The 1,072 words that will change how you write headlines forever

UK newspapers on newsstand ()

If you’re like me, you’re often left making unsubstantiated guesses about the best combination of words or ideal headline style. Do I write for the curiosity gap? Is this a how-to post or listicle? Should I put a number in the headline? Or is this an SEO-play, and I’m writing for Google?

From search to social to editorial and even print, each channel is different. That’s why it’s important for content creators, marketers and brand advertisers to know the right tricks for the right channels.

This post won’t help you with search or social, which are all about clicks. Because if there’s one truth every reporter, writer or advertiser knows: the vast majority of people who read that perfectly manicured, curiosity-gapped, click-optimized headline will simply scroll by.

As the New York Times’ technology columnist Farhad Manjoo said while he was still at Slate: we’re in the age of skimming — Manjoo’s headline, by the way, cleverly captured my attention: “You won’t finish this article: Why people online don’t read to the end.”

In traditional advertising, a good tagline makes or a breaks a campaign. “Got milk?” or “Just Do It” anyone? With native advertising, the headline is the new tagline.

Because advertisers never get the full picture on what’s happening with every ad they buy, Sharethrough used neuroscience, the study of the subconscious, to help understand how native advertisers can optimise the one thing that matters on both sponsored content and in-feed ads: the impression.

A subconsicous study

In partnership with Nielsen Neuro, we hooked up 226 people to EEG machines for a non-invasive scan of electrical activity in the brain and measured brain activity in response to text (in science-speak, an EEG measures voltage fluctuations resulting from ionic current within the neurons of the brain).

Specifically, we were interested in the measure of emotional engagement, which neuroscientists describe as a measure of how drawn we are to information.

Increasing emotional engagement is akin to increasing a person’s interest in a message, whether that person realizes it or not.

The findings provided a foundation for a new dictionary of sorts — a set of words that will change the way you write headlines forever.


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