What TMZ Can Teach Developers About Headline Writing

January 27, 2016 2:35 PM | Posted By: Krista Summitt

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Headlines are important for developers for the obvious reasons: they tell you what the content is about, they set the tone of the content, and they ideally draw readers in.

There’s one more reason that’s kind of kept on the low-low by web marketing geeks.  Seriously, this is something I’ve seen shady online marketing gurus never say ONE WORD about in any of their keynote speeches, posts, or educational materials, kind of like a chef’s secret ingredient.


Search. Engine. Optimization.

Now, don’t check out on me here and think I’m going to turn you into a marketing dweeb.

What I do want you to do is burn into your brain that headlines are the primary piece of content that search engines like Google look at when they are deciding what search results to show to a user. So, if you are posting something about your app working with 3D camera, and you put the term ‘Intel RealSense 3D’ in your headline somewhere, you will have a much better chance of being found on Google or Bing when someone searches for info about 3D camera apps.


Headline Writing Strategies

Okay so now let’s talk about some strategies for headline writing.

1. Read headlines on popular news and entertainment sites like TMZ or HuffPo


Because those sites live and die by drawing millions of visitors per day to their site. In order to do that they have to create headlines that will draw large crowds. One thing you’ll notice about TMZ is their headlines are very short – 7 to 10 words and they often structure their headlines like this: 

Celebrity Name + What They Did. 

For example:

“Johnny Manziel Partying With Bieber: Cops Called”

If the person’s name isn’t widely known, they’ll use an organization or show name, such as:

“Storage Wars Star Arrested for Swindling Target"


2. Try using headline hacks

This is a consolidated list of headline “hacks” I’ve learned from various online marketing pros that specialize in this area.  Eventually you’ll find your own style, but for now use these until you get several under your belt. I’ve written the name of the hack, with a short explanation and example beside each one.

Get What You Want: These headlines are similar to the ‘How To’ category, but they speak directly to solutions to desired outcomes. Ex: Play Minecraft for Free

Fear ,Uncertainty, and Doubt:  Here you are talking about dangers that could threaten your readers What Most Productivity App Developers Won’t Tell You About GTD Software or  How Safe Is Your Video Sharing App?

Separate Fact from Fiction: If there is confusion about a particular technology, feature, or app category, this can be a great headline subject. Ex: Destroying The HTML5 App Myth

How To/Tricks of the Trade: As the name implies, these can be tips or hacks on how your users can get more out of your app. How to Make Candy Crush Work on Android AND iOS

Best and Worst: This can either be about a single app Why Waze is the Best GPS App Out There or a variation of list apps The 20 Best/Worst Music Apps for Audiophiles

List Headlines:  Another self-explanatory hack, this is the usual Top 15 In App Purchases for the Kickstarter App

Zen Headlines:  This hack offers your readers a stress-free, simple way of doing something. Ex. Stress Free Way to Deposit Checks With Your Online Banking App

Piggybacking: We’ve all seen these, especially in business or sports publications. Ex. Sheryl Sandberg’s Go-To  Business Travel Apps or What Steve Wozniak Can Teach You About Windows App Development

Mistake Headlines – This can take a couple of different forms, but in essence these headlines call out common mistakes on a particular topic. Ex.The One Mistake You're Making That's Keeping You From Leveling Up

 3. Look at questions you get from your contact form, tech support email/forum, or emails.

These can all be great headline topic sources; because if one person has a question, odds are several more people do too, and will appreciate the information.

Next Steps: 

Let us know on Twitter or our Facebook page if you try any of these and how they work out for you.

BONUS:  We’re giving you a free, no- opt-in-needed, link to marketing guru Chris Garrett’s report 102 Headline Writing Formulas. Just right-mouse click on the link and select Save As from the menu.

Posted In: App Marketing Tips
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