In the cult hit Newsies, Jack Kelly, played by a very young Christian Bale, says, “Headlines don’t sell papes. Newsies sell papes.”
Of course, those of us in the marketing biz know that Jack Kelly is a bag of bologna who should be tarred and feathered and run out of town. And possibly set on fire. And forced to listen to John Tesh’s greatest hits on repeat.
Because headlines are EVERYTHING.
A lousy headline means no one clicks your ad. No one reads your blog post. No one opts in to your sales funnel.
Every second we’re assaulted by 10,000 things fighting for our attention. The odds of someone clicking on your sorry, boring headline are about as high as a Milly Vanilly reunion tour.
Bad headlines = no money. No money = mo’ problems.
Famous marketer David Ogilvy said:
On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.
Clearly headlines matter.
If there’s one thing the writers of Upworthy know how to do, it’s craft headlines.
Yes, Upworthy is the most annoying website in the history of humanity. Yes, the overwhelming political correctness and general, “Can’t we all just get along?” content is enough to make me gouge my eyes out.
But Upworthy understands the critical importance of headlines. Those of us in marketing would be wise to learn from Upworthy.
So, with our teeth and butt cheeks clenched, let’s learn from Upworthy headlines.
GOOD HEADLINES ARE INTRIGUING
This headline is dripping with intrigue. What powerful statement did these celebrities make? How did they make it? And WHY isn’t anyone talking about it?
Despite my raging Spider sense, I can’t help myself. I MUST click on this headline. The curiosity is too much!
[insert sound of me screaming in despair and smashing my head against my computer]
The best headlines are those that pull the reader in through intrigue. Headlines that create a curiosity gap. That pose a fascinating question without giving away the answer.
For example, the marketing / copywriting geniuses over at Copyblogger recommend using the, “Little known ways to [blank],” formula. As in:
– 7 little known ways to save on your heating bill.
– 5 little known ways to lose weight quickly.
– 4 little known ways to deal with your neighbor who may or may not be a serial killer.
As you craft your lead magnet or email headline or blog post title, ask yourself, “Is this intriguing enough to draw people in?”
More intrigue equals more reads.
GOOD HEADLINES ARE INSPIRATIONAL
Is there anything more inspirational than teddy bears given to refugee kids? I click on this headline because I want to feel a surge of positive emotion.
Have I given anything to these refugees? No! But that doesn’t stop me from get getting some vicarious good vibes. Good headlines draw me in by promising me inspiration and joy.
To quote Billy Corgen, the patron saint of overly hormonal teenagers, “The world is vampire.”
Yes it is. And because the world can be such a rotten place, headlines that promise inspiration and hope draw eyeballs and clickthroughs.
How do you create inspirational headlines? The marketing madmen over at CoSchedule recommend using positive superlatives for strong, emotional headlines. Words like “greatest”, “best”, and “perfect” are surefire winners. For example:
– This military dad just gave his kids the GREATEST possible gift.
– G.I. Jane’s response to these sexist remarks is PERFECT.
Upworthy does it like this:
GOOD HEADLINES CREATE OUTRAGE
Sweet mother. I don’t even know what happened and I’m already starting to feel outraged. How could this young, innocent woman end up a felon? I’m ready to start throwing punches. To start kicking some butts and taking some names.
This is OUTRAGEOUS.
I click on this headline because of a surge of negative emotion. I need to find out what happened and I need to do something about it. I can’t just pass over the headline. It’s got me by the throat.
But don’t negative words actually hurt headlines?
Despite the common advice that positive always beats negative, the folks at Outbrain determined that headlines with powerful negative superlatives actually did 30% better than those with no superlatives.
When doing A/B testing, try running one with a positive headline and another with a negative, slightly outrageous headline. You may be surprised to find that your outrageous headline outperforms your positive one.
GOOD HEADLINES OFFER HOPE
Seriously? A wasp venom that kills cancer cells? Excuse while I start building my wasp collection.
Despite my deep-seated loathing of all things Upworthy, I seriously hope this is true. It would give a lot of hope to many people I know.
Great, clickable headlines offer mega-doses of hope. They promise to solve a terrible problem. To be the solution to constant frustration. To be the salve for a deep wound.
Everyone has problems. Headlines that can identify a sticky problem and then pose a solution are guaranteed to pull readers in.
I suspect this is why the supplement industry is exploding right now. Supplements can claim to solve the WORST problems, and those claims don’t have to be verified by the FDA. It’s a copywriter’s dream!
The same can be said for exercise equipment. One product made the following claims:
The Strap utilizes specialized quantum physics, geometry and vibration harnessing technologies to help synergize the power of the human body’s bio-energy system and allows it to run with optimum performance. Known as chi, or life force, energy flowing through meridian points in some cultures, The Strap technology actually helps to repel interference frequencies that block the free flow of this energy throughout the body. Similar to upping the watts in a light bulb…The Strap may help to instantly and dramatically increase the connectivity, flow and communication of your energy system! Simply place The Strap on your wrist or wear it as a necklace, when exercising or competing, and experience a charge of mental focus, strength and endurance of mind-blowing proportions! You simply can’t believe how powerful it is! Words almost can’t describe as you will shock and amaze yourself and everyone you know the very first time you train or wear it in the gym!
Isn’t that brilliant? A strap that utilizes quantum phsyics, geometry, and vibrations! Where can I get one of these?!?
The best headlines offer to solve sticky, difficult problems.
Yes, I despise Upworthy. But as a copywriter, I’d be stupid to not take notes on the what, why, and how of their headlines. There’s a reason the site has seen such explosive growth in the last two years.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, you’ve never going to believe what happens next.