Why Magnetic Headlines Attract More Readers

Do you know who Nellie Connally is?

I do, but that has a lot to do with me being just barely old enough, and because I’ve lived most of my life in Texas.

That’s why this News 8 Austin headline works for me:

Former Texas first lady Nellie Connally dead at 87

However, there are a whole lot of people who are interested in the bigger story that Nellie played a part in, but that News 8 headline would have sailed right over their heads.

So, the AP wisely went with this instead:

Woman in JFK limo during shootings dies

Great headlines specifically tell the big story, unless you’re absolutely, positively sure that your audience gets the big story without elaboration.

For more on writing great headlines, including tips on keywords and winning headline templates, check out the Magnetic Headlines series.

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  1. I’m not contradicting here, Brian, just thinking aloud, about these two headings. The second headline I may say will certainly draw more eye-balls because it sounds more sensational than the first one. Kennedy’s assassination is a world-famous event, and anybody, anywhere in the world (well, almost) would be interested to read more about that “Woman in JFK limo during shootings”.

    On the other hand, the first headlines appeals to people who know who she was. To me, I think both the headlines are correct if they are targeted towards specific readers.

  2. I thought that’s what I just said.

  3. News targeting specific readers? I’ll respectfully disagree with you Amrit, mass media lives and dies by how many eyeballs are viewing their stories.

    I would add that it’s not merely utilizing sensationalism to get people to react, it’s simply finding a title that people will register with.

    If the purpose was, indeed, to target then
    only one group of individuals will connect with the name of the first lady. However, that group and most others will connect with the latter headline.

    As well, both articles bring attention to the fact that Mrs. Connally was famous for being in the limo that JFK was assassinated in. However, the latter article actually has more information regarding who Mrs. Connally was outside of the famous event.

    Headlines are very important. That’s the point.

  4. I think you did say just that.

    I also think both agencies did it the right way, like you said.

    What I’m more concerned with is this –

    Why would anybody live most of their life in Texas ? ;-)

  5. Mike, don’t think I don’t wonder that myself each and every day.

    But for some reason I don’t see Kentucky as the answer to what ails me. :)

  6. Hi Brian.

    Sorry if I missed the point :-). It’s 7:40 AM here and I haven’t yet slept…so maybe I’m half asleep.

  7. Ouch !

    I left myself open for that well placed jab.

    Too-shay !

    ( I’m Kentuckian, I couldn’t spell touche )

  8. I lived in Houston 78-81 & thought Tejas was great. Had a 2 bedroom apt with terrace plus pool, clubhouse & ALL utilities paid for $250/month. Gas 58 cents a gallon. & Luther’s BBQ. Yeehaw, them was the days.

  9. Here’s a reader’s perspective: I had no idea who Nellie Connally (RIP) was, until I read the article. And why did I read the article? Coz that second headline attracted me.

    Too bad though she’ll be remembered mainly as someone near JFK when he died, and not as a former First Lady of Texas.

  10. great “sunday post” short and sweet:)

  11. As other folks have pointed out, you could easily use both. With a slight revision, you could use one as the main headline, the second as a primary subhead that supports the head.

    How you’d decide on which is a head and which is a subhead would depend on the audience.

    I’ve been to Houston once. Does that count?

  12. Roberta, if only blog software allowed for subheads… I’m betting someday it will.

    So yes, in a less restricted environment like a normal web page, using subheads just makes good sense.

  13. Or you could write a longer headline – any thoughts on how long a good blog headline should be?

    Could it cut off like …. and then force the reader inside?

  14. I like using the cutoff every once and a while. Always a nice draw…

    As for length, it depends on the template. Currently, I hate the way my post titles look at certain word counts, because it impacts readability.

    I think we’ll start seeing more customization in templates and even blog software as we all get beyond how blogs “are supposed to be” and start making them work the way we need and want them to.

  15. I sometimes use a size 3 font, bolded and centered to create a type of subhead.

    Like you said, Brian, soon our CMS’s will be even more powerful than they are now.

  16. So true. I, for one, don’t know who is Nellie Connaly so obviously the second headline draws my attention more because even a non-US citizen should know who JFK is.

    As with subheads… is there a reason why you can’t use h2 or h3 tags immediately after the title? Just a workaround but I might get you wrong here…

  17. Mike, I think one thing CMS creators should consider is portability. So that when we have to upgrade, it’ll be easy.

    When I moved to my own domain, I lost all my comments because ironically, WordPress can’t import from WordPress.com.

  18. Brian, I think you make a good point about magnetic headlines. So much information is coming at us from so many directions, we’ve all had to learn to scan for what truly interests us or is useful to us. If the headline doesn’t attract us, the message may as well be written in invisible ink.

  19. Brian,

    Being an Aussie, I would not have known who the old girl was, and less likely to read the article from the first heading.

    However, that second headline suckered me right in … and isn’t that what a heading is suppposed to do? At least that’s what they taught me in sub-editing at university!

    10/10 for the explanation. As ever, you write for the masses and in such a way that is easily understood.

    With the explosion of internet news, these headlines are taking on an important role in digital journalism. They are not as just headlines, but also as a credibility reference for websites to use within their own businesses.

    Cheers
    Judie

  20. The topic of search optimization has completely been left out here. An ideal headline would include the terms “JFK,” “Nellie Connally” and “first lady” (probably in that order, due to competition from people searching for Laura).

    It’s impossible for me to say whether the site’s format would allow for a longer headline. However, always keep optimization in mind when writing those headlines!

    –Danny

  21. Danny, the topic of keywords was left out of this post because:

    a. That wasn’t the point; and

    b. It was covered earlier in the Magnetic Headlines series here.

    Oh look, the Related Posts plugin in the sidebar listed that very post first. Technology is great as long as people notice. :)

  22. I just want to point out what should be obvious: Brian’s talking about NEWS headlines specifically here.

    The same rules do not apply to homepage headlines, web article headlines, magazine article headlines, etc.

  23. Am I only talking about NEWS headlines specifically here, Dina?

    I don’t think so.

    And what I’m saying doesn’t apply outside of news?

    Are you saying you don’t write headlines that tell a big compelling story to entice people to read further?

    Really?

  24. From an interest point of view it’s important to tell the big story, but you’d have to know what people are looking for, SEO wise. If you knew they were looking for Nellie Connaly, you’d put her name in the title. If JFK limo and related words were what was searched for, that’s what you’d be looking for.

  25. Brian, I’m sorry; it wasn’t right of me to “speak for you” as a non-regular reader of this blog, was it? Who am I to suggest what point YOU are making?

    You asked:

    Am I only talking about NEWS headlines specifically here, Dina?

    Well, it appears that way after reading your two news headline examples and hearing you mention that “keywords” are not part of the point you’re making. But you can always add other examples to further support your general statement.

    But with respect to your point, which was that headlines “should tell the big story,” of course that’s a general psychological tactic behind ALL headline writing. Of course I agree with it.

    Headlines should tell PART of the story and then lead the reader to want to read more.

    And, no, I didn’t say, “What you’re saying doesn’t apply outside of news.” I said the RULES change depending on what type of headline you’re writing.

    But in mentioning “the rules,” I was actually thinking about semantics, like second person vs. third person perspective, asking a question vs. telling the facts, using the comma splice in news headlines (it’s not really appropriate anywhere else).

    Just adding another perspective… hope that’s cool with you, Brian.

  26. I love addtional perspective Dina. :)

    This was more of a “thought” post rather than a “how to” post. And my point in the comments was that I’ve written extensively on headlines in the past, so for the SEO folks and you to come in (as an admitted non-reader) guns a blazing seems to look opportunistic rather than helpful.

    But, I could be wrong. I am quite a bit. :)

  27. Nice, humble post. Brings home the credibility.

  28. Oh man, I passed right over that headline a few days ago. I was reading the newspaper on the subway on my way to school, and I remember the headline being more like the first example. I thought to myself, “Who cares?…” I am not trying to disrespect the family. Its just I was wondering why this was in a Boston newspaper. It makes a lot more sense now…
    I mean, I still don’t care that much, seeing as I wasn’t alive anywhere near the time, but a lot of people around here certainly did. You just made an excellent point about the headline though.

  29. This post, however off-topic it may be, is about Internet freedom. \”Network Neutrality\” — the First Amendment of the Internet — ensures that the public can view the smallest blog just as easily as the largest corporate Web site by preventing Internet companies like AT&T from rigging the playing field for only the highest-paying sites.

    But Internet providers like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast are spending millions of dollars lobbying Congress to gut Net Neutrality. If Congress doesn\’t take action now to implement meaningful Net Neutrality provisions, the future of the Internet is at risk.

    In the end game, only large companies will afford domains if the communications monopolies have their way with this. This of course isnt new news, but its coming to a head and blogs like this one will be a ghosttown unless all of us figure it our pretty darn quick. I wont post any links, but advise that if you value the internet, and blogs likw this one, that you search Google for \”Network Neutrality\” and educate yourself on this issue as it effects all of us.