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These Headline Tactics Will Help Your Content Win Readers on the Social Web

The increasingly social web is changing the recipe for successful content. Readers no longer discover things by going from site to site. instead, they get things pushed to them via streams—be it their email, Facebook feed, preferred news aggregator, or text messages and chats from their networks.

To underscore this reality, consider that in 2014, just 7% of visits to National Journal started on the home page, down from 34% just two years earlier. At the same time social traffic more than doubled—a manifestation of the “side-door” traffic trend.

What’s more, social traffic may be driving even more engagement than analytics tools reveal. A significant portion of traffic to sites that shows up as “direct” or “typed/bookmarked” suggests that those users are arriving directly. But it is unlikely a user typed in a very long URL with all sorts of site cataloging and tracking information.

It is far more than likely that someone shared that link in an email, a social app, or an instant messaging program—a phenomenon called dark social. It may even be the case that the user came from Twitter’s mobile site, but the tracking code was lost. Either way, they often have arrived at the site because another person in their network shared a piece of content they found interesting.

“When people pass things around, it’s a way of saying ‘Hey, look at this thing,'” says Quartz Senior Editor, Zach Seward. The good news about this new reality is it levels the playing field for organization versus media companies. Any piece of content—be it from a corporate brand, a nonprofit think tank, or a traditional publisher—has a relatively equal chance of success, assuming it can get in front of creating content users actually want and value. Then, it’s critical you top it off with a headline that is both attention grabbing and share-worthy.

The headlines that travel with content across social are rarely packaged with the full article, report, blog post, or home page module. Instead, they stand on their own. On today’s social web, headlines are the way we earn the reader’s click.

The best headlines are crafted with a keen understanding of this.

They often create a “curiosity gap”—that is, providing enough substance to entice the reader but not giving away the whole story. They also, importantly, are not click-bait, but rather a true preview of the content. We’ve found these tactics to be particularly successful across our Atlantic Media brands:

Need proof that these strategies work? The most popular article on CityLab last year was “if an electric bike is ever going to hit it big in the U.S., it’s this one.” Nate Berg’s article on the Copenhagen Wheel is decisive and focuses on a tangible “thing” that people can talk about and share. By incorporating these tactics into your headline writing, you too can create content that travels.



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