It’s All About the Headline? 10 Perspectives

Posted in Branding, Copywriting, Design, Digital, Medical, Social Media | March 16,2012

Many marketers have noted, “It’s all about the headline.” Copywriters spent valuable time developing catchy headlines and editors have been known to hurriedly throw out a piece, simply because they couldn’t get past the headline. And with this in mind, we noticed something interesting today.

One of Miller Public Relations’ valued clients is the USMD Prostate Cancer Center. We strive to keep abreast of all the latest prostate related news, including emerging studies and meetings. To aid us in this, we have a Google Alerts set on “prostate cancer” to notify us when anything new is published on the web. Today’s notice was interesting. From the same medical study results, here are the various headlines that were gathered by Google Alerts:

  • Prostate cancer screening study adds to debate over PSA tests–CBS News
  • Study finds PSA testing cuts prostate cancer deaths–Philadelphia Inquirer
  • New data fuels debate over prostate cancer screening–Fox News
  • Updated Study Underscores Prostate Cancer Screening Saves Lives–MarketWatch
  • Prostate Screening Isn’t Saving Lives, Study Finds–Huffington Post
  • New Study Confirming the Need for Prostate Cancer Screening…–MarketWatch
  • Prostate cancer screening isn’t saving lives, study finds–USA TODAY
  • Prostate Cancer Screenings Questioned–CNN
  • PSA Test Cuts Prostate Cancer Deaths — at a Cost–WebMD
  • PSA Screening Reduces Deaths From Prostate Cancer, Study Finds–BusinessWeek

In a day of tweets, sound-bytes and short attention spans, headlines matter. For some, it is the extent of their reading.

On the average Web page, users have time to read at most 28% of the words during an average [web] visit; 20% is more likely. (source)

Therefore, writers should give great care to their composition of a headline. Depending on their primary news source,  a headline reader would be more apt to get an annual Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) test if they read Business Week or Market Watch. A Huffington Post reader might be tempted to blow off the annual test. Perhaps WebMD has the most balanced headline taking into account the life saving importance of catching prostate cancer early coupled with the expense and risks of treating latent prostate cancer that would, most likely, never cause death. (Consequently, this is one of the reasons why USMD Prostate Cancer Center offers their Active Surveillance Program, to vigilantly track prostate cancer’s progression, balancing the benefits and risks of treatment for their patients with early, slowly progressing prostate cancer.)

As copywriters, we need make sure our headlines are:

1) Truly balanced and fair to the information they are presenting. People will see past a hyped headline quickly and bail out on the following copy as soon as they think they are being played.

2) Concise. Keep the main point front and center.

3) Attention grabbing by revealing their relevance to the reader. In this case, most males in America don’t want to die soon, especially of prostate cancer, so using “death” in the headline copy was a wise choice

So writers and readers be alert. The old adage holds true, consider the source. And, well, consider reading past the headline, too. Your life just might depend on it.

Jordan Fowler