Tag Archives: Tom Whitwell

How to Write awesome headlines (so people read your stuff)

Tom Whitwell knows a lot about headlines, since he’s Assistant Editor, online, for The Times. This are notes from his talk at Social Media Camp ’08.

A newspaper headline trumpeting Frank's guilt.
Image via Wikipedia
  • If you’re using Gmail, you should start thinking about SEO-ing your subjects, so you’ll actually find something in 10-years time.
  • For first hundred years of newspapers, they were really rubbish at selling stories
  • 1967: Headlines finally get clever
  • Internet: suddenly headlines start to go different
  • Times internet: lots of data points to figure out what works
  • The clearest example of “good headlines” is the Drudge Report
  • The difference of headlines is not 5% but 5x or even 20x
  • What makes people click? It’s working out what the story is, what your reader will respond to, and how to squeeze all the goodness into 68 characters

Rules of thumb:

Old headline
Image by joe_reach via Flickr
  • Be specific
  • The 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 patronize in the headline

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
  • Don’t worry about “being boring”
  • Write the headline first. Really. Always.
  • Great story which you can’t explain in the headline = crap story
  • Spend a lot of time on headline. Remember: 20x the traffic.

Questions:

Funny Ham & I headline: YOBS PICTURED ROBBING 104-YEAR-OLD
Image by gruntzooki via Flickr
  • Do you do split tests? It’s quite tricky in practice, so only in limited amount.
  • Do you seed your stories on Digg? Not really.
  • How much traffic do you get from Digg? Big Digg – over 100k visits. Fark sends you about 30k.
  • How much traffic you get from Drudge report? It will send you about 50k visits.
  • Do you automatically promote stories? No, not yet. We look at it manually and go to news desk as we see stories get picked up.
  • Is there a difference between headline that you want someone to read vs. to respond to? We’re focusing for the purpose for this talk on how to get people to click.
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]