A good headline isn’t as vital it as it used to be…

NOT my belief. Just a remark I overheard at a marketing event.  Unable to challenge it at the time, it’s played on my mind.  How on earth could he have reached such a conclusion?  Is it based on a view that ‘content is king’ and therefore a headline has somehow become less important?

I’m mulling it over. Whatever the marketing context, let’s assume by ‘headline’ he did mean the thing you see first, the key benefit being offered, the news you didn’t know, the reason to read on.

Advertising

Thirty years ago the web had just been born.  Print media dominated and advertising pages were aplenty.  Competition for readers’ attention off-the page was fierce, headlines had to work hard.  Radio and TV channels were fewer in number, the offer had to stand out in a concentrated crowd.

With today’s ubiquitous web, mobile networks, multi-channel cable and satellite TV and radio, the advertising opportunities have dramatically increased, print media too continues to innovate and even cinema has had a rebirth.  Headlines less vital?  Hardly.

With such increased media choice comes a more fragmented audience.  With off-the-screen media – blogs, e-newletters, search engines, websites et al – comes a tendency to scan read and not dwell.  Headlines had surely better hit between the eyes more than ever.

Direct marketing

Yes I get less direct mail on the door mat than I used to, which might suggest a weaker headline could attract my attention more than it used to maybe?  But a far more media-savvy public is surely far less tolerant of mail perceived as junk?

And the switch to massed email and text marketing surely makes the headline even more important than it ever was – what do I need to put in a subject line to make an email stand out in an already crowded in-box?

PR

When I wrote my first press release, it was printed on letterhead, put in an envelope and posted with a colour transparency.  It competed with 100’s received by an editor each day.  A good headline was vital in grabbing an editor’s attention and avoiding the sub-editor’s waste bin (no recycling then).

I would agree that a switch to press release distribution by email coupled with the explosion in on-line media outlets and newswire services means that a press release today will always get published somewhere – irrespective of its headline.

But if you want to hit your most important, tier 1 media, then you’d best give the headline some close thought.  The size of serious editorial teams has sadly diminished, so a press release had better be ready to grab maximum attention and be ready to publish as is – no room for a weak headline.

SEO

And what about that other set of search engine optimised, key word filled headlines that we’ve all become so precious about these days: web page titles, <h1>, <h2>, <h3> headings, Meta descriptions, not to mention the components of a Google Adwords advert?  They’ve become kind of important, right?

And so to conclude, ‘a good headline isn’t as vital as it was…’ ?  I disagree.  Media outlets and communication channels have certainly changed (and will continue to change dramatically), but so too have attention spans and reading habits.  In an era when content is king, a good headline’s more important than ever.