TopRank Marketing Editor

How to Write Compelling Social News Headlines

Crafting unmissable headlines which resonate with social web users is something which appears deceptively simple. Yet it’s an art form requiring writers, bloggers and marketers to craft thousands of headlines to perfect.

As someone who has been successful with creating content that goes hot across social channels I’ve come to appreciate the art and challenge of crafting sticky headlines. In fact, crafting headlines is equally if not more challenging than leads and even content itself.

Something many bloggers have down, but communications professionals aren’t always fluent in, is the art of crafting headlines specifically for social news sites/users. While there is no one formula for success, I’m going to share 5 things I’ve learned from experience as a blogger, social news user, PR pro and marketer.

1. Work backwards – content first, then headline

If you’ve got an idea for a piece of content you think will be popular or if you’v done your homework and researched the types of content that resonate on social channels, great – the hardest part is done. Now jot down a title as a work in progress and create your content. After completion, bearing you know you’ve knocked out a winner, challenge yourself to re-create the headline specifically to resonate with your key audience. You’d be surprised at how much easier this is than working on the perfect headline up front. Having great content in front of you, then selling it through a sticky headline is always easier than writing it staring at a blank screen.

2. Leverage archetypes/formulas which work for others (especially outside your niche)

Smashing Magazine has made page one of Digg more than 200 times, frequently using the same headline formula (number + adjective + design-related item + sticky message – i.e. 83 Beautiful WordPress Themes You (Probably) Haven’t Seen). Why would they change something which is causing users to instinctively share posts like crazy? Also, don’t be afraid to use archetypes that work in categories external of yours – especially if no one in your niche is using them.

3. Headlines should be outrageous, engaging, emotional, useful, counter-intuitive or remarkable – not to the world, but to your community

Your headline doesn’t have to make sense to everyone. There isn’t enough space to do that and still fit within something like a Tweet (only 140 characters + 20 character tiny URL) or Digg headline (60 characters). What it should do is conjure one or more of the adjectives listed above to the influencers – or 1%’ers as Jackie Huba calls them – of your community. To achieve this you must first understand your community – ideally by being a member yourself and able to empathize with them.

4. Don’t just create content, actually use social news sites

You can’t understand social communities at the level necessary to permeate them consistently with your content/headlines without being a member of those communities. This is not optional, and if you’re a blogger or marketer who merely creates content but doesn’t participate you’re missing half the picture. Learn the hot buttons of the popular, macro communities and you’ll get a general sense of how to craft headlines for social news. Then, drill down and become a member of more targeted communities relevant to your niche to learn what resonates with specific groups.

5. SEO intersection – frequently forgotten, always vital

A by-product of news stories which go popular on the social web is links. Content created goes popular, gets a ton of links up front and as a by-product the engine juice delivered helps create authority for that page. If the content is really good, it will continue to receive organic links months or years after it’s been posted due to visibility from search engines (and create a ranking that’s self-reinforcing). In other words, social news success can be long term: a story that’s successful has the potential to be a high visibility entry point to your site for years to come even after the initial wave of buzz.  Craft two headlines for your stories to help achieve this: 1 for search engines (title tag) and one for users (page title).

Conclusion

As social Diva Liz Strauss has pointed out, it’s not just about the headlines – you also need equally remarkable content to back it up in order to achieve any kind of worthwhile goal such as attracting subscribers or sales leads. But the importance of using clever headlines to help your content stand out in the first place is vital.

As the firehose of real-time social content speeds up, the value of well-crafted headlines will increase. And the truth is, tips can only help so much. Writing headlines is more art than science. The best path is to consider it an iterative process, experiment with different structures, study your analytics and find what works for you.

What are your tips for writing effective social news headlines?

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Comments

  1. Sara Broderick says:

    This is a helpful list, Adam. The reminder to start with the content first and then write the headline is a must. After all, when you write or edit, the content might become something different than you envisioned in the first place. It might go in a new direction, or there might be something really interesting to add to a headline.

    The idea of the headline formula is good, too. I like to think about the formulas magazines use to sell copies on newsstands. Although the SEO considerations aren't made when selling hard copies, magazines certainly use keywords and a formula. Take Women's Health for example: A recent cover line said, “10 Quick Energy Tricks that Work!' The formula: number + adjective + subject + result. This formula is found on many women's and men's magazines.

    One question I have is how do you strike a balance between being creative and interesting v. being straightforward and implementing SEO tactics?

  2. As a new blogger, thanks for these understandable & actionable tips!

  3. Thank you very much !

    Adam Krasowski
    http://www.adamkrasowski.com

  4. Ryan Waggoner says:

    This is something that a surprising number of very talented writers don't seem to grasp, and it's a real shame. Yes, we should live in a meritocracy where the best content wins, but the reality is the promotion is (at least) half the battle, and few things will give you a bigger change in attention than optimizing your headline.

    So to all the writers out there who are frustrated because their content isn't getting noticed, please take advantage of these tips! It's probably the only way we'll find your stuff 🙂

  5. Donny Lyons says:

    Another way to find good headlines is to search Digg.com with your keywords and see what interesting headlines/stories come up. You can use those to get ideas.

  6. imarkinteractive says:

    Great information and tips. I think a lot of bloggers and writers do not think about doing the content first and then the title. Keep up the good tips!

  7. Great Information!

  8. Thanks Adam for your useful tips. But the best, I think, was this –

    “And the truth is, tips can only help so much. Writing headlines is more art than science. The best path is to consider it an iterative process, experiment with different structures, study your analytics and find what works for you.”

    Jose

    • Yes, iteration and experimentation are key. Just getting out there, trying, getting data and learning are how you sharpen any part of web content creation, headlines included.

  9. jeremysaid says:

    Good post Adam. I like the SEO piece too. I firmly believe you will see search and social combine into powerful online opportunities. Great titles get clicks. Make them sexy, think outside the box, live on the edge. That's my view.

  10. thanks for sharing. that's great article.

  11. RedHotFranchises says:

    Great stuff! as I’m always striving to improve my writing on a daily basis to improve the conversion rate of my social media marketing. This information greatly helps.

    Thanks!

  12. How to get to know more about the social news and issues?

    • Gemstones says:

      i still dont understand. does it mean we should find topic on social news and issues than create content ?

  13. Whenever I write a new blog post, I probably change the headline a good three to four times before publishing.

  14. Great advise that is very very useful. Thank you!

  15. This is some really useful advice and I will take it into account the next time I write a new blog post. Thanks for sharing.

  16. beachbag says:

    Thanks for this wonderful and helpful information 🙂

  17. beachbag says:

    Thanks for this wonderful and helpful information 🙂