Headline Tricks That Need To Die…You Won’t Believe Which Ones!
Remember when headlines were just headlines—the title of the accompanying article— and nothing more? Now they have to be everything—a marketing pitch, a call to action and a pitch to “click me” instead of another link. And worst of all, a readily made template to just plug and chug without any further thought.
The demand for headlines to fulfill all of these requests has resulted in a dozen or so formulas that hope to generate tons of traffic. These tricks [“One Tweet Perfectly Explains Life” or “The Truth About X, Explained in 100 Charts”] are not going away anytime soon, especially on social media. In an an age where referral traffic from social media accounts for nearly a third of traffic, writers and editors must write for social media platforms. With a finite character limit, this writing is highly headline driven.
The problem with this is that everyone is writing for social media in the same way. Everyone’s using the same dozen or so formulas. First of all—how boring. Seriously. Where is the voice of the publisher? You’d think that in the age of personalization, publishers would have mastered writing headlines that aren’t cheap Upworthy knockoffs, but rather a statement that encapsulates not only the article, but also their vision and brand. Instead that’s all we see. The reason why those hyperbolic formulas worked in the first place was because they were different. They screamed, “pay attention to me!” and people did.
Almost like a domino effect, publishers started writing clickbait or clickbait-lite. What’s curious about this decision, though, is how much clickbait hate is documented. The Atlantic writes in Why Internet Headline Writers Hate Themselves,”Writers are caught between the commercial instinct to maximize attention to articles that they’ve spent lots of time writing and the aesthetic instinct to not hate every fiber of their very being after they write the headline and press the publish button.” ReadWrite reports that Facebook knows you hate clickbait but the data is so darn convincing (aka successful) that it continues to exist.
Don’t be that writer. Don’t be that publisher. Don’t succumb to the clickbait craze. You’ll hate yourself and people will hate you (not to be dramatic). That’s not to say you shouldn’t use headline templates. Just use good ones. Copyblogger suggests 10 sure-fire headline formulas that aren’t irksome. Blogger Michelle Schaeffer offers 43 headline templates to experiment with, all of which are clickbait free. You’ll want to pick headline templates that match your publication’s voice and style. And now, we offer 6 tricks of our own.
Tips to Stop Headline Fatigue
- Add some irony. It’s worked for Clickhole. Adding humour to the mix can bring self-awareness and irreverence to your work, for the better.
- Go negative. For the last several decades, people’s media diets have consisted of negative and/or sensational journalism. It’s carried over to the internet age. How else do you explain the success of How to Lose Friends and Alienate People?
- Make them curious, but not resentful. There’s a fine line here: too little information and vague phrasing can create clickbait (and audience resentment) whereas too much information in the headline destroys an incentive to stay and read; at best, it creates a skimmer who leaves the site too soon.
- Keep your voice. The most sinful act in the headlines war is adopting a headline that takes you off brand. If your publication isn’t likely to exaggerate and is not doing it in irony, don’t use that method.
- Decide on length. A recent trend has headlines acting more like sentences. Is that appropriate for your publication? For example, New York Magazine does an excellent job of packaging very long, sentence-like copy because it fits in with its trendy, irreverent voice.
- Use similes instead of superlatives. A simile is a comparison using the word like or as (not a metaphor). Using a comparison in a headline is helpful because it gives a frame of reference instead of an unfounded exaggeration. Will it actually blow your mind? No. Use a simile.
Is your headline looking like one of these? Abort mission. Check out these tips instead. Rinse, lather, repeat.
Image Credit: Helen Haden via Flickr