Wednesday, April 4, 2012

5 Tips For Writing Great Headlines

Today's post is by David Toll at the Private Equity Cartoon blog.

So, you want to get more people to read your articles and blog posts. You figure that crowning them with cleverly phrased headlines will help you do just that.

It might. “Run Three Ads, Call Me In The Morning.” I came up with that charmer more than 20 years ago for a newsletter article that provided marketing advice to doctors. Did it help draw readers into the story? I have no idea. That was before the age of Google Analytics.

Today, as an editor at Thomson Reuters, I don’t measure headlines by cleverness. All I want to know is whether the story it tops generates a crush of unique pageviews.

Below are a handful of headline-writing tips I’ve developed based on 2011 site stats from a Web site I help edit at The site is aimed at entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and private equity professionals.

1) Don’t bother trying to save a badly conceived post of little value to readers. The depths of our least-read-posts barrel teems with finely crafted headlines.

2) Don’t worry about sabotaging a great post with a bad headline. The least imaginative headline won’t hurt a post that is of value as long as it at least summarizes the content.

3) Include an implicit or explicit appeal to reader self-interest--a desire to find opportunities, to avoid pitfalls, to keep score. Three of our most-read posts last year: "Slideshow: Who Makes The Most Money of All?"; “Slideshow: Top 10 Winners in Pandora’s IPO”; “Silicon Valley’s Undertaker: ‘We’re Anticipating a Major Fallout’”.

4) Emphasize what readers will be able to see or do with your story. If your post includes a slideshow, or an interactive graphic, include that in the headline. A surprisingly high percentage of our top stories last year had “slideshow” in the headline.

5) Adopt a conversational tone or even include a direct quote. Such headlines can be particularly effective topping stories about influential people; if they convey some attitude or controversy, all the better. The headline of the second most-read story on peHUB last year: “It’s Not a Bubble, People; It’s a Pyramid Scheme.” Two others in the top 10: “Sequoia’s Doug Leone to Mike Arrington: Why You Want to Be a VC is Beyond Me” and “Groupon PR to peHUB: Call Us Before You Write Another ‘Nastigram’”.

And, although this is a post about headlines, don’t forget to reward readers for making it all the way to the bottom of your story. And so, a sixth and final headline-writing tip: Call it out when your post includes reader photos.

One of the best-read posts on last year came in the wake of one of our New York City cocktail receptions.

The simple headline: “Slideshow: NYC Shindig Photos!”