The Headline Switcheroo: Print versus Online Content Marketing

The Headline Switcheroo: Print versus Online Content Marketing

By Brianne Carlon RushJun 1 /2012

Last week, I sat down to read the latest issue of Chief Content Officer. Later I wanted to continue reading online when I noticed something peculiar: one specific article, "Digital Content Seeks PR For Something More," had a completely different headline for the online version: "4 Ways to Use PR in Your Content Marketing Efforts [Case Study]."

content marketing headlines print


conent marketing headlines online


I thought: Wow, this really goes along with what I wrote about a few months ago.

In summary, clever, witty headlines often do better in print where headlines that use SEO techniques deliver better results online. For further review, check out my blog "Is Clever Better: Witty versus Search-Engine-Optimized Headlines."

To get some extra expertise on the matter, I thought I would track down the author and CCO editor, Clare McDermott, to talk about the headline switcheroo. Check out what she had to say below and gather some quick tips for effective headline writing along the way.

Overall, why change the title from print to online?

Clare McDermott: We feel that in a print layout you can design the information in a way that you are gradually bringing the reader into the story using the combination of the headline, subhead and callouts. You can be more playful, hinting at what the article is about. On the web we try to be more literal and practical. I want to describe in a literal way what the article is about rather than something witty in print. And of course this is more SEO driven.

It does create a problem for someone who reads the article in print and then wants to send it to a friend or share it in someway and they have a hard time finding it online. That is my next problem to solve.

Why keep the subhead the same then?

CM: Where the headline is more evocative of the feeling of the article, the subhead needs to sum up what the reader expects. The subhead should absolutely tell the reader why it is important to read on. This is where mentioning the company being profiled or the expert being interviewed is appropriate. The audience should at least find out what they can learn from the article in the subhead. I think of it as a mini summary of whether they should read on or not, and that works in both print and online.

What are your thoughts regarding keywords in the title?

CM: SEO is certainly important when it comes to headlines. We try to anticipate how people will search and make headlines similar to that. But it is important not to over rely on keywords. I don’t want to accidentally attract someone to my article who will not get anything from it. More importantly than keywords, I try to summarize well and describe the article well in the headline. I don’t like to trick people into reading my articles.

Why use the number 4 in the headline online but not in print?

CM: I would rather let Michele Linn, Content Development Director of CMI, answer this one. Here is what she has to say: "CMI uses numbers in headlines because we find that these types of posts are shared more often via social channels. Outbrain also did some research, and they found that headlines that contained odd numbers had a 20% higher click-through rate than headlines with even numbers."

Why use [Case Study] online but not in print?

CM: We have different categories that we work with on CMI [Content Marketing Institute] that people are keyed into and are interested in, and case studies are a big one for us. This article tied into a category that appeals to our readers. Including the category in the headline was a direct way of alerting them to that.

Do you do this with all articles?

CM: We do it fairly regularly. It is a question of information design; there is so much more freedom in print than online where you just don’t have the same options. Word count is important, especially so people can share on Twitter without getting cut off.

Writing headlines for the web can be challenging, and it takes a lot of experimentation to find out what works and what doesn’t. It takes a long time to be comfortable, so try a few options and make sure to test the results. Don’t be afraid to try something new. Share your best headlines with us, whether they were in print or online, in the comments below. 

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The Author

Brianne Carlon Rush

Brianne works with Fortune 500 clients to strategize digital marketing efforts that help sales teams close deals faster. Additionally, she focuses on Kuno’s sales and marketing alignment and employee empowerment. Prior to Kuno, Brianne helped market OverDrive, the leading digital reading platform for libraries and schools, and was the youngest person to be promoted to managing editor position at MacFadden Performing Arts Media in NYC.