Category Archives: Content Marketing

9 Tips for Writing an Effective Online Headline

Writing headlines for an online audience poses different challenges than print. Here are 10 tips to help you write an effective headline for the web.

Writing headlines for an online audience poses different challenges than print.
Here are nine tips to help you write an effective headline for the web.

You spent hours laboring over a blog post.  You did your research and fussed over sentences until they were just right. The only thing standing between you and your next task is a headline.

You take a few seconds, jot down the first thing that comes to mind, and move on.

Don’t do that.

You’re cheating yourself out of more readers by not applying the same effort to your headline, as you did to the rest of your piece.

The headline is the first – and sometimes only — thing your audience sees before deciding to open your blog post.  It needs to be worthy of being clicked on.

During a Web Headlines seminar by the Poynter Institute, John Schlander, the Tampa Bay Times’ digital general manager, shared an easy-to-remember approach to online headline writing.

Your headline has three goals, he said. If it captures deeper meaning, reader interest and search value, you’re in good shape.

These nine tips will help you achieve those goals.

1. Keep it short. Although bloggers, online journalists, and other writers are not limited by a newspaper’s narrow columns, you do need to consider the web’s equivalents: Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs) and social media.

After Google’s most-recent SERP redesign, Moz released new guidelines for page title/headline length.  There’s no magic number due to the varying widths of letters on Google. However, under the new design, Moz says 55 characters is a safe bet before your headline gets cut off in SERPs.

If your headline is close to or more than 55 characters (including spaces), make sure the most important information is near the front.

2. Don’t aim for cute.  I LOVE puns, so it pains me to say they’re better left out of your online headline.  Your headline has to live on its own in search results, as a tweet, or in a mobile news reader. You don’t have the luxury of a photo or subhead on the newspaper’s front page to explain “Scrape Me Up Before You Go Slow.”

If you saw that in your search results, you wouldn’t know the article was referring to a car accident involving George Michael.  Even if you can decipher the article’s topic from a pun, wordplay takes up room you don’t have. Clear, descriptive language that explains what the article is about would be more useful.

3. Keep your sights on why.  The who, what, when, and where of your story are very important to the headline, but you also need to demonstrate why your audience should care to click on it.  Is there an emotion this story taps into? What is the deeper meaning or impact this news has on your audience and its community? Ask yourself what would make you click on your own headline.

4. Understand your audience through research. Keyword research and website analytics give us insight into our target audiences’ behaviors. We don’t have to guess (as much) about what our audience will or won’t respond to.  By studying the different topics your audience is interested in, the words they use to search for those topics, and the headline triggers they respond to (numbers and calls to action are a good place to start), you can craft a headline that’s found, clicked, and shared.

5. Don’t be tone deaf. Once you’ve identified the ‘why’ of your story, you must consider the topic’s tone. Is it serious, informal, sentimental, or irreverent? Make sure that’s reflected in your headline.  If, like me, you struggle with capturing a funny tone, comedian Michele Wojciechowski offers advice on adding humor to your writing. Cultural differences also should be considered when determining what’s acceptable.

6. Be consistent with your site’s voice. In addition to recognizing the appropriate tone for your story’s topic, you need to understand and be consistent with your site’s overall voice.  Know how offbeat and radical you can be. How authoritative you should sound. You set your audience’s expectations. Although it’s sometimes OK to challenge those expectations, if your piece is going to seem out of place on your website, make sure it’s for a good reason.

7. Don’t fill it with “headlinese.” Because of newspaper formatting, some journalists developed a reductionist headline style, favoring short synonyms and jargon not typically used by their audience.  This ‘headlinese’ has led to many examples of unintentional (and hilarious) ambiguity.  Ambiguity doesn’t work online. Instead, use language you’d use in ordinary conversation.

8. Write more than one headline. Congratulations if your first attempt at writing a headline is perfect. Unfortunately, that’s usually not the case.  After the Poynter seminar, I now write three to five headlines because it forces me to focus on all of the details in my story.  Your headline variations don’t need to be dramatically different. Sometimes, it’s a slight tweak to your keywords or combining of elements from the other versions.  It also can mean flipping the action’s point of view.

9. Don’t save your headline until the end.  There are valid arguments on both sides of the “write the headline first vs. write it last” debate.  I used to advocate for waiting until the end to write my headline. Then I tried writing it earlier in my blogging process and found it helped the rest of my post.

I still do my newsgathering first; however, after reviewing my notes and seeing what the story is, I write the headline before anything else.  I’ll edit my headline after writing my first draft, but having one early on helps me organize the article and find my lede.

Don’t feel overwhelmed. There’s art and science to headline writing and the only way to get better is with practice.

Poynter’s next Web Headlines and SEO Essentials seminar with Schlander takes place in December. It will provide hands-on headline writing and an in-depth understanding of online best practices. You can find more information about this and Poynter’s other online classes at newsu.org/courses.

A version of this post originally appeared on Beyond Bylines. Keep up on media trends, tips for bloggers and journalists, and industry Q&As by subscribing to PR Newswire’s media blog or following us on Twitter @BeyondBylines.

Author Amanda Hicken is a media relations manager with PR Newswire. In addition to blogging on Beyond Bylines, she pens the local interest blog Clue Into Cleveland. Follow her at @ADHicken.

To the Relevant go the Rewards

Photo via the Lakewood Citizen (@lkwdcitizen)

Content Marketing World’s host Joe Pulizzi with Kevin Spacey at #CMWorld this year. Photo via the Lakewood Citizen (@lkwdcitizen)

How important is message relevance in gaining audience attention and swaying opinion? This year’s closing keynote at Content Marketing World provided a textbook example of power relevant messages have in developing audience connection.

In a tour de force keynote that was all too short, actor Kevin Spacey grabbed the orange-clad faithful in Cleveland by their collective noses, and brought them to their feet – numerous times.

Over the course of his talk, Spacey answered the question he posed at the outset (“What the hell am I doing here?!) proving that he belonged at a content marketing conference with an eloquent and inspiring discussion of the key elements of great storytelling, which he underpinned with a collection of fantastic stories that drove home his key points.

The presentation was a living case study in the power a relevant message designed for a specific audience.

A seasoned stage actor, Spacey understands audience connection in a more intimate way than many of us will ever experience.  In reality, he’s probably given a version of his keynote talk before – it was one that any theater or entertainment enthusiast would have enjoyed.  But by taking the time to pepper the presentation with examples drawn from the advertising and marketing realms. Spacey fine tuned his content for his audience, and as a result, was immediately accepted as credible and authentic by the crowd of savvy content marketers.

In addition to schooling the assembled on message targeting, Spacey also beautifully illustrated the galvanizing effect of a great story, illustrating his own points with specific and relevant vignettes.

While Spacey was on stage, Twitter was ablaze with tweets and Instagram was groaning under pictures uploaded by those in attendance.  In the ensuing days, blogs recapping the keynote and collections of tweets on Storify appeared and were shared in droves.  Spacey provoked a lot of on-the spot engagement and ensuing discussion.

This was in stark contrast to the closing keynotes at Content Marketing World in years past, which have  delivered heavy doses of entertainment, a welcome relief from the intensity of the preceding sessions.  Two years ago, in Columbus, Jack Hanna brought some interesting and beautiful animals to visit the CMWorld audience.   Last year, William Shatner graced the stage.  Both sessions were a lot of fun.

But Spacey clicked.  Spacey was memorable.  Spacey proved that he was one of us, and the key to the powerful connection he created with the audience was a beautifully crafted relevant message, underpinned by well-told stories.

Do you need a hand finding, telling and illustrating your brand’s stories?   Take a look at how our team at MultiVu can help you create and share your message

sarah avatarAuthor Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of strategic communications & content, and is the author of  the ebook Driving Content DiscoveryFollow her on Twitter at @sarahskerik.

10 Things I Learned from #CMWorld 2014 Without Being There

The over-arching theme at Content Marketing World 2014 focused on audience-first messaging and the importance of delivering content in all of the ways that your audience wants to consume it. Case in point: though I was not physically present at Content Marketing World, I felt like an integral part of the event by relying on Twitter to deliver the awesome tips and sound bites that I was afraid of missing out on.

Many of the presenters and attendees at Content Marketing World had already made a favorable impression on me long before the conference. Knowing that they were credible and profound thinkers, I was inspired to follow the hashtag, engage in the conversation, and have my own Content Marketing World experience in a way that was specific to my needs. Through my virtual attendance, here are ten of my favorite things I learned from Content Marketing World 2014 without being there:

This year’s conference will surely be difficult to top next year – like many of you I am still recovering from having my mind blown by Kevin Spacey’s keynote speech thanks to the live stream. To all of those who took the time to tweet, thank you for making Content Marketing World 2014 an incredible learning experience right from the office!

To learn how PR Newswire and UBM Tech Create can help you fuel your content engine, follow the link: http://prn.to/ContentMarketingWorld2014

ShannonAuthor Shannon Ramlochan is the Content Marketing Coordinator at PR Newswire. Follow her on Twitter @sramloch.

Trend Watch: Content Marketing World Day 1

Following the tweet stream from Content Marketing World (#CMWorld) is like drinking from the proverbial fire hose. Not unexpectedly, the attendees and speakers are producing quite a bit of content.

Emerging themes are bubbling up as day 1 is being recapped and digested, including:

  • Measuring business outcomes, not marketing output.  Increased spend is demanding increased rigor in measurement.
  • Aligning with the focus on outcomes, more attention is being paid to developing content for specific personas that is also mapped to buyers’ journeys.
  • Tightening the screws on content utility and relevance. Even as content marketing becomes more disciplined,  we can’t lose sight of the audience.  Content may be exquisitely aligned to personas and mapped to journeys but if doesn’t deliver value to the audience, it won’t produce results.
  • Using analytics to inform strategy.  Content marketers are increasingly mining big data sources to glean insights about what makes their audiences tick.
  • Content amplification.  Developing strategies to ensure content is seen from social seeding to actual distribution is central to achieving content success.

This is my third year at Content Marketing World, and the industry is definitely maturing.  Sessions and conversations are focusing on advanced strategy and execution, rather than more basic why-you-should-get-started discussions.

sarah avatarAuthor Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of strategic communications & content, and is the author of  the ebook Driving Content DiscoveryFollow her on Twitter at @sarahskerik.

 

CMW_Release_Graphic_v3

 

Sustainable Content Strategies – Measurement & Promotion Required

L-R: Ken Wincko, Nicole Smith, Rebecca Lieb, Michael Praniloff

L-R: Ken Wincko, Nicole Smith, Rebecca Lieb, Michael Praniloff. Photo courtesy of Victoria Harres.

You’be got the budget, you’ve got the plan – but is your content plan built to last? Keys to developing sustainable content strategies was front and center in the panel entitled “Don’t Run Out of Gas! Fueling a Sustainable Content Strategy” at Content Marketing World today.

Tellingly, two primary themes emerged from the discussion – the need for rigorous measurement and the reality that content needs to be promoted to be effective.

Panelists included PR Newswire’s Senior Vice President of Marketing, Ken Wincko,  Dell Inc.’s TechPageOne.com Managing Editor, Nicole Smith (@NicoleSatDell), and Altimeter Group’s Industry Analyst Rebecca Lieb (@Lieblink.) The discussion was moderated by Michael Pranikoff (@mpranikoff) director of emerging media for PR Newswire.

Business benefits will fuel sustained investment 

Building content strategies geared to deliver business benefit – and then measuring those results in a relevant way – is crucial to building a lasting program, the panelists agreed.

Rebecca Lieb (RL): Start with building an understanding of how content impacts broader benefits for the brand, including favorabilty, share of voice and improvements in customer care, customer service.

Nicole Smith (NS): Understand what you’re trying to achieve.  A bucket full of KPis is a diffused way of assessing your ROI.  Brands need to get specific about what they’re counting, and they need to be thinking about whether or not what they are measuring is relevant.

Break it down. What constitutes engagement? Increased comments? Really dig in and think about what’s relevant about your business.

Ken Wincko (KW): Think in term of what the specific challenges are for each your buyer personas along their buyers’ journeys?

How can brands get content to stand out in today’s fractured content environment? 

The days of organic propagation of content are waning, Lieb noted, driven largely by the convergence of paid, earned and owned media.   While the occasional great piece of content will go viral, in reality, most content requires promotion (at least at the outset) to drive amplification.

The panel agreed that search engines play a crucial component in driving content success, and that the meshing of paid, earned and owned media into converged forms provides important visibility opportunities for content marketers.

KW: Targeted outreach is an important way to reach influencers – the journalists and bloggers who own key niches to build expert advocacy for your brand.

Get beyond vague engagement metrics 

NS:  Cares that people find the content useful, and that they come back.  Comments are not as important.  We’re looking for a correlation between an activity and a result we like.  Reverse engineer it.

RL: Content marketers have to be careful to not resort to ad metrics. Publishers are trying to prove to advertisers that a lot of people are seeing their ads, and there’s not a lot of accountabilty beyond that.   Content marketing is not advertising, and it has to be more accountable.

KW:  Ultimately it’s connecting the dots between the interactions.  Tracking that activity through marketing automation in a multichannel way reveals what’s working for buyers across all the touch points.

When it comes to budget, advertising gets the lion’s share. How can content marketing compete?

RL: The Altimiter Group research demonstrated that advertising is losing ground, because content is more measurable and more effective.  Social channels only exist because there’s content in them.  Email is a container for content.  Sophisticated marketers are creating content, testing it in social and owned channels, and then investing expensive ad dollars into content that has been proven to strike s cord. Benefit: this also creates a unified brand voice.

The content cycle: content > owned > social > ad.  Lather, rinse repeat.

 

sarah avatar

Author Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of strategic communications & content, and is the author of  the ebook Driving Content DiscoveryFollow her on Twitter at @sarahskerik.

Relevant Content: Driving the Kraft Marketing Engine

Photo of Julie Fleishman via  SimpleReach

Photo of Julie Fleischer via SimpleReach

With so many channels and the marginal cost of the creation and distribution of content, brands today are struggling to communicate with an increasingly fragmented audience.

“Consumer attention is ephemeral and is exponentially fleeting,” said Julie Fleischer (@jfly) of Kraft Foods in her Content Marketing World keynote.

What will save our brands?  According to Fleischer, the answer is content. “It’s an invitation to engage. It’s not intrusive and invites the consumer in.”

Content signals “I know you, you know me,” and creates trust, demonstrating shared interests. And in today’s digital environment, content is self-targeting, through search engines and social recommendations.

For these reasons, content is at the center of the Kraft Foods marketing engine.

At the beginning, content wasn’t aligned or integrated with the rest of Kraft’s messaging, despite the broad reach the content team had developed.

The new media landscape – driven by data and built on technology – changed that.  The future of consumer connection isn’t about mass, it’s about individuals and personalization, enabling brands to focus on niche interests and create customized, relevant and persuasive content.

Kraft has also built an agile approach, using data to quickly surface trends and deploy or create content to capture opportunity.

“Content and data are inextricably linked,” Fleischer noted. “Data is the value exchange and conversion is the outcome.”

Content and advertising have to be linked, helping to drive the precision of advertising in terms of both message and media, driving improved ROI.   “We seek to drive effectiveness, better segmenting, targeting and serving relevant communications,” Fleischer said of how Kraft combines the two to drive revenue.

Personal relevancy is a big focus at Kraft.  The company’s researchers are looking at consumers in terms of ‘microtribes’ and are developing precise measurement tools to quantify and understand both results and consumer behavior.

Fleischer offered advice to her fellow marketers for winning in today’s digital media world:

  • Relevancy requires the ability to change and adapt. Move fast, and break things.
  • Don’t be afraid to un-learn what you know and try another angle.
  • Culture trumps strategy. The pace of change will never be slower than it is today. If change is happening on the outside faster than it is on the inside, the end is in sight.
  • Expect to succeed. Swagger matters.
  • Start small.
  • Done is better than perfect.

Fleischer closed with invaluable and inspiring advice that succinctly summarized her journey in building the content engine that drives Kraft’s advertising and brand presences.

“Learn. Create. Deliver. Measure. Learn. Repeat.”

sarah avatarAuthor Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of strategic communications & content, and is the author of  the ebook Driving Content DiscoveryFollow her on Twitter at @sarahskerik.

 

CMW_Release_Graphic_v3

Is your content strategy sustainable?  A high-powered panel will tackle the ins and outs of building a sustainable content strategy at  Content Marketing World next week, in a discussion titled, “Don’t Run Out of Gas! How to Fuel a Sustainable Content Marketing Strategy,” slated for  Tuesday, September 9 at 11:00AM – 11:45AM EST.

Featured panelists include PR Newswire’s Senior Vice President of Marketing, Ken Wincko,  Dell Inc.’s TechPageOne.com Managing Editor, Nicole Smith (@NicoleSatDell), and Altimeter Group’s Industry Analyst Rebecca Lieb (@Lieblink.) The discussion will be moderated by Michael Pranikoff (@mpranikoff,) director of emerging media for PR Newswire, and will focus on developing and executing an ongoing content strategy, including:

  • What to do after creating a content calendar and plotting out the best channels to distribute messages,
  • How to develop a customer perspective that drives community engagement,
  • Ways to accelerate content promotion.

Conferences attendees can join the conversation on social media by completing the sentence “Content drives” using hashtags #contentdrives #cmworld.

Content Marketing World attendees can visit booth #11 at the event to hear more. You can also follow this link to learn more about how to accelerate your content strategy:  http://prn.to/ContentMarketingWorld2014

Storytelling With a Plan to Inspire #CMWorld

According to Andrew Davis (@TPLDrew) in his keynote that kicked off Content Marketing World today, the marketing funnel was invented in 1898 and is sorely in need of retirement.

In reality, he says, the best model for the online universe in which our brands live isn’t a simple funnel – it’s the universe.

“A Galilean model of the online universe has Google at the middle,” he told the assembled faithful at Content Marketing World, as he took the audience through a convoluted search journey.  “Funnel that.”

Look at your consumer’s perspective and map their universe, he challenged the group. It’s populated with the content and networks they love.  Ask yourself where your brand sits within universe?  Are you at the center? No.  Most brands are on the outer peripheries of their audiences’ universes.

Should we even be asking how we get closer and closer to the center of our audiences’ universes?  Probably not.  Can you put your content closer to THEIR universe, and still get them to act.

The key, Davis notes, is to know what inspires — and what triggers.

The buyers’ journey today doesn’t look at all like the centuries-old funnel.  Instead, Davis calls the process “active evaluation,” throughout which consumers continually add and subtract brands as they move closer and closer to purchase.

Creating moments of inspiration can keep your brand in active consideration and provide the trigger that moves the buyer to action.

But what is a moment of inspiration? Create moments of inspiration that can send people on a journey — instants in time that send them on journeys they never expected.   Therein, Davis posits, is the greatest revenue opportunity for content marketers.

Andrew Davis’ 4 secrets to driving moments of inspiration that drive revenue for brands.

  1. Build suspense when you tell a story. Create anxiety – what happens next?  Create drama.
  2. Foster aspiration. Show your audience the potential, and how they can achieve it. Tap into your audiences’ aspirations.
  3. Drive empathy. Understand and speak to your audiences’ feelings.
  4. Harness emotion. Get the audience to take action based upon the emotion you’ve generated and inspire people to act.

Make triggering an irresistible urge to act a primary goal of your marketing, Davis suggests.  After all, nothing has fueled our culture and consumer culture more than the content brands we love.

sarah avatarAuthor Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of strategic communications & content, and is the author of  the ebook Driving Content DiscoveryFollow her on Twitter at @sarahskerik.

 

 

CMW_Release_Graphic_v3

Is your content strategy sustainable?  A high-powered panel will tackle the ins and outs of building a sustainable content strategy at  Content Marketing World next week, in a discussion titled, “Don’t Run Out of Gas! How to Fuel a Sustainable Content Marketing Strategy,” slated for  Tuesday, September 9 at 11:00AM – 11:45AM EST.

Featured panelists include PR Newswire’s Senior Vice President of Marketing, Ken Wincko,  Dell Inc.’s TechPageOne.com Managing Editor, Nicole Smith (@NicoleSatDell), and Altimeter Group’s Industry Analyst Rebecca Lieb (@Lieblink.) The discussion will be moderated by Michael Pranikoff (@mpranikoff,) director of emerging media for PR Newswire, and will focus on developing and executing an ongoing content strategy, including:

  • What to do after creating a content calendar and plotting out the best channels to distribute messages,
  • How to develop a customer perspective that drives community engagement,
  • Ways to accelerate content promotion.

Conferences attendees can join the conversation on social media by completing the sentence “Content drives” using hashtags #contentdrives #cmworld.

Content Marketing World attendees can visit booth #11 at the event to hear more. You can also follow this link to learn more about how to accelerate your content strategy:  http://prn.to/ContentMarketingWorld2014