How To Write Awesome Headlines

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A session from BarCampLondon5 and SMCLondon08 about the history of headlines, and how to write headlines that people will want to click.

A session from BarCampLondon5 and SMCLondon08 about the history of headlines, and how to write headlines that people will want to click.

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  • 1. Tom Whitwell Assistant Editor, Online The Times + MusicThing.co.uk for your music gear geek needs How to write awesome headlines. (So people read your stuff)
  • 2. The first ever headline in The Times (January 1 st , 1785)
  • 3. They were rubbish at selling stories
  • 4. Headlines smaller than body copy. Sure about that?
  • 5. Really big stories got proper headlines
  • 6. Rubbish at SEO: No mention of Jack the Ripper
  • 7. 1929: Real headlines
  • 8. 1945: Front page is only small ads…
  • 9. … even when there’s a really big story
  • 10. 1966: Far out! Headlines on the front
  • 11. 1967: Headlines get ‘clever’. The decline into decadence begins.
  • 12. 1983: Weak puns ahoy!
  • 13. Magazine headlines: What? What does that even mean? Oh. OK.
  • 14. 2000: Yes, yes, very clever.
  • 15. Then, suddenly, the internet.
  • 16. 1. Headlines were separated from stories
  • 17. 2. We found out what was really working
  • 18. Headlines is serious business.
  • 19.
    • Newspapers don’t know who’s reading which articles.
    • On the web, we know.
    • The difference between a good headline and a weak headline isn’t 5% or 10%, it’s 10x, 20x or more.
    Yeah, but, it’s only the headline.
  • 20. Yeah, but, it’s only the headline.
  • 21. Yeah, but, it’s only the headline.
  • 22.
    • It’s not easy. Britney Spears nude having sex on Viagra while playing Runescape will not ‘get loads of clicks’
    • It’s subtle
    • It’s working out what the story is, what your reader will respond to, and how to squeeze all the goodness into 68 characters
    What makes people click?
  • 23.
    • Be specific. Why exactly should I read your story, not that other one?
    • Tell the whole story in the headline
    • Don’t try to be clever
    • Don’t try to be funny
    • Play to your niche. Don’t over simplify or patronise in the headline.
    What makes people click?
  • 24.
    • Quick wins:
      • Lists = force you to do research and explain your points properly
      • Quotes = Often the most interesting bit in the story
      • Numbers = Often the most interesting bit in the story
      • Names = Most likely who the story is about
    What makes people click?
  • 25.
    • Don’t worry about ‘being boring’.
      • If your story is boring, no amount of headline jazz will help.
      • If your story is interesting, tell it in the headline.
    • Write the headline first. Really. Always.
    • Great story which you can’t explain in the headline = crap story
    What makes people click?
  • 26.
    • Work at it. Spend 20 minutes on the headline. Do research to get the words right. Don’t publish until you’ve got a killer headline. Remember: 20x more traffic!
    • If you get stuck, tell someone the story. The way they react will tell you what should be in the headline.
    What makes people click?
  • 27.
    • You’re not actually writing the headline.
    • You’re finding out what your story is really about.
    What makes people click?
  • 28. I’m done. Sorry for ranting.