The Psychology of Headline Writing

Or

Headlines You Won’t Believe Till You Read Them. And Then You Will Cry

I made a comment on Facebook yesterday describing my disbelief about the current format of headline writing

Am I weird (don’t answer that yet) in that I find the current trend of internet headlines eg: “You won’t believe what happened….This will make you cry etc yada yada yada” completely counter productive.

My first thought is manipulation and spammy. In fact making a headline I am LESS likely to click on, not more as they would hope???

Am I alone in ignoring these manipulative headlines?

So I wondered about what supports these ideas.

Headline writing is marketing and marketing is psychology.

Upworthy is one of the stars of the headline writing business and it isn’t a fluke that they have become so successful. They spend plenty of time and effort testing and measuring their headlines and content for the best results. (See this post from KISSmetrics) Right now, it seems that this current style of headline works the best.

I am certain that over time, people will become less interested and more immune to this style of writing and sites like Buzzfeed and Upworthy will need to change also.

This blog post over at The Moz Blog : 5 Data Insights into the Headlines Readers Click has some great research and information such as

  • Explosion in content competing for readers’ attention: A Day in the Internet  shows that 2 million blog posts, 294 billion emails, and 864 thousand hours of video are created daily. Each day also brings 400 million tweets .
  • 80% of readers never make it past the headline: According to some sources, on average, eight out of 10 people will read headline copy , but only two out of 10 will read the rest.
  • Traffic can vary by as much as 500% based on the headline: According to Koechley, tests show that traffic to content at Upworthy can vary by as much as 500%  simply because of the headline. “The headline is our one chance to reach people who have a million other things that they’re thinking about, and who didn’t wake up in the morning wanting to care about feminism or climate change, or the policy details of the election,” he said.

Each of these bits of information show why so many article sites, some directly copying the style of writing (and headlines) of Upworthy and co, are being launched. Attach some ads to these articles and if you can generate some virality around them, money can me made.

We see similar changes over time with other styles of advertising, whether it be on TV, Radio, Print or the Internet. These mediums and their advertisers need to compel those who see their ads to take action. Whether that is by using the emotions of shock, laughter, happiness and sadness or other methods such as visual/audio styles, questioning techniques and props/actors.

So for today, this style of headline is the way, but who knows what we will be presented with in a year or two. Whatever it is, you can be certain that is has been well researched and measured to make sure they get the best bang for their buck.

1 thought on “The Psychology of Headline Writing”

  • I’ve been noticing those headlines for several months, and until today it never occurred to me that they linked to anything but complete garbage, or that supposedly legitimate sites were using them. It’s very sad to me that these are actual headlines and not just ad copy disguised as news. Seriously, I would no more have clicked on them than I would have clicked on the Viagra spam in my inbox. They’re so blatantly and (to me) offensively manipulative.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *