Our Blog

November 17, 2015 By Hendrik-Jan Francke

Cleverness, Clickbait, and Correctness - Why Headlines are Important

Many users only read the headline. NPR’s article, Readers React To Headlines Gone Wrong, has convinced us of the importance of a headline even more.

npr headline

This headline informs and intrigues users by posing a question.

Yes, your headline should accurately declare page content, but it should also be jazzy enough to inspire a click. Headlines are all about balancing the “3 c’s”: cleverness, clickbait, and correctness.

NPR Headlines are Clever and Catchy, but Their Accuracy Can Put Them in Hot Water

NPR pumps out more headlines in a day than most bloggers do in a year. Not every headline is going to hit the mark. In the article, NPR editors point out how sometimes headlines that are too clever or catchy fail to capture the true meaning of the piece.

NPR’s solution? Post-publish edits. They cleverly reshape their headlines to improve the article, appeal to their audience base, and ultimately improve their quality of journalism.

Balancing accuracy and creativity in a headline is a tough task. But it’s one you can improve when you keep your audience in mind.

The King and Queen of Clickbait

Both Buzzfeed and NPR are considered reputable sources. However, NPR falls much lower on the "clickbait spectrum" compared to Buzzfeed. NPR is being clever and witty to stand out; Buzzfeed tends to be shameless with their clickbait headlines. Editors must find this balance while keeping their audience in mind, which can be quite the challenge.

Personas Can Help Editors Remember Limits of
Headline Writing

When writing headlines, NPR editors should refer back to their personas to make sure they don’t publish duds. The NPR audience…

  • favors precise, fair headlines

  • are quick to call out obvious click bait

  • value an entertaining writing style but want accuracy in their news source

If editors keep these values in mind, headlines and overall article quality will improve.

npr headlines

Here's an example of how NPR can differentiate headlines based on article topics and who will be reading.

Take a look at BOT’s 6 rules of effective headline writing.

Takeaways to Write Better Headlines

Spend Extra Time on Your Headline

Draft at least 20 different versions that capture different angles of your article. Pick the one that portrays your article most accurately.

Get Feedback on the Headline and Intro

Read only the headline and the intro together. Do they reflect angle you are going for? If your headline and intro are strong enough to stand alone, you’ve done a good job.

It’s a Digital World and Headlines are Editable!

If it’s not working - fix it. This can help gain more clicks and allows your article to make more of an impact.

Get More Bright Ideas

Improve your website & online marketing strategy with resources, tips, and insights delivered to your inbox every 2 weeks.

Subscribe to the Bright Orange Thread Content Library today for instant access to these resources!

Sign up today!