Everyone knows headlines rule.
The ceaseless bombardment of information has turned the headline into eye candy.
Write a good one, and readers stop to give the body copy a chance. If not, the readersâ attention never breaks stride and theyâre on to other things in a nanosecond.
Perhaps no media property has perfected the art of the headline like Business Insider. In a recent MediaShift story, Executive Editor Joe Weisenthal and Deputy Editor Nicholas Carlson said shaping quality headlines starts by âdropping the journalese.â
Weisenthal went on to say:
âA phenomenon that we see a lot is someone will be like âCheck out this crazy slam dunk of some guy doing a 360â or âCheck out this crazy chart of the price of gold skyrocketing.â And thatâs a great thing. You tell your friend that, and then theyâll put it on the site and [the headline] will be like âGold rises 25 percent in two weeks,â which is not nearly as exciting. Itâs like, âWhy didnât you sell it like you just told me on IM?â How you tell your friend something youâre excited about, thatâs how you should tell your readers youâre excited about it.â
I get it.
Whatâs trickier is how far do you take the sensationalism?
Letâs look at how a headline might morph in the quest for readership when dropping the journalese.
- Dog Bites Man
No one cares (unless you happen to be the âManâ).
- Dog Bites Man over Fire Hydrant
Shedding light on the motive helps a smidgen.
- Pope Prays that the Dog Will Stop Biting Man
If the Pope is paying attention, maybe we should?
- CalTech Geniuses Figure Out Why Dog Bites Man
The only way we learn what the âCalTech Geniusesâ know is by reading the story. But does the core narrative create enough intrigue for us to care? Probably not.
- Secret Video Captures Dog Biting Man over Fire Hydrant
The three magic words: âplease,â âthanksâ and âvideo.â And itâs a âsecret video,â implying we might get access to salacious details.
Still, if the core narrative doesnât excite you, itâs not going to excite others. So letâs flip around the headline even if it means four wheeling away from the actual story.
- Grossâ Man Literally Bites Dog
Gross sells, particularly with that sought-after demographic of males between 18 and 25 who believe four of anything for a dollar is a steal.
- Man Bites Kim Kardashianâs Dog
Clever wrinkle plus plays homage to the SEO gods (over 11 million searches on Ms. Kardashian each month).
- The Five Funniest Videos of Man Biting Dog
Thereâs a reason YouTube is the second most popular search engine. The promise of laughter bolsters the likelihood of a click.
- Five Funniest Videos of Man Biting Cat
Cats are funnier than dogs, so it stands to reason this headline would be a bigger draw.
- Board Holds Tim Cook Accountable for Biting Dog in Korea
A lot going on here. Suffice to say, it would be a show stopper.
Back to the original question of how far you should you take a headline.
Iâd say as far as possible without losing sight of the actual story.
I might need to write about aliens more often.