It's been a long time since only a handful of media conglomerates ruled the news world. It's been a century since boys stood on news corners and hawked the morning paper to passersby. It's been ages since the only book an average family owned was a Bible.
We don't get information from one source anymore. Just on a metro commute to work in the morning we're exposed to news from Twitter and Facebook feeds, Mashable, the Wall Street Journal, and more. One can find out anything just by asking a smart phone (Ok, Google, what year was the printing press invented?) or visiting any one of a million blogs hosted online.
If you're producing content, information, news, articles, videos, whatever - how can you possibly stand out? Your "news" is just one of many, many headlines an average reader will scroll by - and ignore if you don't attract their attention.
I believe your headline is the #1 determining factor as to whether someone will decide to click on your story. Altering and editing a title for your article is one of the easiest fixes - and one of the most valuable changes you can make to ensure your story's success.
Rules for Creating Headlines in the 21st Century
- Don't give everything away. Summarizing the entire article in your headline leaves nothing to the imagination and leaves the reader without a reason to click through to the full article.
- Don't use click-bait. Sure, click-bait is a reason why BuzzFeed and Upworthy grew so fast, but click-bait often results in a high bounce rates and can create distrust in readers.
- Optimize it for social media. A longer headline might be a better representation of your article - but what happens when it's truncated by Twitter's 140 character limit? Search engines also often limit title tags to as little as 55 characters in search results, so if the best part of your title is the second half - you could lose it.
Don't forget to take SEO and reader usability into account when creating your title tags. But if you've got the basics down, how can you grab attention in a new and creative way? It's tough - but try some of these ideas and brainstorm some new title tags.
Tell a story
People like conversation and emotion, and they'll likely enjoy hearing your story. I recently shared my story of "How Blogging Got Me My First Job." Can you share your personal experience? Just make sure your title reflects that personal aspect.
Just use Google's autocomplete search with "Brand A vs...." and you'll see multiple suggestions appear. People want to know which baby carrier brand they should purchase for their newborn - Bjorn, Ergo, Moby?
Leverage a Brand or Famous Individual
If it's well known, you'll get attention just because of that. This is partly why readers enjoy case studies or analysis of big brands. Try something like, "What do Kim Kardashian and ____ Have in Common?"
Modify a Quote
You know the saying, "when life gives you lemons...?" Instead of the traditional ending of, "make lemonade," how can you modify it to get attention? Ok, so that one is overdone, but what about "One small step for man, one giant leap for big data."
Stir Up Controversy
Newsjacking is far from a new thing - but there is a right way and a very, wrong to do it. Don't be the next Edelman, a global PR firm that attempted to newsjack Robin Williams's death and ended up with a whole lot of negative PR. That being said, you can also create your own controversy by expressing an uncommon or unpopular viewpoint on a divided topic.
Be Witty with Words
Think back to your highschool English classes. Do you remember how to use alliteration and rhyme? Here's a quick refresher. An alliteration is using the same sound at the beginning of adjacent sounds, like "Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickeled Peppers." Rhyme is easier to pick out with the end of each line or word using the same sounds. The trick for using rhyme in a headline is that you'll have to keep it short with two clauses.
Would you rather read a website that says, "How to Reduce Your Student Debt in 1 Year," or "How to Pay Off 60% of Your Student Debt in 1 Year." Both articles may be valuable, but by using a statistic - the reader knows what to expect and use.
"Why you should never, ever..." grabs attention like nothing else. Why shouldn't I do the thing you're suggesting? The only way to find out is to read on.
Crafting an engaging, click-worthy title is an art. It takes time, effort, thought, and practice. Your title should never be the last item on your to-do list of article crafting. Instead, it should be one of the first, as it can set the tone for your whole piece. Consider writing three, four, or more potential titles and running them by a coworker or two. What catches their eye? Since a title can make or break an article - it's always worth the extra time to get it just right.