Are you curious how the beginning and end of this headline actually fit together? It’s quite a promise to deliver on. Well, we do just that on this week’s episode of The Lede, improving your content discovery in the process.
And that’s important, because optimizing your content for discovery is a foundational principle of SEO on the modern web. And the element of every piece of content that most influences whether it gets discovered or not is the headline.
On this episode of The Lede, Jerod and Demian discuss:
- What we mean by “content discovery”
- A short history of content discovery
- The change in editorial strategy that led one major publication to a monthly visitor jump of ~13 million
- The elements that make a great web writer and content producer
- What traits a headline needs to cut through the noise and get your content discovered
- A real-life demonstration of the 4 U’s (that will make the headline make more sense)
- Resources you can use to improve your headline writing
All of this and more on another brand new episode of The Lede:
- How Much Does the Modern Content Marketer Need to Know About SEO?
- Why ‘The Atlantic’ No Longer Cares About SEO
- Copyblogger headline ebook: How to Write Magnetic Headlines
- Jon Morrow’s headline ebook: Headline Hacks
How to Optimize Your Headlines for Content Discovery with Vinegar (Before You Die of Cholera)
Jerod Morris: But I am going to go learn how to wash dishes with vinegar now. I remain intrigued.
Demian Farnworth: All right. See, you are a good a man, because you’re washing the dishes, and Heather is not.
Hello, everybody, and welcome back to The Lede, a podcast about content marketing by Copyblogger Media. The Lede, as always, is hosted by me, Demian Farnworth, and my co-host, Jerod Morris, one of the VPs of Rainmaker.FM. Jerod, say hello.
Jerod Morris: Hello, everybody. How are you?
Demian Farnworth: Jerod, you were just telling me that you got back from a pretty exciting trip to the Florida Keys, right?
Jerod Morris: I did, I did. It was remarkable. For anybody who hasn’t been there, I highly recommend it. You and I were just talking about parasailing. I highly recommend that for anybody who hasn’t done it. It’s a remarkable experience, far less scary than you would think is. It’s incredible being up that high and being able to survey everything out in front of you. It’s really great.
Demian Farnworth: When you say ‘that high,’ I speculated 35-50 feet, but you told me it was 300 feet, which is the length of a football field.
Jerod Morris: Yeah.
Demian Farnworth: Which is unbelievable.
Jerod Morris: It is. Three hundred feet. It’s crazy, because it doesn’t seem like you’re that high when you’re up there. When you’re watching other people do it, it seems like they’re so high up. I’m not a big heights guy. I’m pretty sensitive to heights. But it didn’t feel that bad being up there.
Demian Farnworth: Did you see any sharks in the water? Like the shadows, lurking around underneath the surface of the water?
Jerod Morris: We didn’t. We didn’t, but we were looking, but unfortunately no. Or maybe fortunately no, because we went snorkeling later.
Demian Farnworth: How long were you guys up in the air?
Jerod Morris: A good … ours was like 10-12 minutes.
Demian Farnworth: A long time to be that high. Were you ready to come down?
Jerod Morris: No. No, we wanted to stay up there.
Demian Farnworth: Really?
Jerod Morris: Yeah.
Demian Farnworth: Now you kind of know how a bird feels, I guess.
Jerod Morris: Exactly, that’s what we were saying while we were up here. It’s like, “This is exactly what a bird feels like.”
Demian Farnworth: All right. Speaking of birds, you remember our conversation with Sean Jackson a few episodes ago, where we were talking about the amount of SEO the modern content marketer actually needs to know these days? Do you remember that conversation, that episode?
Jerod Morris: Can I back up to that segue? “Speaking of birds?” That was great. Yes, I do remember that conversation.
Demian Farnworth: Sean always reminds me, like some sort of spirit eagle or something like that. If he was Native American, he’d be a spirit eagle.
Jerod Morris: I could see that.
What We Mean By ‘Content Discovery’
Demian Farnworth: All right. Anyway, we were talking about SEO and the modern-day content marketer. We put spirit eagle Sean Jackson on the phone. What we came away from that episode with is, basically, wouldn’t it be fair to say that there was really not much we needed to know about SEO, because most of it was already done for us, right? Is that the conclusion we came down to?
Jerod Morris: Right. Whereas four or five years ago, SEO was its own separate thing, now it’s so integrated into everything that we’re doing. It’s not the separate thing that’s over here that you do after a post or whatever. It’s so integrated now in everything, and for those of us who have good, well-made content management systems, a lot of the infrastructure stuff is already done, which I think is a shift. A shift that continues by the year.
Demian Farnworth: Yeah. I was talking to somebody yesterday about web writers, and they were getting a take on what they thought a web writer needed to know. My stance was that they have to have an average sense of SEO. That’s why in the Rough Draft podcast, I think the first three episodes were focused, but the total of 15 minutes total, tops, is spent on SEO.
But basically, having a basic level of understanding of how SEO works, how they’re indexed, how they’re crawled by search engines. Outside of that, though, the keywords, the words on the page, the content on the page, is important. The content has to be accessible by the search engines, which is important too.
Knowing that alone is helpful as a content producer, a web writer online, but I don’t think you really need to know any more than that. During our conversation with Sean, do you remember how we ended the show? He gave that single, best piece of advice on what we could now do in this new world order he was talking about, where SEO is dead and content discovery, was his word that he used, is alive now. Do you remember that piece of advice?
Jerod Morris: I believe so. I believe it had to do with headlines, if I remember correctly.
Demian Farnworth: Absolutely, yeah, which kind of surprised me. I guess I was waiting for something more profound. He is the spirit eagle. He was pretty firm. You’ve got to get good at writing headlines.
Jerod Morris: In its own way, that is profound. Sometimes the simple answer is the profound one. Sometimes the time-tested, age-old advice remains the best advice. At Copyblogger, we’ve been focusing on headlines for a long time. You and I have already done several episodes of The Lede on headlines.
But again, it’s something that I think we constantly need to be refreshed about, be reminded about, because sometimes, we can get stuck in the tactics and forget some of the big-picture, overarching ideas that consistently work.
That’s the thing about headlines. It is this age-old advice, but it keeps becoming more and more important, which I think was one of the big ideas Sean was trying to get across.
Demian Farnworth: Yeah, or we get distracted by the shiny new objects that come along, and they take us away from the fundamentals. Correct me if I’m wrong — you’re the sports sage here in our company, I think, at least on this show — the Packers coach who won the first two Super Bowls, didn’t he say something like, “It’s just about mastering the fundamentals?” I think he had a saying, it was a really short saying.
Jerod Morris: Vince Lombardi?
Demian Farnworth: Yeah, Vince Lombardi.
Jerod Morris: Yeah, I don’t know what the exact quote is, but certainly, he was one who focused on the fundamentals. A lot of those old-school coaches did, and a lot of the best coaches of today do as well.
A Short History of Content Discovery
Demian Farnworth: Right, it’s like you said — that’s what’s profound about it, and that does make a lot of sense. I think, though, how we write headlines changes. It adapts over time. What we’ve written, used, in the past — I’m talking ‘the past’ like decades ago — I could say the templates are the same, but I would say even in some sense, these templates that we use change in some way, too. It’s probably because of the way the web environment has changed.
Let’s talk a little about a short history of content discovery.
This focus for me occurred, this change of focus from an SEO emphasis — I remember the moment clearly. It was a watershed moment in my life where I read an article in Mashable. It was an interview, actually, with Scott Havens, who was the senior vice president of finance and digital operations at the Atlantic Media Company at the time. The name of the article was ‘Why The Atlantic No Longer Cares About SEO.’ I liked the maverick approach they took. Basically, he was saying, “We’re no longer going to put such a heavy emphasis upon SEO. We’re not abandoning it, even though that’s what the headline suggests.”
He was saying that there’s a new kid on the block, and that kid on the block was social media, which amounted to content discovery.
The Change in Editorial Strategy That Led One Major Publication to a Monthly Visitor Jump of ~13 Million
Demian Farnworth: The interesting thing about The Atlantic, the site, was that in 2008, it took down its paywall, and from doing that and then switching its focus from SEO to content discovery, the site went from 500,000 monthly visitors to 13.4 million monthly visitors.
The change that they implemented was basically just an editorial strategy. What they did was focus on headlines. The person who wrote the article was responsible for coming up with the headline. That headline might end up on the actual article that gets published. However, there was also a features/homepage headline writer who might rewrite the headline to grab more attention and more clicks from the homepage.
The headline might get rewritten for social media, and it might get rewritten for Facebook. You might not get the same headline for Twitter or for Google Plus and all these different places.
Because what was important was getting that share. Because ultimately, what they were driving for is, you read an article, Jerod. You share it because you like it, because the headline interests you, whatever. And then I see it, and I click on it.
We’ve come from this place where we no longer depend so much upon going out and looking for content, but we take the recommendations that are made through our friends, mostly through social media. Does that make sense?
Jerod Morris: Yeah. And it would be interesting in this Atlantic example to know — like you said, when they took down the pay wall, they jumped from 500,000 to 13.4 million monthly visitors — what percentage of that was visitors from search engines before and what was after they “no longer cared about SEO.” My guess is they probably still got more traffic from search because the addition of the social signals probably helped signal even to the search engines that this content was more relevant, that it was more useful, and it would start surfacing more.
That’s the thing with headlines, and maybe that’s why this advice from Sean was surprising in a sense. I think maybe people have too narrow of an idea of headlines. They think of just the headline on the page, but when we say ‘headlines’ now, it’s a more broad definition of what a headline is, because it’s also a Twitter headline. It’s what’s shared on Facebook. It’s an email subject line.
For the same piece of content, you can have three, four, five different headlines depending on the audience, depending on the medium, and it’s extremely important to not just have one headline for all of them, but to understand the different audiences and the different places. Like you said, there may be a feature headline writer who’s writing it different for this page over here, as opposed to this page over here.
It’s important to really understand that, because again, the idea here is about discovery. It’s about cutting through the noise. We know that there’s so much noise. The headline is the way that you do that, because number one, sometimes — and you just hit on this — people will share an article on social media without even reading it just because of the headline, because the headline fits their worldview in some way, so they’ll share it. Maybe they’ll read it later. Hopefully they’ll read it later, at a minimum, but we all know that doesn’t always happen.
For people who do read the article, it’s got to start somewhere. It’s got to start with that headline. And with so much content, with us being inundated with so much content seemingly all the time, the headline is the way to cut through that to at least pare down what we actually take a look at.
We’ve talked on The Lede in past episodes a lot about how most people don’t actually read through an entire article. Obviously there are other elements that are important, but none of them mean anything without the headline. You can’t have a good SEO strategy without a good discovery strategy, and it all starts with that headline being appropriate for the medium where it’s going, grabbing attention, and getting something opened, or as we said, getting it shared without it being opened.
Demian Farnworth: Right, to piggyback on what you’re saying, too, is after I read that — I think it was 2012 when that article came out in Mashable about The Atlantic — I had this epiphany. The pieces of the puzzle started to fall in place for me, because I noticed that a lot of people — this is the caution portion of this episode of The Lede, people — would put an enormous amount of work into the headline, which is a great thing, but they forgot about the article. The article was a catastrophe. It wasn’t very good at all.
They lost an opportunity, because by focusing on the headline and not having great content, you might get more clicks in the near term, but it’s not a good long-term strategy. So you have to pay attention to how you do that. Social media has changed the way we’ve written headlines and content.
But the other thing, too, content discovery — Yahoo was more like an index or directory. Then Google came along and really started nurturing the discovery by search, and then you had Google AdWords, which you could then, as a publisher, promote your work and get it in front of more people. Then along came Facebook, and again, the social sharing, but then also the ads that you could do to promote that work.
But now we also have a group of algorithms that I call ‘human algorithms,’ people like Dave Pell who do the NextDraft and Quartz news site who do their own daily newsletter, who are going out there and collecting and curating the best articles they find and sharing them in a daily newsletter.
Dave Pell does the top 10 best news articles he thinks of. He has his own spin on them. He’s going to choose them. He is biased in some sense. He tries to find the things that are important, but he’s got a huge audience. There’s a trend toward this idea of doing this curated newsletter, because people are noticing that there’s so much content out there, that “I’m going to be the person who’s going to filter that for somebody else.”
I know we talked about this before in our episodes on curation where the aggregator, that curator, is becoming more prized in this age where more and more information is getting piled on us. We want somebody to go in there and say, “Hey, this is what’s important.” Dave Pell does a nice little business for us, because he also gives a summary and his own little commentary, sometimes commentary and analysis.
Another great example is Maria Popova of Brain Pickings who does this with books, creates commentary, but she’s curating content.
My point in bringing all that up is this idea that you have to have a great headline, but you also have to have really, really good content, too, because the headline gets people’s attention, but the content keeps that attention. The content aligns you with that person. It’s what actually creates the allegiance between you and that person, the consistent, good content like that.
Jerod Morris: Yeah, I’m glad you brought that up, because certainly, the focus on the headline, and the focus on having different headlines for different audiences, different mediums, is not to say that it should take away from the content. Because ultimately, empty shares, like you said, won’t do anything for you in the long term. They have to be shares that are meaningful, that bring people back to meaningful content.
Because for our purposes, we’re talking to people who are running businesses online and who have goals for their content and want people to follow calls to action. We’re not talking to the people who are just out there trying to get a million page views, and they don’t care if the people bounce in a second.
It’s very important that there’s a promise made, that the promise is kept, and that you deliver on that promise within the content. I think what we do want to try and focus on here is that you don’t want to take all your time on writing headlines and take that away from your content, but maybe spend a little bit more time on the headline. Don’t just slap on the first thing that comes to your mind, but really spend time thinking about what your on-page headline is going to be, how that might shift a little bit for your SEO headline, especially since that’s the one that’s often taken by Twitter, taking that into account.
Take these different elements of the headline into account based on where it’s going to go so that you optimize for that discovery depending on the place where that content is going to be seen and where that headline is going to be seen.
The Elements That Make a Great Web Writer and Content Producer
Demian Farnworth: That’s right. Before we jump into tips on how to write great headlines, I’ve mentioned this before: when I think of a great web writer, a great content producer, I said above, they need to have at least an average sense of SEO. That can be accomplished pretty easily. They need an average understanding of usability, too, which is, in some sense now, really a subset of SEO. We talked about web-responsive sites and the right text, font and everything. Google is actually starting to weigh those things in when they’re factoring content on a page.
But the three other things that will then rise you above what’s typically out there are an above-average understanding of social media, an above-average understanding of storytelling, and an above-average understanding of copywriting. I mentioned the storytelling part because it’s almost the journalistic arm of being a good web writer: knowing good research techniques, good interview techniques. But ultimately, it’s really good techniques on how to tell a story, because that’s the bottom line. It’s what people want. They want their information, for the most part, packaged in a good story.
Knowing those things, having those things — an average sense of SEO, average sense of usability, but an above-average sense of social media — is mostly important in this context of content discovery. That’s why I won’t jump on every single new social media site that comes out, but at some point, I like to do an experiment like I did with Medium or I did with Google Plus or LinkedIn, publishing on those sites to see how they work in those elements so I can help fill in any kind of gaps in my knowledge if I have any.
Anything to add upon that before we talk about headline tactics?
What Traits a Headline Needs to Cut through the Noise and Get Your Content Discovered
Jerod Morris: Yeah, I like what you said with the above-average understanding of storytelling, because that is so important. I think this is where your headline starts to fit in. You want to hint at that story in the headline. Understand that people want to be wrapped up in stories.
I know when I’m looking through my list of podcasts that I want to listen to, and there’s way more options than I actually have time to listen to, I almost always end up listening to the ones that there’s some kind of story alluded to in the headline or in the very first part of the description, because I know that’s going to be a more pleasant listening experience and that I’ll get something out of it because I’ll get into it.
Having that understanding of the storytelling is important, and then the headline is how to entice people to take the first bite of your story. Now, if you have that above-average understanding and you understand copywriting techniques that will keep people going, that’s when you’ve really hit that sweet spot.
I think all of this kind of fits together to getting people A) to pay attention, B) to give it a chance, and then C) to obviously follow it all the way through to whatever the call to action ends up being.
But it’s got to start with that headline. Again, we’ve talked about this before. Consider this your regular Lede reminder that if you haven’t been really paying attention to your headlines and if you’re not trying out 25, 30 different headlines for each piece of content, that’s not a piece of hyperbole that we throw around because it sounds good.
I don’t know about you, but when I’m doing a headline or an email subject line or whatever it is, I’m typing a lot of those out to see what they look like together. I know what the components are, but the best way to phrase it and put it together and what’s going to be most compelling.
This is kind of that regular Lede reminder that, “Hey, maybe this is a time to reassess what you’re doing with your headline.” Assuming that you’re starting from that foundation of good, solid content that fits in with everything we talked about. Maybe this is a chance, and I know we’re going to talk about some resources here in a second, but to add a few more tools to the toolbox that will make your headlines even better, help them cut through the noise.
Demian Farnworth: Yeah, that’s easily the element that gives me the most fits, the element that I agonize the most over, because if you think about it, it’s the first impression that you’re going to make on an audience. You can always second-guess yourself. Of course you want to create the headlines, and you want to experiment and test.
Jerod, what do you know about headlines, and what do you tell people about headlines when people ask you for advice?
Jerod Morris: I think a good place to start is the four U’s, which we talk about on Copyblogger a lot. You know what’s funny about the four U’s is that I always forget one of them, and it’s always a different one when I’m trying to list them out: ultra-specific, unique, useful, urgent. Hey, I remembered all four.
Demian Farnworth: There you go.
Jerod Morris: And again, your headline isn’t always going to incorporate all four, but I think it should always incorporate two, and if you can fit three in there, great. I really think as you look at the different iterations as you type out different ones, write out different ones, whatever your process is, really make sure you identify, “Okay, here’s what’s ultra-specific about this one. Here’s what’s useful.” Make sure you get those elements in there.
For me, that’s always a good starting point, and then I think having certain time-tested templates. At the end of the day, there’s a science to writing headlines. There’s definitely an art to it. There’s no question. But there’s a science to it as well.
Frankly, if people want to look at good headlines, go to Rough Draft, Demian’s podcast, and look at the different headlines that he has. They incorporate a lot of these U’s, but there’s a lot of uniqueness to them, and there are these hints at the stories that I’m talking about.
Demian, I think you do a really good job of that. It’s actually something I’m trying to do a better job of. I think I’m good at technical headline writing. If you looked at them, you’d be like, “Oh yeah, that really follows that template. That has those U’s in there.” But you have an extra element that makes them enticing and adds that curiosity gap to it, which are kind of like next-level headline writing techniques.
I think as you get into that, and again, having some templates where you really see what people have done — and not necessarily fill-in-the-gaps, but kind of fill-in-the-blanks — there is some of that that can work. Stuff that worked even 50 years ago still works today, because it’s still the same people with the same psychological triggers that are going to be looking at your headlines.
A Real-Life Demonstration of the 4 U’s (That Will Make the Headline Make More Sense)
Demian Farnworth: Sure. Let’s give a little demonstration in case there’s anybody in doubt about the four U’s. I’ve shared this before, maybe on this show, but I know certainly on Rough Draft. The example I always like to give when I’m talking about the four U’s and explaining it to somebody is — useful, I always start with useful. The best way to do that is just to do a how-to: ‘How to Wash Dishes.’ But you and I both know, Jerod, that article has probably been written a thousand times. It’s not going to get any traction, so you have to add another element to it.
Make it unique. So, ‘How to Wash Dishes with Vinegar.’ Now it’s unique, because now you’ve taken it out of the realm of just washing dishes to washing dishes with something specifically different than normal people think about washing dishes.
But yet, it’s still somewhat not as vibrant as you’d like it to be. Let’s make it ultra-specific. So we’d say, ‘87 Ways to Wash Dishes with Vinegar,’ right? Now it’s ultra-specific.
Jerod Morris: Eighty-seven ways?
Demian Farnworth: Eighty-seven ways, right. You better be able to deliver on that 87 ways. Maybe it’s ‘11 Ways to Wash Dishes.’ But now the urgent part, and we’re going to take it up a notch. There’s going to be something at stake now with the urgency. It’s ’87 Ways to Wash Dishes with Vinegar before You Die of Cholera.’ Now you’ve made it where people are like, “Holy smokes, I better stop what I’m doing to check that out.”
The thing, too, I get this question a lot when people are talking about urgency. There’s usually two ways you can talk about urgency. One is where you’ve raised the stakes, like something is going to happen if you don’t do something now. In some senses, it’s like, ‘Don’t Buy Another Car Until You Read about This Recall Report.’ Or it’s a deadline, like ‘This Sale Will End by Midnight.’ That ‘midnight’ is a deadline. It makes it urgent, so you better read it now. There’s a timeframe to it.
Because the urgent part is really the piece that gets people off their duff and to say, “Okay, I need to do something about this.”
Jerod Morris: Think about the example that you just put. Think about all four of those rolling down your Twitter stream. Which one are you going click on? You’re going to click on that last one, because it grabs you. That’s the one that calls out to you. Again, we’re talking about content discovery here.
Demian Farnworth: Right, particularly if there is actually a cholera epidemic going on in your region or something like that. People are going to think, “That’s relevant to me right now.”
Jerod Morris: Have you ever actually written that article?
Demian Farnworth: I have not, no.
Jerod Morris: Now I want to read it.
Demian Farnworth: Yeah, I have no idea how to wash dishes with vinegar. We have a washing machine.
Jerod Morris: How very nice.
Demian Farnworth: Yeah. The four U’s, your templates — any other advice that you give people?
Resources You Can Use to Improve Your Headline Writing
Jerod Morris: I usually point to the Copyblogger headline ebook, because frankly, that’s where I go if I ever get stumped. I go and look through there, and again, I look for templates.
I don’t know if I would call it a rut, but maybe that’s the right word. I get into headline ruts where I start using the same one over and over. Naturally, it’s the first one that comes to my mind, and I’ve got to shock myself out of it. I need to see some different ways and get a little jolt of, “Oh yeah, okay,” and a different path to take with my headlines.
There’s so many examples, so many really great examples in there. The other thing is, when you notice good headlines, take note of them. Write them down. Put them in Evernote. Then go revisit them later. Because it may not be something where you can just substitute nouns or whatever, but it may still jog your creative juices on a future headline that you’re trying to write, being able to look through a swipe file of all the different great ones that you’ve seen.
Demian Farnworth: Yeah, like you said, the four U’s template, it’s a starting point, but it’s up to you to put in variables that are meaningful and that reflect who you are and that share your voice.
I know sometimes I have to sit down and I have to work through, another good resource, Jon Morrow’s Headline Hacks ebook, which is also free. I go through that, because he’s got 52 examples there. I’ll take my article, the idea of the headline variables that I have, and I’ll try to work through as many of those headlines as I can until I land on something. Same with the Copyblogger headline ebook.
And then if that’s not working, or like you said, if I’m in a rut where I’ve been using the Copyblogger one too much or Jon Morrow one too much, I’ll grab my copy of John Caples’ Tested Advertising Methods. He’s got 39 different templates. I’ll then work though that.
This is the thing: it takes a lot of work. It’s laborious. It’s time-consuming. But you’ve just got to do the work, and eventually, I’ll hit upon something. I’m like, “Yeah, that’s it.” I’ll write that one out and a few more.
The other thing, though, too, sort of what you were alluding to, Jerod. You talked about making it your own. I’ve made my headlines my own. That’s only after years of swarming over these templates and over these ebooks and these books, but also spending an enormous amount of time studying headlines that are being written out there on popular sites like Upworthy and Business Insider and Inc. and Entrepreneur and seeing how they’re writing headlines and what’s getting attention and what’s most popular.
What’s really fun, too, is to go to — I think it’s The New York Times. They have the most popular articles, and they have their most emailed, and it’s always interesting to see the difference between the two. And then is it possible to use a headline in one of those categories as a skeleton for the thing that I’m working on? Because sometimes I’ll find, “Yeah, that’s the direction of how I wanted to go, but I’m just going to use my variables instead.” BuzzFeed is another good one. Men’s Journal is another good one too, where I know that there’s top-notch writers knocking out really good headlines.
Jerod Morris: You know, every time we talk about headlines I start feeling immense pressure to write the perfect headline for this episode.
Demian Farnworth: Yeah.
Jerod Morris: I’m feeling that right now, and I’m wondering if the headline should just be ‘How to Write Really Good Headlines with Vinegar before You Die of Cholera.’
Demian Farnworth: I love it. It should be. Now one of my other favorite go-to sites to look for headline ideas is Marc and Angel’. It’s like life hacks or something. The thing I always tell people who say, “lists suck and they don’t work and I hate them,” I point them to that site, because that’s all that site is — one list after another. They’re into affirming people and encouraging people to choose themselves. I think if you haven’t read it, you should, Jerod.
They have got great headlines. I go there, and I’m like, “Okay, how do I want to phrase this?” Because they phrase it in an emotional way that I think really pulls on people. The fact that it’s ultra-specific with the number is a side benefit. But it’s the way that they phrase it, and they’ve made it emotional. They’ve made it really, really personal. I think they do a great job on that site.
Jerod Morris: That’s good. And you mentioned that you’ve gotten good at this and comfortable doing it over time. That’s the thing with headlines: it can be a little bit intimidating, because we want to write the perfect headline tomorrow. We may need to write some standards headlines for a while and follow the ‘rules’ for a while until we’re comfortable enough with them that we can break them.
If you’re frustrated with your headlines, start with some of the templates. Start with the time-tested stuff. Get comfortable with them, and then you’ll start to get a feel for, “Okay, I can bust out of this a little bit here. Okay, for my Twitter headline, let me tweak this a little bit here, because I know the audience is a little bit different.”
You’ll start to get better, but take it one step at a time. You’re not going to start from a point where you’ve never really written headlines before to being at Demian level. You’ve got to go through the steps, learn the rules, and then eventually, you’ll be comfortable incorporating them in unique ways, even breaking them at certain points of time.
Again, all of those elements are what will help your headlines cut through the noise in whatever environment they’re in and get that content discovered. And then it’s up to your content to do the rest. It’s got to deliver, but it’s got to be discovered first.
Demian Farnworth: Yeah, there’s this kind of trend — I don’t know, movement — online that people talk about: don’t be a perfectionist, fight that, resist that, be authentic, vulnerable, that sort of thing. That’s all well and good, but I think when it comes to a headline, and I’ve got a very good reason to say this, it is very important to be a perfectionist, because you cannot ever really get satisfied with your headlines.
I say that because there’s this great story. I don’t remember what president it was, but one of his cabinet members came in, and they had a report to turn in. He asked — I don’t know if it was Hoover or Eisenhower — but he asked the cabinet member, “Is this the best you can do?” The cabinet member sheepishly looked up at him and took his paper back and left. He came in a second time, and he laid the report out before him again, and the president said, “Is this the best you can do?” And again, he sheepishly looked up at him and took the report back. The third time, he finally returned, and he said, “Is this the best you can do?” and he said, “Yes, it is the best I can do.” And he said, “Now I will actually read it.”
The point being, in saying that, is that you have to resist the temptation to go the easy route, and once you find a headline that you think works, push a little bit further and see if you can find an even better one or even the best one. And you may not, you may go back and say, “No, that’s the best one I got.” Which is fine, but the idea is not to be too easily satisfied, because I think often that’s what it is. We get our hands on a template and think that now we can create good headlines, but then we realize that “There’s something, there’s some magic that I’m missing, and what is that?” You’re just not pushing hard enough for it.
Jerod Morris: And it is easy to fall into that trap with headlines, because if you’ve created good content, it’s probably taken you some time. There’s probably a little piece of your soul in that content, and when you get done with it, you’re probably a little bit exhausted. I feel like that after a podcast that I record and after articles that I write, and that’s how you should feel. Fight the urge to just slap any old headline on there and to slap the same headline on there for all the different mediums where it will go.
Now if you need to take a step away and then come back to the headline writing later when you’re fresh, that’s fine. Or maybe you started with the headline, and that’s great, too, but don’t skimp on that time. Don’t, like you said, Demian, just go with the first instinct just to get something on there. The work is not done when the article is finished and it’s time to put the headline on it or the podcast is recorded and it’s time to put the headline on it. It’s just starting.
Because the real work is with the headline so that it gets noticed in the first place. Don’t underestimate how important they are.
Demian Farnworth: That’s right. That’s right. Good advice, Jerod. Well, anything else you want to add before we close this episode?
Jerod Morris: No, I think that’s all. But I am going to go learn how to wash dishes with vinegar now. I remain intrigued.
Demian Farnworth: All right. See, you are a good a man, because you’re washing the dishes, and Heather is not.
Jerod Morris: That’s right.
Demian Farnworth: All right, buddy, it was good talking to you. Everyone, thank you so much for listening to The Lede. And if you like our show, if you like Jerod and I, jump over to iTunes, and leave us a rating and a review. We love hearing from you guys. We love getting feedback.
If you have any questions, follow-up questions, on this episode or any other episode, feel free to reach out to us on Twitter. I’m @demianfarnworth.
Jerod Morris: Yes.
Demian Farnworth: And Jerod Morris is @jerodmorris.
Jerod Morris: For anybody who listened all the way to the end, send us your favorite headline of yours. If you’ve written a great headline recently, send it to us. I’d love to see it.
Demian Farnworth: Yeah.
Jerod Morris: We can’t promise that we’re not doing this so that we can steal some great new headline idea template, because we may be, but we’ll share them out, because again, I like seeing different headlines that people have, especially if there is one that worked. Tweet it to us. Let’s talk about why it worked.
Demian Farnworth: Yeah, and I’ll throw this out there, too — if you want feedback on it, let us know. If you have a headline and you want help, I’d be happy to reply on Twitter or something like that with any advice.
Jerod Morris: Me too.
Demian Farnworth: Yeah, feel free to reach out. All right, gang, good talking to you, and until next time, take care.