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Web headline lessons from The Onion

Lots of us here at Tendo read The Onion, the fake newspaper with the funny headlines. (The link to the online version is included, but frankly, the print version is better.) We’ll ask, “Did you see the headline in The Onion this week?” and then repeat whatever grabbed our eye.

And therein lies the lesson for anybody writing headlines for the Web. You have to get your audience’s attention. Yes, the content below the headline is important. But if you don’t get the click, nobody sees your content.

And The Onion understands this. According to a recent episode of This American Life (which you should listen toit’s great), the writers at the Onion come up with 600 headlines each week and narrow them down to the 16 that end up in the newspaper. Then, once those 16 headlines are chosen, they develop the story that goes with the headline.

This is, of course, almost the complete opposite approach to how most companies generate their Web content. Somebody writes content and then comes up with the headline last. I suggest an opposite approach: Write your headlines first. While the headline may not be as funny as The Onion, it will force you to define the value proposition and come up with a reason a person would click on your article before you invest the time in writing. John Kovacevich, VP, marketing services

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March 30, 2008 - Posted by | Content Strategy, John Kovacevich, Web Content

2 Comments »

  1. I heard that This American Life episode and was amazed at the vetting process for deciding what headlines were included in the paper. Their gut reactions to the initial read through was rough and set a very high bar. Maybe we should try that…. 🙂

    Comment by Chad | April 2, 2008 | Reply

  2. Apparently some book titles work this way, too. I went to an author event featuring Jhumpa Lahiri last night and she came up with the title “Interpreter of Maladies” years before she wrote the collection of short stories. She ran into a friend who was working in a hospital as an interpreter for Russian immigrants and she scribbled the phrase on a piece of paper. Years later, it became the title of her Pulitzer Prize-winning collection.

    Comment by JulieJ | April 16, 2008 | Reply


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