On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar. —David Ogilvy
Ogilvy wasn’t messing around when it came to headlines, and if he were alive today he’d definitely bump it up to ninety cents. Headlines do all the heavy lifting when it comes to attracting clicks and shares, which is why it’s more important than ever to invest in good copywriting.
But who actually gets it right? I don’t mean your average headline-writing-formula-right, but rather holy-cow-I-must-click-on-this-now-right.
There are three sites known to possess this kind of headline mastery. Strangely enough, two of them are on opposite political spectrums and the other one publishes nonsense—but in all fairness, none of that matters. What matters is they’re getting people’s attention, whether or not you think they deserve it.
Here they are:
The Huffington Post
Sure, HuffPo gets ragged on all the time for its sensational, flimsy content, but you gotta admit—their headlines are really catchy. I’ve even heard they split-test and crowdsource them. Just remember—it’s not every day an Internet-only news site sells for $315 million.
Note the difference in headlines versus the actual article titles (once you click on it):
Whether you agree with Drudge Report or not, their headline strategy is unconventional and brillant. The site is one big news aggregator, so the editors spend time crafting catchy headlines that do nothing more than link to outside articles.
What results on the one-page site are several boxes of persuasive political narrative which—if you’re of the right-wing persuasion—goes down like really good scotch. For example, here’s a sampling from today’s news (click for graphic), read from top to bottom in exact title case:
- OBAMA ADMITS FABRICATING GIRLFRIEND IN MEMOIR…
- ASKS: ‘Why black people so angry all the time’…
- OBAMA: ‘That was an example of compression’…
The Onion produces the very best headlines on the Internet thanks to the unlikely pairing of real events and absurd humor. I mean, how can you compete with “Black Guy Asks Nation for Change,” “‘Huffington Post’ Employee Sucked Into Aggregation Turbine‘” and (my very favorite) “Owls are Assholes“?
From what I’ve learned and come to admire, The Onion writers take their headline writing very seriously. This makes a lot of sense considering how—if you really think about it—The Onion could probably survive if all they wrote were headlines.