Powerful headlines are more important than ever.
Web readers are crunched for time, and they’re bombarded with content. If your headline is too vague or too dull, they’re off to another site or task like/that.
The same goes for journalists reading your press releases. You might have the most amazing pitch for a product or service, but if the headline is lousy, most reporters won’t bother to read about it.
So, if you want to write better headlines, why not learn from some of the best—the staff at Gawker media.
The websites owned and operated by Gawker Media—which include Gizmodo
, and Gawker
—attract 32 million unique visitors a month (on par with The New York Times
and double that of The Washington Post
), according to a report in The Atlantic
In that Atlantic
report, contributor James Fallows explores the future of journalism, and, in an unlikely twist, the former Carter speechwriter points to Gawker as the way forward.
In the story, Fallows visits Gawker headquarters in New York, where he chatted with the staff about (among other things) the science of Web headlines.
Here are four tips from that conversation to help you write better headlines.
1. Tell the reader almost everything in the headline.
“It’s almost as if you’ve got to get the whole story into the headline,” Gawker
write Brian Moylan told The Atlantic
. “But leave out enough that people will want to click.” Here’s an example from the Gawker-owned site Jalopnik
: “Watch drunk frat boys at the University of Albany destroy a car
.” You know what it’s about—and you still want to see the carnage.
2. No more than two lines.
The headline “can’t be more than two lines on the home page,” writer Maureen O’Connor said. “Your eyes can’t take it in.” She’s right—but that’s easier said than done when you’re also trying to tell the reader what the story is about. Make sure you’re tinkering with the headlines until they're the appropriate length.
3. Don’t be too clever.
“You can kill a story by using a too-clever headline,” O’Connor said. Gawker Media founder Nick Denton added: “The public is not very forgiving of wit in headlines … You can get away with one opinionated word, if the rest is literal and clear.” The headlines that once tickled the fancy of ink-stained newspapermen are off-putting to today’s Web readers.
4. Don’t be a smarty pants.
“You want the dumbest headline possible!” O’Connor told The Atlantic
. You mean, something like, “Boob-biting snake dies of silicone poisoning
”? Let’s put this one another way: Keep it simple.
Your readers aren't stupid, but they do want the headline served up for them nice and easy.