press this button: why gawker writes the best headlines on the web

It’s almost impossible not to click on a link to a Gawker article.

It doesn’t matter if you see one on Twitter, your RSS reader or scrawled in Sharpie on the interior of a bathroom stall, it’s a moth-to-fire, trancelike pull.

You could say it’s because they have the best content on the web (but 98% of #wjchat would probably disagree), or you could give credit where I think it’s due: to the headline.

The headline is arguably the most important factor in visibility for your content online. And Gawker writes some of the most visible ones. Here’s why*:

1. They are as provocative as possible without being entirely NSFW.

Gawker headlines grab the heart of the matter from a story and squeeze it in their hands. They answer the “why should I care about this” before you even finish the sentence. They are aggressive, direct and descriptive. Because they:

2. Put context right in the headline, but not enough that you don’t have to click.

They give you a reason to click, pique your interest, and let’s be honest, they play to our often-quiet darker selves.

3. They put the person, place, or thing that matters in the headline.

Not only does this tap into the cultural zeitgeist, but it taps into trending topics in search and social. It makes the piece sticky to parts of the web (and culture) that normally wouldn’t care about an article. It forces these persons, places, and things to take note. And it doesn’t hurt from an SEO perspective.

4. They don’t care how long they go.

“Oh, there’s a character limit best practice for writing headlines? Why don’t you tell me all about it in my comments section, in the article you’re currently reading, with the headline you followed to get here?”

5. They write like real people talk.

Meaning gets lost in the brandspeak filter. You don’t need to sound “official” for people to take you seriously. In fact, the more you dress up your language, the less you appeal to real people.

(Note: I get that some brands and audiences require a more high-minded approach, but a conversational tone, especially on the web, allows you to be more accessible regardless of your academic rigor and standing.)

6. They (usually) deliver.

The cardinal sin on the web (and the thing that gets users to spit vitriol at you with the intensity of one thousand suns) is to bait and switch with your headline.

If you are promising free beer, there better be free beer when those you promised it to arrive. Or else? Chaos, resentment, and abandonment.

You don’t have to “be like Gawker” to get an audience on the web. But it couldn’t hurt to pay attention to these tastemakers. They’ve got the market cornered on attention.

It doesn’t matter if you’re B2B or B2C, Gawker’s headlines speak to the human at the other end of the connection like an actual human, they intrigue, and they pull an emotional trigger in readers.

Oh yeah, and they get clicked. They’re not perfect, but they don’t have to be.

What site do you think writes the best headlines?

[Image: Kevan]

*I figured it probably made sense to list some of these hyped-up headlines, but just like when you make your friend listen to a song that you’ve been listening to a lot lately and watching them slowly not fall in love, these will undoubtedly disappoint:

  • Company That Owns Costa Concordia Offers Customers 30 Percent Off Their Next Non-Sinking Cruise
  • Tracy Morgan Collapses At Sundance Festival But Not Because Of Drugs, Alcohol Or Kevin Federline’s Fatness
  • Happy Monday: 1.5 Million Credit Cards Were Stolen By Hackers
  • Study: Conservatives in the 70s Were Way Less Skeptical of Science
  • Are You Spending Enough Money on Beauty Products for Your Ugly Baby?