Day 11: Write Good Headlines

Today's SYS Challenge: Write Your Headlines #socialtranslator
Today’s SYS Challenge: Re-write Your Headlines #socialtranslator

Why headlines matter on social

No matter your goals for social media, chances are they start with someone reading a headline you’ve written.

Headline writing is a subset of copywriting, but it’s a subset that matters more than any other. More people will see your headlines than will ever see the rest of your content.

These are the words that get your article, website, email, or online profile read. They’re include your email subject lines and status updates, among other things.

Without them, you have no eyeballs, no clicks, no action, and ultimately, no sales, so they’re definitely worth some TLC.

How can I improve my headline writing skills?

It’s easy to evaluate your abilities in this area, and it’s easy to measure your progress too. This makes it an area ripe for investment of your valuable time and energy.

Here’s how to see where you stand:

Log in to your social platform of choice, and check your analytics for the number of impressions or views your tweets or updates are getting. Now compare this to the number of actual click throughs to your website, article or other item you’ve shared. This is a metric you can improve with better headline-writing skills.

There are a multitude of formulas you can follow to improve your click-through rate. (See further reading, below).

But before getting too carried away, remember: there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

The words that work for you in a headline will vary based on your platform, audience and field. It’s a process of tweak, observe, then tweak again.

Saying that, here are some words I’ve seen mentioned that might be worth including to start with.

Five kinds of words you can start using to craft more effective headlines:

  1. You, your: make it about your reader.
  2. This: introduces a level of specificity and immediacy that draws the reader in.
  3. What, which, when: questions drastically increase average click-through rates.
  4. Why: another question, but can also be used to create a curiosity gap, e.g. why x did y, etc. This piques curiosity.
  5. Best, worst, biggest, and so on: superlatives imply a level of authority, and can trigger an argumentative impulse in the reader (remember: people get sick of sensationalism and obvious baiting pretty quickly – you want just enough interest to encourage them to click through.)

Above all, remember to write like a human, even when that means breaking the “rules” of grammar!

I appreciate how hard this can be for translators. But ultimately, what matters here standing out just a little, drawing the eye for a fraction of a second longer than anything else.

In a crowded inbox, stream or feed, full of the robotic, stilted or plain weird, what stands out is humanity in all its messy, imperfect glory.

And sometimes humanity comes with a slightly more informal tone than is appropriate, or lower case where a caps should be. So don’t be afraid to play around a bit.

Sample workflow

I still have much to learn about the practice of writing effective headlines. It’s a satisfying area to work on though, because the results can be so instant, impactful and easily measurable.

As it is such a niche skill, I find it easier to write and/or polish my headlines, updates and email subject lines in batches – several at a time in one sitting, completely separate from any other kind of writing task.

(This can also mean it’s a task that can easily get overlooked or pushed to the side… but that’s why we have this challenge, right?! :))

Finally, it’s also an interesting area to consider getting outside help on, for example by hiring a skilled copywriter to revise your headlines in light of your analytics and to talk you through their thought processes.

So what do you think? Are you ready to (re)write your headlines?

Further reading

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A Social Media Challenge!

Your mission, should you chose to accept it, is to do one thing each day in October that will have an impact on your social presence in the longer term.

Each weekday in October, I’m going to suggest a task to work on for whatever pocket of time you can carve out that day. You can choose to follow my suggestion, adjust it to suit your circumstances, or come up with an alternative – whatever makes most sense for you. Or just dip in and out as it suits.

Follow along on Twitter, Facebook, or here on the blog. Let me know how you’re getting on by using the hashtag #socialtranslator (so I can find you!). If you find it helpful, please give me a thumbs up, a like or a share – that’s how I’ll know you’re finding it useful, and it’ll help other translators join in too.