Did you know that 80 per cent of people read a headline while only 20 per cent will read the rest?
Advertising legend David Ogilvy agreed:
On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy.
So crafting a powerful one is important. In this online world.
If you take one thing away from this post, let it be this...some practical tips you can use when writing your next headline.
So, I was round at my mate William’s house for dinner last year.
Will’s a senior journalist of 20 years’ standing. One of the best.
We were chatting. In the kitchen.
I was waxing lyrical about all the new online tools PRs can use to do their jobs better.
He humoured me.
Warming to my theme, I suggested some of them might be relevant to his job; and that he should take a look.
Flipping a steak, he turned to me and said, with a “let me stop you right there, Dave” look in his eyes:
"You're seriously trying to tell me that some PR tool knows more about writing headlines than me?"
Well, yes. And no.
Penning a cracking headline is an art. No tool is going to know your reader like you do. No tool can feel the pulse of a nation...capture the zeitgeist.
I’m sure if you tapped these headlines into the best headline generating computer ever known to man, the Family Fortunes klaxon would sound.
Super Caley Go Ballistic Celtic are Atrocious
Why Were There only 20 Lifeboats for 2,207 People On Board the Ill-Fated Titanic
Yet they sold papers. Millions of them.
But, as sites like Buzzfeed, The Huffington Post, and Forbes are showing, times have changed.
What works offline doesn’t work on. And online, like it or not, is where it’s at.
Facebook is winning and everyone’s a publisher now. And - with the decimation of this once-valued tier of the Fourth Estate - every journalist’s a sub.
Journalists and PRs alike have to adapt or go the way of the Dodo.
And if you want people to read what you write online, you need to spend time on the headline.
It’s never too late to learn new tricks and there’s plenty of useful advice for journalists and PRs.
You won’t find all the answers in this 750-word blog post. But it’s a start. Here are three top tips.
What you will learn from their analysis of one million posts from top publishers:
The common structural elements of viral headlines online
The most popular three-word phrases in popular headlines
Which headlines work best on which social networks
You know already that writing a great headline is all about connecting with people’s emotions
This tool analyses whether you are or not
And gives your headline a rating
30-40% is great. Anything above is stellar
I’ve found nothing better online
It rates you on grammar, emotion/power/common/uncommon words, structure, readability, length, how it will appear on Google, keywords, and sentiment
All that stuff that’s important to whether people click on your article when it shows up online
I never publish a piece of content without spending at least 15 minutes' tinkering with this tool. Why would I spend up to a day writing some great content then neglect the most important
Online tools will not replace journalistic skills.
No tool is going to be relevant when covering a party manifesto launch, a murder, or the unveiling of a new council initiative.
But to dismiss these online tools as only useful for lists of funny cat pics would be wrong.
Studies have shown that the most widely shared international news items have headlines that tap into emotions.
Tools like these can help journalists write headlines for online audiences. Provide ideas.
Use them. I did. And that’s why you’re reading this post.
A version of this article first appeared as a guest post on MuckRack.
I'm writing guest posts for MuckRack, PR Daily, SEMrush, Social Media Examiner and more. Get them on the day they're published...straight to your inbox.