Well that headline did its job.
The New Yorker recently published an article on the special elements of a headline, or a subject line, that make a piece of content go viral. The post features two researchers, Jonah Berger and Katherine Milkman, who analyzed roughly 7,000 pieces of content to arrive at two crucial headline ingredients that were positively correlated with the social-sharing success of an article (success equating to the amount of times it was emailed). On par to some level of intuition, they first noticed that articles with headlines stirring an emotion in the reader performed better than those that didn't induce emotions. Digging even further, they saw that of those emotional headlines, those that evoked positivity fared better than those that elicited negative emotions in the reader. So happy headlines are great- but why does this matter?
Catchy Headlines Catch Readers
Over 90% of both B2C and B2B companies use content as a part of their marketing strategy. I'm a far cry from a mathematician, but if these numbers serve me correct, that's a large amount of businesses creating persuasive articles of content on a regular basis. In fact, according to the president of Yankelovich, consumers encounter roughly 3,500 to 5,000 marketing messages a day (Tweet This).
With this overwhelming amount of content being thrown at the average person each day, a human being is forced to be selective in choosing which pieces of information they want to process. According to Copyblogger, 8 out of 10 people will read headline copy but only 2 out of 10 will continue on to read the article. Rather than consuming everything that crosses his computer screen, a reader relies heavily on carefully crafted headlines when he asks himself "Should I invest my limited time and mental resources into reading this article? Will it serve me any good?" If the headline tugs at his emotions- he can't resist and invests.
Content specialists and self-proclaimed marketing wordsmiths are focusing on writing irresistible headlines, attempting the challenging task of capturing the attention of an ad-blasted consumer. Sites like Upworthy and Buzzfeed have gained an almost instant success with their seductive headlines by playing to the psychological inclinations of the average internet browser. Headlines like "People Should Know About This Awful Thing We Do, And Most Of Us Are Simply Unaware" and "What An Orangutan Says To This Little Girl Is A Message We All Need To Know About" plays to the "need to be in the know" desire of human beings- even if it involves an orangutan.
As marketers and small business owners, we're clearly searching for ways to have a dialogue with our potential customers. We all want to be heard and we're competing for the limited attention spans of consumers- but is this tug-of-war driving marketers to put more effort into getting attention than actually communicating something of value? Is consumer desensitization driving marketers to create link bait headlines solely to catch big fish and gut them with pointless content?
How to Create a Catchy, Yet Genuine Headline
As a small business owner, you aim to be genuine with your customers or clients by giving them informative and educative content, but you also realize the need for persuasion. If you don't seize the attention of your customers, you'll quickly be silenced by the competition. Whether you're launching a new social campaign, sending out a newsletter, or simply creating a blog post for the first time, here's how to create a perfectly balanced headline that allows your voice to be heard:
- After creating genuinely relevant content- be it a blog post, email newsletter, eBook, video, or a downloadable coupon, slip into the shoes of your reader and tap into his emotions. Why would a potential customer be interested in this blog post? And why would it benefit the reader?
- Find the right level of captivation.There's a sweet spot located between headlines like "How to Run a Small business" on the tame end of the spectrum and "This Small Business Management Tactic Will Give you Immortality" on the outrageous end.
- Include your main keywords for SEO purposes. Google recognizes consistency between title and content on both websites and social platforms.
- Keep it short and sweet - ideally under 65 characters. There are a couple reasons for this standard rule of thumb. For one, Google disfavors lengthy, verbose headlines. And two, a shorter headline allows for effortless sharing on platforms with character limits and can be easily converted into an email headline if needed.
- Write 25 variations of a headline. The experts at KISSmetrics suggest that by the 25th modification, you should have exhausted your creative juices and arrived at a solid headline.
Running wild with your headlines and instilling irrational fear or happiness- just to obtain clicks and eyeballs- isn't ethically or strategically sound. This could potentially dissolve any established trust between you and your reader. Be tasteful. You want to find the goldilocks point between a strong emotional connection and an honest content synopsis. The quality and value of the content is still key. Even the editors of the viral sensation Upworthy admitted to the reigning importance of quality content over a catchy headline: "Coming up with catchy, curiosity-inducing headlines wasn't the reason Upworthy had those 87 million visitors," they explain "It was because millions of members of the Upworthy community watched the videos we curated and found them important, compelling, and worth sharing with their friends."
 The New Yorker, Six Things That Make Stories Go Viral Will Amaze, and Maybe Infuriate, You
(image via freedigitalphotos.net)