Digital transformation

How to write a killer mobile headline

Remember the good old days when the hardest headline we had to write was a one-column, 4-deck, page 1 headline?

The stakes for headlines are even higher now. A headline on mobile can mean the difference between someone reading your story and someone scrolling right past it.

In the age of interruptions, mobile headlines need to be engaging — even compelling, and they shouldn’t sound a bit like their print counterparts.

Gone are the days of plucking your print headline, peppering it with some proper nouns and keywords for SEO, and posting to your website with a satisfied grunt. That’s backwards and brings us to our list of tips to help you write effective mobile headlines. (What is effective? People clicking on the headline and engaging with your story.)



1.  START WITH MOBILE: People are likely to see your mobile headline first (definitely before print), so write it first. Imagine you’re covering an event: a meeting, Friday night football game, parade. The first version of your story is going online, and most people will see it on their phones. Should your mobile headline differ from your desktop version? No. In our world at GateHouse, we’re transitioning our websites to completely responsive design. As the screen size grows or shrinks, the content adjusts. So, keep the workflow simple, and write a headline that works for mobile. What you write for mobile will work for desktop, too. Think mobile-first.


2.  TRY SOMETHING NEW: Too often, legacy print journalists take a print headline, add some proper nouns for SEO and voila, and digital headline. But since you’re starting with mobile, you won’t fall into that trap. With a blank slate, we can ask the question: How do we woo our readers? Let’s look at a few examples of engaging and search-friendly headlines:
Why the world’s third-richest man is attacking Donald Trump (Washington Post): This headline tells us the story is going to answer a question, which is Google-friendly since Google changed its algorithm (Hummingbird) to respond to the fact that readers were asking more questions in the search bar. Besides, I want to know who the world’s third-richest man is. That’s intriguing.
Zika is in Florida. Here are 9 tips to calm you down. (Vox): SEO: Zika is the first word in the headline, and Google rewards keywords at the start of a headline. Engaging: It’s a list! Vox tells us there are nine tips and that these will help to calm us. The headline leads me to believe the story will be helpful and easy to digest. I’m in.
Update your Apple devices now to fix a terrifying security bug (Quartz): SEO: Good keywords (security bug, Apple). Engaging: OK, we might not love adjectives and adverbs, but the word “terrifying” and the fact that I can fix it just by updating my Apple device is pretty appealing.


3.  WRITE A DIFFERENT HEADLINE FOR FACEBOOK: Social and mobile go hand in hand. Let’s say I’m looking at Facebook on my phone. The headline that appears on your story on Facebook needs to be short so it doesn’t get cut off on the phone. As you are posting to Facebook, you will have the option of changing the headline. Be sure to keep it at 60 characters (and you thought Twitter’s 140-character limit was daunting). The good news is you still have the status area to engage readers.


4.  CHECK YOUR PHONE: How does your headline look? Does it end in ellipses? Because that’s bad. With mobile, we need to see what our readers are seeing. Make sure the whole newsroom checks your mobile app and your mobile website. The more people who are looking at the site, the better. We’ll catch more problems quickly.


5.  CHECK YOUR ANALYTICS: If you have or Chartbeat, use real-time metrics to ensure your best stories are resonating with readers. And check mobile-only data. If a story isn’t doing well, change the headline. Try something else.


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