Intranet Content Strategy Pt2: Killer Headlines that Work

Image shows an old-fashioned retro typewriter to denote that this part of the series continues to discuss articles
April 14, 2015
Robin Dominik Havre
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What was the last headline you clicked? Can you remember?

The chances are, you saw it standing among many others in a list. That list may have been on a search engine results page, in your RSS, or in a social media feed. There were lots of others, but something about that strategically-created content headline just caught your eye.

If you’re reading this article, you know that employee engagement is important for productivity, and an intranet is the foundation for making this happen.

That means, whatever magic caught your eye about that headline must be recreated for your intranet content. Otherwise, your employees, staff or team members won’t be clicking like you did.

And that means, all that content you so lovingly crafted won’t even be seen.

Don’t sell yourself short with a substandard headline. Study this skill and get better at it. There are some tips on how to measure your results at the end of the article.

What makes a good headline?

A lot more than you’d think and it’s easy to take them for granted.

Especially after you spent so much time writing something. Because the last thing you want to do is invest another huge chunk in a killer headline when you’ve got so much to do.

Luckily, there are a few tricks that help make effective headline writing a lot faster.

For example, professional copywriters keep a “swipe file” of headline types and popular headline words that are proven to be effective. That way, you can just modify them based on the content at hand. It’s a “not-broken-don’t-fix-it” approach that takes a lot less time and saves a lot of guesswork.

So let’s start off with popular headline words.

In one study conducted by (source below), it was found that certain words are significantly more popular than others in headlines. So, while you’re going over the below strategies, you should definitely keep them in mind, perhaps even start your swipe file in a spreadsheet, notebook or whatever works for you.


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There were several interesting data points uncovered from this analysis of almost 1 million headlines, so bookmark the source link and check it out later as further reading. Right now, let’s go over five fundamental headline types to build up your swipe file a little more.

Five types of headlines proven to work

1. The “significant benefit” headline

What benefit does your intranet content offer your employees? Have you given an incentive for conducting a staff survey or entering a competition perhaps? Have you added a new feature that clearly benefits employees and makes their lives easier? Make this the focus of your headline and people are more likely to click.

E.G: New Intranet Features Will Saves You 2.5 Hours a Month

2. The “How to” opener headline

There’s something magical about the opening “how-to”. It seems we all want to know “how to” do interesting, beneficial things and when the first two headline words give us that opportunity, it’s another proven method to improve click-through rates.

If you combine it with method No.1 above, it works particularly well. You’ll also notice in the example below that we used the ampersand (&) to make it two benefits instead of one.

E.G: How to Find Your Remaining Holiday Balance Quickly & Easily

3. The “Top X” headline

Anyone who spends time online will see plenty of proof that so-called “top lists” are popular. You may also have noticed that they’re also at the top of the study above.

There’s just something digestible about this article format. Whether you break content down into a “top 10″, “top 5″ or “top 3″ is up to you, though some studies have proven to be best practice to use odd numbers. For some reason, they seem to get more clicks.

E.G. Top 10 Awesome KPI’s You Helped the Company Achieved Last Year

4. The question/provocative statement headline

Think of a headline that provokes a reaction. It’s been proven that asking a question in writing elicits a neurological response in the brain of the reader. Perhaps there’s just something enticing about that is big juicy “?” that gets us thinking. Aim to elicit that response and your headline is much less likely to be browsed over.

E.G. Did You Know About This Intranet Feature that Saves You Lots of Time?

5. The “say it simply and clearly headline”

If you’re a fan of a decent pun, it can be tempting to create cleverly worded headlines that use slick wordplay to make them more interesting. However, studies have shown that fancy wordsmithing in digital headlines perform worse than if you were to say it simply and clearly.

When we’re scanning through an email inbox, we’re much less likely to click on something that isn’t immediately recognisable as what it is.

E.G. An Introduction to the Latest Member of the Team

General headline writing tips

So, above are five of the most tried-and-tested headline templates that should get you started on your own swipe file. Here are some general tips to keep you on track.

  • A congruent subject matter
    If a title is not representative of an article’s content, your audience is less likely to keep reading once they discover the discrepancy. It will damage your credibility and reduce click-through rates in the future. It’s important to give people what you promised them.
  • A congruent tone
    Similarly, if your article’s intended to make the reader laugh, then the title should reflect that. Again, if there’s an imbalance in this area, then the reader may feel misled and will be less likely to read on as a result. Match the tone of your voice (which we covered in the previous part of the intranet content strategy guide.)
  • Keep it short
    The headline is great to highlight the value of being economical with your words. It’s good practice for delivering the necessary information in the smallest possible number of words.

By starting your swipe file with simple templates that are proven to work, remembering the popular words that are proven to work and then keeping these general tips in mind, you’re off to a good start.

Next, and finally, comes practice.

Practice makes awesome headlines

Crafting a great title is a critical part of the writing process. And failing to appreciate this is a sure-fire way to prevent your article from enjoying its full potential. So, if you see the inevitable truth in that and you practice accordingly, how are you supposed to measure whether or not you’re getting better?

Easy. Your intranet should have a basic content analytics tool built into the back end so you can see your click-through rates and conversions.

Without such a tool, the effort you put into creating the kind of headlines that get your employees to click in the first place is wasted. You don’t know what’s working and what’s not. In the undying words of legendary management guru, Peter Drucker:

If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.

Headline writing may seem like a daunting skill to learn. But, it’s actually pretty fun once you get going. When you start getting better at it and see your click-through rates improve, it’s a really rewarding way to spend time, and you’ll even impress a few people along the way.

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Robin Dominik Havre

Robin is the CEO of New Intranet. He's helped many companies deploy successful mobile intranets that are easy to use and specially designed for employees not working in front of a computer. The goal of this blog is to provide research-backed intranet and internal communications advice for more successful HR strategies.

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