Kevan Lee gave us 30+ Ultimate Headline Formulas for Tweets, Posts, Articles, and Emails. Or 30+ templates for headlines that make us click, even as we roll our eyes…
Click-baity, Upworthy-style, BuzzFeed-type headlines work, because they have the backing of human psychology. These headlines whet the reader’s appetite and tug at the brain until we’re compelled to read. Sure, there’s a little echo of “Hah! Made ya look!” but if the post delivers on the promise, we’ll grudgingly do it again next time. “Curiosity killed the cat; satisfaction brought it back.” And in an Internet saturated with “content,” writers might do well to consider the psychology when crafting catchy, clever titles for books and blog posts. We can easily outfox ourselves with a clever turn of phrase.
Human psychology is a powerful thing. If sex, fear, and death sell products, then fear of dying while lovemaking ought to be a winning formula. The headline should promise a way to avoid that fate; the content should deliver on it. Advising abstinence won’t work, because for most people, fear of not having sex probably trumps the fear of dying during coitus. For some fascinating analyses of subliminal cues in advertising, see Sex and Death in the Ice Cubes. As writers, we know the power of symbolism and metaphor. Consider the title of this post – what fears am I using to pique interest, here? What rhetorical devices are used?
Things to keep in mind when writing titles or headlines:
- Only 1/5th of the people who read your headline will read the content;
- People focus on the first 3 words and the last 3 words of the headline;
- Content must relate to the headline and deliver on the promise;
- Social media behavior is largely driven by a need to belong and the degree of emotional arousal (fear, sex, death being a few of the powerful cues to strong, emotional response);
- Emotions are contagious; the good news is, positive emotions are more contagious than negative ones;
- Self-censorship is strongly linked to a poor understanding of who our audience is;
- Our brains crave novelty and surprise – they itch for more info if their curiosity and interest are piqued (Ever wonder who created the first Upworthy-style headline, and when? The answer may surprise you!);
Lee suggests following Upworthy’s practice of brainstorming 25 headlines, then voting on the best ones. “Twenty-five headlines for each post? You must be kidding. I barely have time to blog. I have books to write!” Consider this: If only 1/5th of the people who read your headline (or your book’s title!) are likely to click and read your content on average, why would you not put as much time and effort into writing the perfect headline as into crafting the perfect prose for your post – or your book? How many times have you looked at an Upworthy headline and tried, unsuccessfully, not to click it?
Granted, “She Runs Away from the Creepy House at Midnight. What Happens as She Teeters at the Cliff’s Edge Will Leave You Speechless – with Laughter” probably isn’t a great title for a gothic romance. Could be shorter, punchier. Maybe laughter’s not appropriate for this particular cliff-hanger. Think about it for a while. Mull it over. Jot down another twenty-four. One’s bound to work out, even if 3/4ths of them are silly.