I’ve written thousands of headlines for the Globe and Mail newsroom and our commercial content arm, the Globe Content Studio, and I can confirm that the way you construct those headlines matter.
Re-ordering or introducing new turns of phrase can mean the difference between very few clicks and thousands of clicks. But that isn’t the be-all and end-all.
What follows are real-world examples. Over the course of months, we A/B tested multiple headlines on the same stories to get an accurate picture of the best performers.
Both had a similar number of impressions, but the first headline received a 262-per-cent-higher click-through than the second. Both are essentially the same with the words rearranged.
Here’s another example that shows how even a change of just a few words can make a difference.
The introduction of the word “reveals” generated a 52-per-cent-higher click-through on the first option.
It can be tempting to generalize and say there are specific ways to ensure headline success. But here are two headlines I wrote last year that seem to go against the grain:
Why is it significant that both of these headlines had the exact same performance?
Because it’s important to realize that there’s no way to predict people or the future with 100-per-cent accuracy. The best way to construct good headlines is to write them often for a consistent audience. The types of headlines that a reader of one site might respond to may not necessarily be the headline that the reader of another site or even platform might respond to.
That’s why the goal of editors should be to gain knowledge of their audience, and that only comes with time.
Thousands of headlines later, I know there are topics and headlines that will work for a Globe audience in a way that wouldn’t work anywhere else.
Here are three tips for editors and writers looking to write more effective headlines:
Use active language
You’re trying to convince a reader that they need to be devoting their attention to your piece right now, and you only have a few seconds to do it. Present-tense verbs are the way to go.
Readers want to know that your article will be worth spending the time on, so don’t be vague. Think about it this way – if you had to sum up the one point of the article in 10 or so words, what would it be? That’s your headline.
Test and try
You won’t become good at writing headlines the first time around, or maybe even the tenth time around. Don’t spend too much time crafting the perfect headline – it doesn’t exist. Try quickly, fail quickly and you’ll eventually land on something that works for your specific audience.