Tag Archives: smclondon08

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.


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.
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Twitter is still a really small village – #smclondon08

At the SocialMediaCamp London ’08, I noticed an interesting side effect of having such “huge” amount of SNS geeks together – we have totally overthrown the Twitter. Even before the breakfast fully began, #smclondon08 hash-tag was already top trending topic and it continues to be so through out the day. At the time of the writing (3/4 of day done), we’ve already posted 600+ Tweets.

#socialmedia08 as trending topic on Twitter
#socialmedia08 as trending topic on Twitter

I guess the good side of this gathering is that we now effectively measured the size of Twitter-sphere and how much buzz it takes to become a trending topic and get attention of others.

Social Media Camp London October 08
Image by jkleske via Flickr