It’s no secret: Readers are bored. What’s worse, they’re not only bored, they’re also inundated. But if the Buzzfeeds of the world have taught us anything, display type is still king when it comes to hooking readers. Crafting meaningful, highly clickable headlines is worth the time investment, according to Kristi Reimer and Brendan Howard of Advanstar Communications’ Veterinary Group.
The pair focused on the 3-30-3 rule of user behavior. This means you have three seconds to draw the reader in, usually with the headline. If you tickle their interest, they’ll give you another 30 seconds, probably spent reading your deck, captions, and pull quotes. And if your message is still interesting, they’ll spend about three minutes reading the text.
Keeping this rule top of mind has the power to change our behavior as editors, too. Think about the display type the reader wants to consume, given a lack of resources (read: time), all while being mindful of the incredible competition we face in the form of consumer media outlets. This means that we’ve got to sharpen our skills to a fine point. First up, Reimer and Howard suggest identifying keywords and a selling point. Then, spend time honing the type down, whittling away unnecessary words and focusing on the most important information.
But what happens when, as a writer or an editor, you’re simply stuck? Reimer and Howard offer six tips to wiggle out of potential headline disasters:
- Get back to basics: Subject (meaning a person, not a concept), verb, object.
- Make a list of industry buzz words.
- Think about the tweet you’d craft for the article—and BAM, there’s your headline.
- Put everything away and come back to it later.
- Trust your instincts: What’s funniest, coolest, saddest, or most interesting to you?
- Ask for help: Your fellow writers and editors have some of the best ideas that may have never occurred to you.
If you don’t struggle with getting stuck from time to time, check yourself—you might be relying too much on what Reimer and Howard identify as major “don’ts” in headline writing:
- Using clichés with no concrete meaning, for example, “the grass is greener.” (Bonus tip: Don’t let art dictate a cliché, either.)
- Using names no one knows.
- Defaulting to an acronym overload.
- Failing to use a number when you totally could have.
Reimer and Howard ended with a note about the fine line between inviting curiosity while refraining from out-and-out manipulation for clicks. While the line exists, it gets increasingly blurry. Nonetheless, experimenting with what works best for your audience will eventually make your content sing.