Five Tips for Headline Writing in the Mobile Age

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In an age of mobile devices and short attention spans, the ability to quickly capture readers and invite them to learn more about a brand, product or service is critical. As a content marketer, you understand the importance of developing an outreach strategy that touches multiple audience segments on multiple platforms. But when it comes to that simplest and most urgent of megaphones — the headline — what are you doing to turn up the dial on your strategy? In today’s post, we begin briefly with the key functionality of headlines before turning to several techniques that can amp up these pithy phrases for a mobile audience.

Tip #1: Remember what headlines should do

The reality of the web is that your audience likely won’t see a message if you bury it in just one place. As this report from the American Press Institute reveals, smartphone-toting consumers in particular gather news from search engines, online news aggregators, dark social such as email and text-message, and news alerts. Thus, to get your message seen requires attention to clear communication for repackaging. You can’t control exactly what users do with content after it leaves your fingertips, but you can certainly control that initial impression. Copyblogger suggests eight in 10 people read headlines, compared to just two in 10 who actually look at whatever text accompanies them. With that in mind, mobile headlines should be written to capture attention and convey information, notes Aaron Agius over at Content Marketing Institute. Avoid headlines that entice but leave those who click through feeling cheated at the end of their reading experience. Be specific and engaging to win fans. Over at Business 2 Community, writer Mickie E Kennedy flips that logic on its head and explains how to use the headline-writing acumen of traditional journalism to speak to, well, journalists. The use of data in mobile headlines is another winning way to surface the value of what a brand is doing and make it immediately apparent.

Tip #2: Play on emotion and intrigue

Go to any bookstore and you’ll find your eyes drawn to some titles more than others. Why? The best covers have something others don’t: winning titles and striking art. You can capture the same emotional response using mobile headlines for your digital content. Corey Eridon over at Hubspot suggests incorporating strong words or alliteration to stand out from the crowd. Additionally, you can earn yourself credibility points by simple honesty about what a post or piece of content actually includes, Eridon notes. Bracketed phrases that convey the type of content at play, such as eBooks or videos, help audiences make informed choices. Content should also foster a sense of fun in your mobile audience. Some might frown upon the listicle, says Erik Dekers at Convince and Convert, but the fact is many of us read them and love them. Finally, recognize that mobile delivery opens a door to mood subcultures. In a recent post for Inc., author Minda Zetlin recaps a study revealing the tone of posts on social media varies by platform. Popular posts on LinkedIn and Pinterest tend to be more upbeat than those on Twitter and Facebook, for example. As a result, you might repackage the same piece of content under multiple headlines to see which generates the most traction.

Tip #3: Remember your technical limitations

Although we’d all like to be poets, the nature of mobile information consumption demands a swifter eloquence. To that end, take time to assess how your headline is crossing space to trim back where needed for maximum impact. Two cases in point are shared in this post, namely that you should monitor trending topics on social media and write within the character limits of a particular platform. No one wants to click on a shortened link to read the full headline or guess at what might be waiting. Stay current, jump into the conversation where it makes sense, and do so in a way that makes you look savvy. You might even consider setting word quotas. In a post for, writer Gazalla Gaya shares a general rule of thumb of fewer than 10 words per headline. Responsive design for your website can seal the deal by making those words display convincingly. Finally, pay attention to what giants in the online space are doing based on your content decisions. TechCrunch recently announced Google is assessing mobile-friendliness as part of its efforts to rank URLs in mobile-based searches.

Tip #4: Double-check words you use

It’s important to carefully the words in your headlines, but also know what research says about headline quality and email open rates. Two recent examples are this one described at BizReport and this one analyzing 6.4 million emails from Hubspot’s SideKick. Get a sense of what works well in headlines and experiment with your own audience.

Tip #5: Think long-term and across devices

As wearables flood the marketplace, realize your mobile messages will be read in more places than ever before. Do your own market research to understand where and when people connect with your headlines, recommends At the end of the day, every brand communicates with people. Think about how you interact with information and what you want to see in headlines. Be sure to write down your brand’s headline guidelines and review other best practices to ensure your approach to online conversation is consistent with your voice and mission. Do these things and you’re sure to write front-page-worthy headlines time after time. Image via Shutterstock


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