First in a series: Blog Long and Prosper (BLAP)
Absolutely nothing qualifies me to pontificate about quality journalism other than perhaps I care about it more than many in the White House press corps, but that’s not saying much. Â If pressed, I would confess that I was a highly popular writer on the Jenks High School Maroon and White and I took a lot of J and communications classes in college, but switched my major at the last minute to business. Â I won some J awards in college and in the army. Â That’s it. Â Was never paid a dime for my writing. Â Ever. Â UPI paid me as a photographer stringer, not for my writing skills. Â My broadcast news experience was rip ‘n’ read from a chattering AP wire just outside Studio A in a converted old men’s room of McFarlin Library.
That said, my peers here have asked me to write a few tutorials that will help new writers expand their horizons (as part of our mission here is to bring along many new writers) and bloggers expand their technical skills. Â Since my business education was in marketing, I’m going to give you a valueÂ propositionÂ for this series that should surely snag you as a permanent and enthusiastic consumer of this series.
My promise to you is that in each and every Blog Long and Prosper column, I will give you two extremely valuable tips that are easily worth $50 apiece. Â Â Accordingly, I will name these jewels ‘$50 Tips‘ so you can be sure you are really getting your money’s worth by becoming a regular and loyal reader. Â Reading my scribbles is easily worth $100/pop minimum to you.
There’s no reason to hesitate or be shy, so let’s get right to it:
$50 Tip #1: Â There is no lack of good advice for writing great headlines. Just click, you’ll see.
Advance into that battlefield at your peril. Â It’s hostile, dangerous, foreign, enemy territory. Â Listen only to me. Â Take your credit card out and click here…
Good headlines can be hard to write. Â Many writers agonize over headlines more than they do the actual story. Â It’s a tribute to their skill that their headlines eventually became known as slugs, and a specialized writer called a headline editor was hired to write the headlines that actually appeared in print in the final edition. Â It’s a travesty that they actually call this headline guy an editor. Â Â His name should be legion. Â The headline editor was obviously the writer with a business education, whose more worthy peers scoffed at him because he (always a he) Â thought and wrote in incomplete thoughts and mere sentence fragments. Â But the headline editor knew one thing that the Pulitzer Prize winning writer did not.
A headline has to sell.
And that’s even more important in electronic journalism than it was in dead tree journalism.
How many headlines do you scan each day, either on paper or online, that you simply ignore? Â Â OK, except for the sports page. Â (Fashion, home, cooking, or society for our distaff readers.) Â In short, the headline you pass by is not selling you on reading the story. Â A good headline will draw you in to read the story, or at least get you to read the lead (yes, I refuse to use the modern, corrupt, immoral, illiterate, degenerate, and non-descriptiveÂ lede). Â We’ve all been sucker punched by the headline that drew us into the story that did not deliver the promise of the headline. Â But at least that headline sold us! Â Your headline has to convey why the reader should bother with the story – since it’s likely they have to click to actually get to the story, the sales job is just that much tougher.
Let’s fire up the backhoe and excavate deeper into the mechanics of this thing we call a headline – there are many other factors that contribute to a good headline.
A good headline must have a verb. An active verb in active voice. Â Bad: The competition got crushed by the good headline. Â Good: Â Good headlines crush the competition.
Use verbs that create a brilliant, compelling picture (see Â how I did that?). Â Bad: Good Headlines Compete Better.
Craft to produce strong emotions in the reader. Â In our sphere, commonly it’s outrageously outrageous outrage (H/T: Hot Air), but never use that literal in a headline unless you are supremely confident. Â Better: Good headlines callously crush the craven competition. Â (And yes, alliteration is good too.)
Keep Headlines Short. Nuff said. Â Harder to do than to accept as a principle. Â Working hard at brevity is worth it. Â How many days do you really only read half of Drudge’s few short headlines? Â Try writing your headline so it’s only half a tweet. Â I often actually go to twitter or Tweetdeck to do this and try to keep the character count under 80. Â You are going to tweet it later aren’t you? Â With room left over for hashtags, a link and retweets?
Dazzle with superlatives. It’s a brilliant tactic that delivers readers.
Cast a thought to keywords. Â Don’t be craven, but if you can work in search terms that you know are hot, then by all means do it. Â What’s hot? Â Google Trends knows. Â Don’t try to work ‘Paris Hilton’ Â into your headline on the budget debate; unless Paris was actually testifying, then it’s fine! Â Congressmen have as much intense interest in Paris Hilton as everybody else, so an invitation to have Ms. Hilton testify before a congressional sub-committee would arouse little surprise. Â You might even be able to work in a quote from Paris Hilton.
Quotes: good if they are juicy, tart, and short.
Take advantage of your readers’ desire to… feel smart, clever, honest, anything desirable. Â Then deliver.
Urgency. Now. Â Before it’s too late. Â Imposing deadline looms.
Humor. Never hurts, when appropriate (or maybe even when it isn’t).
$50 Tip #2: Â Your headline will travel. Â Far. Headlines are no longer safely and primly ensconced on the security and safety of a single page. Â Since many FP headlines here are the only thing to lead a reader into the full story, most headlines are links. Â Go ahead. Â Make my day.
Your headline may do yeoman duty among the tidy pictures and stately prose of this distinguished organ, but how will that same headline fare among the noisome clamor, the shrill marketplace, of the Google search returns? Â That’s where it’s going to be!
What if it appears as a trackback at HuffPo? Â You will surely be linked there as liberals mock your most profound thoughts. Â Will your headline be able to lurch away and distinguish itself from the irrational liberal rants? Â Among a bunch of gangsta rap links on Technorati? Â Is your headline durable enough to emerge supreme from that ordeal?
VIDEO: Since the UP Arras template does not allow for video on the FP*, if your post contains an important video, consider saying so in your headline thus: VIDEO: Wascally Weasel Nukes 8 billion cute kittys.
Headline Editor: many of us belong to one variety of Journo-list or another. Â Get someone who wasn’t involved in production of the story to help you with the headline or write one for you. Â It’s frequently well worth the extra time and effort.
Double Golden Slasher Bonus: since this is the inaugural voyage of the Blog Long and Prosper series, I’m going to segue neatly toward the next post in the series and deliver way more than I promised by offering you…
$50 Tip #3: Oh Snap! Headlines really are links! Â I mean link really are headlines! Â I mean I’m really confused! (soon to be a link)
*FP: Front Page – the most frequently departed page on any website, except UP.