Ask most writers and editors and I’ll bet they agree: Writing headlines is hard. It’s not easy to come up with something exciting and attention-grabbing that also conveys the important information about a story in just a few words.
Meanwhile, brands and marketers are creating more of their own content, so they have to worry about this, too. Native advertising company Sharethrough is trying to help with a new, free product called Hemingway, which will look at a headline, grade it and offer suggestions for improvement.
Sharethrough CEO Dan Greenberg told me that the aim isn’t to make sure every piece of marketing and content suddenly comes with a cookie-cutter, Upworthy-style headline. Instead, he suggested that we’re entering “this new era of straightforwardness,” where “a good headline is not a headline that hints at something, it’s one that says what it wants to say.”
After all, those “You won’t believe what happened next!” headlines are really designed to drive clicks — but even then, only a tiny percentage of people who see them are actually going to click through. So doesn’t it make sense to write a headline that gets your message across, even if people don’t read the article or watch the video? And that’s particularly true if you’re a marketer trying to promote a brand, rather than a news publication trying to make money from ad impressions.
“If I’m Tesla or Volvo, I can live in the headlines,” Greenberg said. “I don’t care if someone comes to my website. I want people learning things about me and coming up with new opinions about my products.”
That all sounds good in theory, but how does Hemingway apply that in practice? Greenberg said it’s applying the research that Sharethrough has done to measure the effectiveness of mobile ads and basically translating that into best practices and a score. (There are also sub-scores, one focusing on engagement and one on maximizing brand lift for people who see the headline but don’t click.)
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Naturally, I had to try this out for myself. I ran my last few headlines through the system. The results were not flattering, with every single one of them graded as “average.” (I suppose there are plenty of TechCrunch readers who’d be on-board with that assessment.)
I even tried out the headline for this very article. It got a score of 70 — in the positive column, Hemingway noted that I didn’t use too much positive sentiment, did mention a brand and used active language. On the negative side, it suggested that I increase the headline length, use more “context words” and hey, why not throw a celebrity in there?
Unfortunately, I couldn’t think of the right celebrity.