REVEALED: Every Trick in the Book to Write a Magnetic Headline


Published on

“Let’s put it on our website.” The refrain is increasingly common, but, as always, there’s a right way and a wrong way.

An amateur will do what’s easiest: copy and paste. But a pro knows that to copy and paste is to deprive readers of the Web’s richness. Shifting copy from dead trees to Web browsers is both art and science.

The art: to write for the web, you need to be not only a writer, but also a marketer, a designer, and a publicist. The science: to write for the web, you need to understand how people read on the web.

To this end, we’ll review the differences between reading something designed for a monitor and something designed for print. We’ll walk through the best practices of web writing, and review a variety of good and bad examples. We’ll also intersperse exercises throughout, so you learn by doing.

By the end of this workshop, you will:

* Be able to develop powerful headlines
* Know how to leverage lists, bullets, tables, headings, and other visual cues
* Understand the importance of images
* Write in a web-friendly tone

No Downloads
Total views
On SlideShare
From Embeds
Number of Embeds
Embeds 0
No embeds

No notes for slide

REVEALED: Every Trick in the Book to Write a Magnetic Headline

  1. Aberrational Behavior and the Causal Effect of Incentives Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything
  2. “Once headed for a bland retirement within newspapers, the headline is making a striking comeback online … No longer the exclusive province of copyeditors, it is now the cornerstone of emailed political appeals, the fulcrum of crowdsourcing capital on Kickstarter, and arguably the basis of an entire communications medium, the all- headlines microblogging system Twitter.” —RYAN GRIM
  3. Print vs. Pixels Virality Headlines Headings
  5. “BuzzFeed wasn’t just hiring brand names to serve as lustrous hood ornaments connoting credibility, the way Tina Brown and Arianna Huffington have. The hires at BuzzFeed were more like maypoles: young writers native to the web who become pivot points for content because they are bathed in both the ethos and practice of social media.” —DAVID CARR
  6. Lean Backward Lean Forward
  7. This is how we read scan online. Nielsen Norman Group (2006)
  8. PRINT VS. PIXELS  When reading online, we lean _______.  We don’t read online. We ____.
  10. “We basically found our guts were worthless.” —A senior member of Obama’s 2012 campaign email team
  11. “Writing for social media is an actual skill that people can learn. It’s not mechanical, but it is reproducible.” —Ezra Klein
  14. “The headline is our one chance to reach people who have a million other things that they’re thinking about, and who didn’t wake up in the morning wanting to care about feminism or climate change or the policy details of the election.” —PETER KOECHLEY
  16. “In a print newspaper, a headline is surrounded by lots of other contextual clues that tell you about the story: Is there a photo with it? Do I recognize the byline? Is it blazed across the top of Page 1 or buried on C22? Online, headlines often pop up alone and disembodied amid an endless stream of other content.” —BEN SMITH
  17. “Imagine your headline not as it looks above your article, but as it looks at the bottom of an unrelated site, in someone’s Twitter or Facebook streams, or in a search result … Think of your headline as an emissary for your post, written to travel around the Internet, selling the material to potential readers.” —MATT THOMPSON
  19. 8/10That’s how many people will read your headline.
  20. 2/10That’s how many people will read the rest of your article.
  21. 25That’s how many headlines Upworthy tests for every article.
  22. 1. Hey White Guys! I Got Your Back 2. Do You Know How Hard It Is Being a White Guy? 3. Being a White Guy Is Harder Than You Think 4. You Don’t Know What It’s Like Being a White Guy 5. White Guys Don’t Have All the Luck 6. If You Knew What It Was Like for White Guys, You’d Keep Complaining 7. Seriously, Who Is Watching Out for the White Guys 8. This White Guy Thing Is Pretty Rough 9. You Don’t Know What It’s Like Being a White Guy 10. Imagine You Were a White Guy.You Know How Hard That Is? 11. Why Are White Guys Always Being Picked On? 12. Seriously, White Guys Can’t Catch a Break 13. White Guys Have So Many Problems, if Only You’d See That 14. An Open Message on Behalf of All White Guys Everywhere 15. This Is What a White Guy Has to Deal With 16. Put Yourself in a White Guy’s Shoes. Comfy, Right? 17.The Life of White Guys Is Way Harder Than You Realize? 18. This Is Why You Should Feel Sorry for White Dudes 19. An Open Letter From White Dudes to America 20. A Public Service Announcement on Behalf of All White Dudes 21. White Dudes Have It Really Hard 22. Being a White Dude Is Harder Than Being Not a Woman or Not a Person of Color 23. Do You Know How Hard It Is Being a Woman? Try Being a White Dude 24. It’s Pretty Hard Out There for a Dude 25.Your Life Is Hard? Try Being (1) A Dude and 2. White
  23. A headline that starts out as “10 C.E.O.s Who Meditate” becomes “The Daily Habit of These Outrageously Successful People” — but only after 10 writers and editors bounce ideas off each other for half an hour.
  24. 104That’s how many drafts it took David Ogilvy to perfect his Rolls Royce copy.
  25. 500%That’s how much a headline can boost an article’s traffic.
  26. NUMBERS  X out of 10 people will read your headline.  X out of 10 will read your article.  Upworthy tests XX headlines per article.
  28. Uma Thurman Ice Cream Chicken Nuggets
  29. FREEENTERPRISE.COM Entitlements: Face the Truth or Face the Consequences FREEENTERPRISE.COM 10 Entitlement Truths That Will Blow Your Mind 895 views 26,627 views
  30. THEPOSTGAME (YAHOO) Deaf Seahawks Running Back Derrick Coleman Stars in New Campaign FTW (USA TODAY) Deaf Seahawks Fullback Stars in Commercial That Will Give You Chills 201 shares 2 million shares
  31. IOWA HOUSE DEMOCTATS Zach Wahls Speaks About Family MOVEON.ORG Two Lesbians Had a Baby and This Is What They Got 2.8 million views 17.4 million views
  32. THE NATION The Hunted and the Hated: An Inside Look at the NYPD’s Stop-and-Frisk Policy UPWORTHY Meet the 17 Year Old Who Blew the Lid Off Racial Profiling With His iPod 40,000 views 2.5 million views
  33. DEALBOOK Realities Behind Prosecuting Big Banks • Andrew Ross Sorkin • 970 words • 82 comments • Mark Gongloff • 509 words • 4,591 comments • 2,300 likes THE HUFFINGTON POST Eric Holder Admits Some Banks Are Just Too Big to Prosecute
  34. THE WASHINGTON POST FBI’s Search for “Mo,” Suspect in Bomb Threats, Highlights Use of Malware for Surveillance • Craig Timberg and Ellen Nakashima, with Julie Tate • 1,987 words • 173 comments • Casey Chan • 193 words • 577 comments • 297,624 views GIZMODO FBI Can Secretly Turn on Laptop Cameras Without the Indicator Light
  35. THE NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE How Companies Learn Your Secrets FORBES How Target Figured Out a Teen Girl Was Pregnant Before Her Father Did • Charles Duhigg • 6,800 words • 60 likes • Kashmir Hill • 1,200 words • 13,000 likes
  36. “I was stunned. It was an amazing anecdote that crystallized so much anxiety we feel about corporate data collection, how much ‘they’ know about us, and how they’ll use it … I couldn’t believe it was buried nearly 5,000 words into the story rather than being the lede or broken out on its own.” — Kashmir Hill
  37. “The New York Times article is a delicious nine- course dinner; mine is an equally tasty, bite-sized snack for readers on the go. Most readers online are looking for something quick and easy to digest, so my version worked better for them.” — Kashmir Hill
  38. THE WASHINGTON POST Business Coach Anne Loehr Tries to Bridge Diverse Generations: X, Y, Baby Boomer GAWKER “Generational Consultant” Holds America’s Fakest Job • Ian Shapira • 1,568 words • 1 hour to interview; 30 minutes to drive; 2 hours to attend a session; 4 hour to transcribe; 1 day to write • Hamilton Nolan • 436 words • 1 hour to write
  39. “Nearly every day a Washington Post staffer not only sends us links to its expensive reporting, but even pulls out the most interesting quotes so as to make it easier to pirate.” — Gabriel Snyder
  40. CASE STUDIES  When you got it, _____ it.  Don’t serve up your summary. Serve up your _____.  Pull out your meatiest ______.
  42. “Geek equivalents of Cosmo covers.” —Anil Dash
  43. “Contemporary media culture prioritizes the smart take, the sound bite, the takeaway — and the list is the takeaway in its most convenient form … You are, initially, sucked in by the promise of a neatly quantified serving of information or diversion. There will be precisely 10 (or 14, or 33) items in this text, and they will pertain to precisely this stated topic.You know exactly what you’re going to get with a listicle.” —MARK O’CONNELL
  44. “Promise me 11 things, I will at least read three of them.” —CHOIRE SICHA
  45. 13 Animals That Are Really Bummed on Obamacare’s Third Birthday Headline Source 7 Important Tax Facts About Medical and Dental Expenses 75 Facts About the 75th Secretary of the Treasury The 10 Most Unintentionally Hilarious Propaganda Videos The Top 5 Signs You Probably Have Pancreatic Cancer
  46. Can You Spot the Difference?
  47. The Debt Ceiling Explained in 3 Videos and 1 Chart The Debt Ceiling Explained in Three Videos and One Chart
  48. How Social Networks Change the World in 5 Ways 5 Ways Social Networks Are Changing the World
  49. King of Thrones: America’s Best Restroom Is in Minneapolis King Of Thrones: America’s Best Restroom Is In Minneapolis
  50. When “60 Minutes” Checks Its Journalistic Skepticism at the Door When ‘60 Minutes’ Checks Its Journalistic Skepticism at the Door
  51. Boom, Roasted: Here’s Why You Don’t Ask a Feminist to Hawk Your Sexist Product BOOM, ROASTED: Here’s Why You Don’t Ask a Feminist to Hawk Your Sexist Product
  52. SCIENCE  “List” + “article” = ________.  Numbers: “7” or “seven”?  Where do numbers go?  Should you capitalize each word?  Double quotes, or single quotes?  Italics, or capital letters?  Google cuts off your headline after __ characters.
  53. Swiss Cheese Embarrassment
  54. How to Win Friends and Influence People How to Win Friends and Influence Bloggers
  55. The Secret of Making People Like You The Secret of Getting People to Respond to Your Emails
  56. How a “Fool Stunt” Made Me a Star Salesman How a Silly Tweet Made Me a Celebrity
  57. Give Me 5 Days and I’ll Give You a Magnetic Personality. Let Me Prove It—Free Give Me 1 Week and I’ll Make You Influential on Twitter. Let Me Prove It—Free
  58. Only One of These Safety Features Can Help You Avoid an Accident Only One of These Tips Help You Avoid Running Your Credit
  59. Do You Have Any Idea How Much Fat Is in This Chocolate Pudding? None! Do You Have Any Idea How Quickly I Paid Off My Debt? In Just 6 Weeks!
  60. Do You Recognize the 7 Early Warning Signs of High Blood Pressure? Do You Recognize the 7 Early Warning Signs of a Failing Marriage?
  61. GREAT It’s Always Fun When a Sitting Congressman Sits on a Science Committee and Doesn’t Understand Basic Human Biology Sounds indignant but even-tempered BAD Meet Todd Akin. He’s a Horrible Human Being. Share This So Everyone Knows Sounds hostile GOOD A Congressman on a Science Committee Doesn’t Understand How Science Works Sounds preachy
  62. BAD Who Controls 90% of Everything Americans Watch, Hear, and Read? GOOD The Real Reason They Still Play “Mrs. Robinson” on the Internet
  63. SCIENCE  Add one slice of _____ cheese.  Embrace ________.  Avoid ____________ language.
  65. Cats Linda Fiorentino
  66. You Will Not Believe What Mitt Romney Wants to Do to You Just right: I can’t help but click. Mitt Romney Says Something Bad, Again Too vague: I don’t want to click. Mitt Romney Says, “I Want the Middle Class to Be Tied to the Roof of My Car” Too specific; I don’t need to click.
  67. Adorable Chimpanzee Does Something Rather Unexpected Just right: I can’t help but click. This Is an Amazing Video Too vague: I don’t want to click. Chimpanzee Sniffs Own Butt, Passes Out From Doing So Too specific; I don’t need to click.
  68. “Headlines now are a strange cross between imperative and inviting. The tone is soothing, seductive and at least a little bit demanding, like every character ever played by Linda Fiorentino.” —CHOIRE SICHA
  69. Bold Fun Contrarian
  70. Be Bold
  71. You’re Doing It Wrong: Poached Eggs This Awesome Ad, Set to the Beastie Boys, Is How to Get Girls to Become Engineers Why the FBI Director Is Wrong About Encryption All the Problems at Bloomberg Come Down to One Stat Bill Gates Makes Over $1 Million Every Day Doing Almost Nothing
  72. Be Fun
  73. Why Infographics Are Terrible, in One Terrible Infographic Demand Media’s Bold New Strategy for eHow: Suck Less What Shamu Taught Me About a Happy Marriage 22 Dogs Who Are Just Really Excited to Be Dogs Headless Body in Topless Bar
  74. Be Contrarian
  75. Think Like a Woman and Make More Money Congress Deserves a Big Fat Raise Coverage You Can’t Buy: Why the Disastrous Rollout Could Be Good for Obamacare Don’t Say Goodbye When You Leave a Party. Just Ghost Why Tom Brady Is the Most Overrated Quarterback in NFL History
  76. Personal Immediate Exaggerated
  77. Make It Personal
  78. Don’t Ask Hillary Clinton About Abortion if You Can’t Handle Her Answer Things Every Grown Man Should Have 19 People Who Are Having a Way Worse Day Than You What Recruiters Look at During the 6 Seconds They Spend on Your Resume 9 Questions About Syria You Were Too Embarrassed to Ask
  79. All You Need to Know About Sequestration Everything You Need to Know About the Jerry Sandusky Trial These 13 Questions Will Tell You Everything You Need to Know About Yourself Everything You Need to Know About iOS 8
  80. Make It Immediate
  81. Here Is What Happens When You Cast Lindsay Lohan in Your Movie Stop Everything and Watch This Basset Hound Run in Slow Motion The 15 Best Countries for You to Move to Right Now 10 Things You Need to Know Before the Opening Bell
  82. POPULAR SCIENCE Meet the Climate Change Denier Who Became the Voice of Hurricane Sandy on Wikipedia GAWKER This Guy Is the Reason Hurricane Sandy’s Wikipedia Page Didn’t Mention Climate Change Until Today
  83. Make It Exaggerated
  84. The Impossible Choice That Had Elon Musk on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown The Most Sensational Murder Trial You’ve Never Heard of Started 100 Years Ago A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius The Pope Just Published One of the Most Powerful Critiques of Modern Capitalism That You Will Ever Read This Is the Greatest Hoodie Ever Made
  85. BUZZFEED 29 Surreal Places in America You Need to Visit Before You Die VIRAL NOVA Step One Foot in Any of These 29 Places and Your Life Will Never Be The Same. Wow
  86. A Boy Makes Anti-Muslim Comments in Front of an American Soldier. The Soldier’s Reply: Priceless See Why We Have an Absolutely Ridiculous Standard of Beauty in Just 37 Seconds Dustin Hoffman Breaks Down Crying Explaining Something That Every Woman Sadly Already Experienced 9 Out of 10 Americans Are Completely Wrong About This Mind- Blowing Fact This Amazing Kid Died. What He Left Behind Is Wondtacular
  88. Use Power Words
  89. WEAK WORDS 11 Tips to Writing POWER WORDS 11 Smart Tips to Brilliant Writing
  90. WEAK WORDS Don’t Do This With Your Marketing Efforts POWER WORDS The Most Dangerous Threat to Your Online Marketing Efforts
  91. WEAK WORDS 5 Beliefs That Make It Harder to Write POWER WORDS 5 Crippling Beliefs That Keep Writers Penniless and Mired in Mediocrity
  92. WEAK WORDS 5 Grammatical Tips Everyone Needs to Learn POWER WORDS 5 Grammatical Errors That Make You Look Dumb
  93. WEAK WORDS How to Sell Your Home in a Day POWER WORDS How You Can Effortlessly Sell Your Home in Less Than 24 Hours
  94. Get Specific
  95. GENERAL How to Use Android SDK SPECIFIC The Beginner’s Guide to Android SDK
  96. GENERAL Telecommunication s Best Practices for the 21st-Century Enterprise SPECIFIC 7 Simple Ways Enterprises Can Cut Telecom Costs
  97. GENERAL How to Sell Social Media SPECIFIC 15 Case Studies to Get Your Client on Board With Social Media
  98. GENERAL How to Make Google Laugh: SEO Your Headlines SPECIFIC How to Optimize Your Headlines for Google and Humans
  99. GENERAL How to Get Better at Organizing Your Day SPECIFIC The 5-Minute Guide to Organizing Your Day for More Focus and Productivity
  100. Write for the Outsider
  101. INSIDER Bob Bowman Shares 9 Secrets to Coaching World- Class Athletes OUTSIDER Michael Phelps’s Longtime Coach Shares 9 Secrets to Training World- Class Athletes
  102. INSIDER Judge Aaron Persky, Who Ruled Against Brock Turner, Was Just Removed From His Next Trial OUTSIDER The Judge Who Presided Over the Ex-Stanford Swimmer’s Case Was Just Removed From His Next Trial
  103. THE ART  Create an ____.  Be b___, f__, and c_________.  Make it p_______, i________, and e__________.  Use _____ words.  Get ________.  Write for the ________.
  104. How Today’s Media Would Have Covered Columbus’s Discovery of the New World
  105. How Today’s Media Would Have Covered the Birth of Jesus
  106. If Classic Books Had Internet Headlines
  107. 19 Banned Books if They Were Made Appropriate
  108. book-titles-rewritten-to-get-more-clicks.html
  109. 20th-Century Headlines Rewritten to Get More Clicks
  110. 1905 How a Shocking New Theory, Discovered by a Dad, Proves Scientists Are Wrong About Everything
  111. 1916 “Physicist Dad” Turns His Attention to Gravity, and You Won’t Believe What He Finds [PICS]
  112. 1928 This One Weird Mold Kills All Germs
  113. 1945 These 9 Nazi Atrocities Will Make You Lose Faith in Humanity
  114. 1948 5 Insane Plans for Feeding West Berlin You Won’t Believe Are Real
  115. 1969 This Is the Most Important Photo of an Astronaut You’ll See All Day
  116. 1989 You Won’t Believe What These People Did to the Berlin Wall [VIDEO]
  117. If Upworthy Existed Throughout History
  118. If Video Games Had Upworthy Headlines
  119. How Websites Today Would Report the Monica Lewinsky Scandal
  121. “Millions of readers are lured by sensational headlines, only to be disappointed to find a superficial dispatch with no new information, dashed off by a harried journalist tasked with producing three stories a day.” —STEVEN LEVY
  122. “Upworthy posts don’t go viral because people click—Upworthy posts go viral because people share.‘Clickbait’ … is a totally viable … way to get a bunch of initial views. But it doesn’t create viral content. By far the most important factor in getting people to share a post is the actual quality of the content … To share, they have to love what they see.” —UPWORTHY INSIDER
  123. “There is hyperbole and the occasional withholding comment, and then there is the pulling at your bleeding heartstrings with the subtlety of a monster truck.” —LEXI NISITA
  124. “What special virtue is there in letting great videos, articles, and images fall into the Internet’s abyss simply because nobody thought of the right combination of words to unlock their audience? What’s more, when readers find themselves hating a headline picked by a testing audience and shared by 10 million people, whose tastes are we really objecting to — Upworthy’s or ours?” —ELI PARISER
  125. Assuming my boss didn’t mind the tabloidization of our corporate brand, I too could crank out clickbait.
  126. “Could you make a list of cute animals that gets five million views? It’s actually really hard.” —JONAH PERETTI
  127. “The kind of mindless Internet advocacy Upworthy’s been accused of promoting has inspired a new word: clicktivism. Clicktivists ... conflate feeling good … with doing good. They watch a video of a kid sharing his lunch with another kid, forward it to their social networks or sign a petition, congratulate themselves on their political involvement, close the browser window, and diminish the definition of service for everyone.” —KATY WALDMAN
  128. “Awareness creates the conditions for change.We are priming people for action.” —PETER KOECHLEY
  130. Slowing Terminal Sales at Bloomberg The Wall Street Journal All the Problems at Bloomberg Come Down to One Stat
  131. Double Down Scoops: How John Heilemann and Mark Halperin Learn Secrets The New Republic The Pivotal, Behind-the- Scenes Story of How the Game Change Guys Get Sources to Talk
  133. What’s the likelihood this headline will appear in the sidebar of most-popular articles?
  134. Would I share this article if I saw only its headline?
  135. If others are writing about this subject, is my headline different enough to stand out?
  136. Should You Write the Headline First or Last?
  137. “You may know some of the elements you’re going to include, you may know how you want it to begin and end, and you may know a dozen other big ideas that have to be in [your story]. But until you can come up with a headline, chances are you are going to end up like me, with all the hard work behind you and this small sign before you, demon- strating as clear as a Bahamian bay that the greater purpose was never framed and fixed.” —MIKE LONG
  138. QUESTIONS  Can I envision this headline in the sidebar of ____ _______ articles?  Would I ____ this article or post it on ________ based on the headline alone?  If others are writing about this subject, is my headline _________ enough to stand out?
  141. YOU TRY IT!  Your organization’s blog  Your favorite website  A current event
  143. Subheadings Lists Bullet Points Tables
  144. “The most important effect of any heading is to create white space on the page, making for a relaxed visual environment in which information can be scanned.” —ROY PETER CLARK
  145. “By using headings, I make the material easier to write and to understand. Instead of writing one long memo, I treat it like a handful of mini-memos on several smaller topics.” —MIKE LONG
  147. Signal Transitions Any website worth its pixels offers wayfinding tactics. Create White Space Long paragraphs constitute eye sores.
  148. BAD “She’s not promoting it, but she can be found on Twitter at @digitalori.” C’mon, Lori. Don’t be coy—you know you want more followers. I know you want more followers. Shout it from the rooftops! “Follow Richard Levick on Twitter and circle him on Google+, where he comments daily on the issues impacting corporate brands.” GOOD Lori “She’s not promoting it, but she can be found on Twitter at @digitalori.” C’mon, Lori. Don’t be coy—you know you want more followers. I know you want more followers. Shout it from the rooftops! Richard “Follow Richard Levick on Twitter and circle him on Google+, where he comments daily on the issues impacting corporate brands.” Effective? Yes.Yet it could be stronger.
  149. Turn a Scanner Back Into a Reader With Subheads Keep Your Reader in Track With Benefits Subhead Techniques Win the Battle Against the Scanners
  151. 1. I will learn to love lists. They bring order to my thoughts and deprive ambiguity of oxygen. 2. I will learn to love lists. They facilitate scanning and make my content snackable.
  153. • Bullets bolster brevity. • Bullets cut to the chase.
  154. Avoid clutter. Be consistent. Acclimate yourself to fragments.
  156. Table Paragraphs Just the essentials Full of filler Variety is vigor Blocks are boring
  157. The Middle East Friendship Chart
  158. HEADINGS  ___headings  _____  ______ points  ______
  160. Our brand is too important to be sacrificed to the ever-changing whims of mouse movers and thumb clickers.
  161. “That people ruthlessly scan content, both online and off, is just a fact of writing life. It’s better to accept reality, and resolve to suck the scanners in.” —BRIAN CLARK
  162. Bullet points and lists result in abrupt and terse writing. They hamper my natural fluidity.
  163. “We’re not telling you to keep your copy short.We’re telling you to keep your copy readable.” —ROBERT BRUCE
  164. As you try these strategies, you may find that one headline type works well for a while, and then begins to show diminishing returns. The key is to keep finding new ways to engage your audience. Experiment with what you write — and be ruthless with how you test.