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    13 More Before-and-After Examples of Headline Magic

    by Kurt Gessler
    April 20, 2017
    A/B testing is not dark magic. Photo: Flickr

    This article was originally published on Medium.

    As the response was fairly positive to my original post on headline engagement and best practices, I wanted to share a few more examples before I moved on to other topics.

    There’s more to be learned from studying successful headlines than in just reading tips and theories.

    After the first piece, I received a lot of nice comments, it was republished here at MediaShift and I even got a chance to ramble on about headlines to the awesome staff at the Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va. As an aside, I now have a pretty slick Google Slides version of my thoughts on this topic!

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    But as I continued to talk about headlines, I kept finding new and better case studies. So what follows really is more of an addendum to the first post, a final notebook dump of sorts, where we at the Chicago Tribune took digitally deficient headlines and really focused on drawing out the compelling aspects.

    As before, in all of these examples, we at least doubled realtime homepage engagement (click-through rate) after we made the change. We based this on Chartbeat’s heads-up display. So if 50 people were clicking on a headline before, at least 100 were after. Visually, that looks like this …

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    But this is only one measuring stick. More compelling heds are more sharable on social as well.

    Why the before-after format? While every story’s unique, I think there’s more to be learned from studying empirically successful headlines than in just reading tips and theories. Plus, as I said, I already wrote that. So, I hope there’s a little added value in these 13 new examples.

    13 Headline Changes

    Before:

    This one is particularly galling in that that headline is vague, a pun and also dead wrong, as the story specifically says they’re NOT falling down.

    After:

    Before:

    The sports version of the “Rain didn’t dampen the spirits of fest-goers” headline.

    After:

    Added details and, most importantly, scope.

    Before:

    After:

    Removed arcane “land bank” reference, added purpose.

    Before:

    After:

    Drew out the conflict a bit with stronger language and simplified the issue.

    Before:

    This is a perfectly good headline — detail rich (price, geography) with a hint of controversy.

    After:

    But context made all the difference.

    Before:

    After:

    Added specifics, removed the lesser-known term “equity grant” and made it more conversational.

    Before:

    Focused a lot of attention on the preference angle.

    After:

    Attempted to bring out the exclusive nature of this story while adding context. This isn’t just any jail.

    Before:

    After, part 1:

    Started to hone in on the better part of the story.

    After, part 2:

    And we’re all in on the most compelling aspect, as determined by our readers.

    Before:

    After:

    Removed unnecessary last names and focused on cleanly telling the narrative.

    Before:

    After:

    Here’s another case where the first headline was fine. But through testing, this quote proved far more engaging.

    Before:

    Starts with Illinois geologists. In fact, sand is the third noun.

    After:

    The initial headline was detail rich but actually less clear. This is a story about missing sand. We used a question hed to hammer that home.

    Before:

    After:

    Details. Details. Details.

    Before:

    Original Associated Press headline.

    After:

    Snaps right to the most controversial statement made at the event — the one that got all the attention.

    More H/T’s to my great Tribune team, including Jeff Cercone, Kyle Betts and Aly Brumback and Alex Parker.

    Kurt Gessler is the deputy editor for digital news at the Chicago Tribune. He also teaches at The Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications at Northwestern University.

    Tagged: a/b testing chicago tribune headline metrics headlines
    • Eileen Duffy

      sorry, it’s “home in”

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