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.

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How To Write Awesome Headlines

  1. Tom Whitwell Assistant Editor, Online The Times + 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. <ul><li>Newspapers don’t know who’s reading which articles. </li></ul><ul><li>On the web, we know. </li></ul><ul><li>The difference between a good headline and a weak headline isn’t 5% or 10%, it’s 10x, 20x or more. </li></ul>Yeah, but, it’s only the headline.
  20. Yeah, but, it’s only the headline.
  21. Yeah, but, it’s only the headline.
  22. <ul><li>It’s not easy. Britney Spears nude having sex on Viagra while playing Runescape will not ‘get loads of clicks’ </li></ul><ul><li>It’s subtle </li></ul><ul><li>It’s working out what the story is, what your reader will respond to, and how to squeeze all the goodness into 68 characters </li></ul>What makes people click?
  23. <ul><li>Be specific. Why exactly should I read your story, not that other one? </li></ul><ul><li>Tell the whole story in the headline </li></ul><ul><li>Don’t try to be clever </li></ul><ul><li>Don’t try to be funny </li></ul><ul><li>Play to your niche. Don’t over simplify or patronise in the headline. </li></ul>What makes people click?
  24. <ul><li>Quick wins: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Lists = force you to do research and explain your points properly </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Quotes = Often the most interesting bit in the story </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Numbers = Often the most interesting bit in the story </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Names = Most likely who the story is about </li></ul></ul>What makes people click?
  25. <ul><li>Don’t worry about ‘being boring’. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>If your story is boring, no amount of headline jazz will help. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>If your story is interesting, tell it in the headline. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Write the headline first. Really. Always. </li></ul><ul><li>Great story which you can’t explain in the headline = crap story </li></ul>What makes people click?
  26. <ul><li>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! </li></ul><ul><li>If you get stuck, tell someone the story. The way they react will tell you what should be in the headline. </li></ul>What makes people click?
  27. <ul><li>You’re not actually writing the headline. </li></ul><ul><li>You’re finding out what your story is really about. </li></ul>What makes people click?
  28. I’m done. Sorry for ranting.