of them might be relevant to his job; and that he should take a look.

Flipping a steak, he turned to me and said, with a “let me stop you right there” look in his eyes:

“You’re seriously trying to tell me that some PR tool knows more about writing headlines than me?”

Well, yes. And no.

Penning a cracking headline is an art. No tool is going to know your reader like you do. 

I’m sure if you tapped these headlines into the best headline generating computer ever known to man, the Family Fortunes klaxon would sound.

Super Caley Go Ballistic Celtic are Atrocious

Why Were There only 20 Lifeboats for 2,207 People On Board the Ill-Fated Titanic

Yet they sold papers. Millions of them.

But, as sites like Buzzfeed, The Huffington Post and Forbes are showing, times have changed. What works offline doesn’t work on.

And online, like it or not, is where it’s at.

Journalists and PR professionals alike have to adapt or go the way of the Dodo. And if you want people to read what you write online, you need to spend time on the headline.

What to Do

It’s never too late to learn new tricks and there’s plenty of useful advice for journalists and PRs. You won’t find all the answers in this blog post. But it’s a start. Here are three top tips.

#1. Read this data-driven recent article on BuzzSumo. Print it out. Save it.

What you will learn from their analysis of one million posts from top publishers:

  • The common structural elements of viral headlines online

  • The most popular three-word phrases in popular headlines

  • Which headlines work best on which social networks

#2. Use this tool from the Advanced Marketing Institute

  • You know already that writing a great headline is all about connecting with people’s emotions

  • This tool analyzes whether you are or not

  • And gives your headline a rating

  • 30-40% is great. Anything above is stellar

#3. And this one from CoSchedule.

  • I’ve found nothing better online

  • It rates you on grammar, emotion/power/common/uncommon words, structure, readability, length, how it will appear on Google, keywords, and sentiment

  • All that stuff that’s important to whether people click on your article when it shows up online

  • I never publish a piece of content without spending at least 15 minutes tinkering with this tool. Why would I spend up to a day writing some great content then neglect the most important bit. Everyone wants an audience, right?

Online tools will not replace journalistic skills.

No tool is going to be relevant when covering a party manifesto launch, a murder, or the launch of a new council initiative.

But to dismiss these online tools as only useful for lists of funny cat pics would be wrong. Studies have shown that the most widely shared international news items have headlines that tap into emotions. Tools like these can help journalists write headlines for online audiences. 

Give them a try. Let me know what you think.

David Sawyer is a United Nations award-winning digital PR consultant with clients across the UK and Europe. He started out in PR consultancy in 1997: when they posted press releases. Before that he was a journalist. He set up his own PR company in 2014, Zude PR. Previously, he was head of office (Glasgow) at international public relations firm Weber Shandwick.

Photo: Folded newspapers via Shutterstock

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