Which Headline Will Generate More Subscriptions? Four Ingredients for Headline Success

Is there a correlation between the quality of a headline, and its capacity to generate subscriptions? [3mn R&D Product Development]

I’ve spent years working as a consultant to dozens of editors focussing on identifying the attributes that define success, good content, and a great title. Of course I have; it’s what fuels the rolling process of refining news products. But just for a moment I want to look at one very much more specific, and very much more strategic angle – those elements that convince a reader, often in the span of mere seconds to click, to read and to sign up for a subscription. Is there a correlation between the quality of a headline, and its capacity to generate subscriptions?

1/ The ingredients for success

I’ve identified 20 key attributes for success, but for simplicity’s sake here I’ve whittled them down to just four.  

  • The Who? (the person mentioned in the title)
  • The When? (what time frame is mentioned)
  • The How Many? (numbers, numbers, numbers), and lastly
  • The They Said What? (the quote conveying the power of that person’s message).

2/ The conversion funnel and the mysterious factor that is conversion power

For one of my clients, an international press group and leader in many markets, I analysed a sample of more than 50,000 articles for one of its flagship brands each of which was one of the last 10 articles read before the decision to purchase.  Clearly not all content is created equal and some topics have more pulling power when it comes to subscription while others don’t create the same draw. Which is why I broke down those 50,000 articles according to the sales they generated and in the process identified three segments.  

  • The first segment was the one that generated a single subscription (80% of the total).
  • The second group was the one that generated between two and five subscriptions (18% of the total).
  • The third segment (just 2% of the total) generated between six and 75 subscriptions.

3/ Identifying those key attributes for success

What became clear as I looked deeper was that the 40,000 articles of the first group, which each only resulted in a single conversion, didn’t have enough of the magic ingredients necessary for success. Conversely the content of the third group had what it took to wildly outperform the other two groups. Take a look at the table below for a clearer view of the difference.

4 / Managing media – editorial engineering

What became clear is that too many articles covered too broad a range of topics without providing the context and the bottom line – our old friends Who, Why, What, Where, When… and How. Every budding journalist knows those 5Ws and the H, but our studies of conversion rates mean that a ‘Q’ – the quote – is every bit as crucial. Which means that for those looking to develop revenue from subscription there is a need to introduce editorial ‘engineering’ in the newsroom – a structure of what works, and what doesn’t. The organization of the newsroom itself has to be optimized to increase that specific aspect of content, just as it otherwise focuses on quality. Boosting subscriptions is a process that involves every individual of the editorial staff.

David is CEO and Founder of New World Encounters and Upgrade Media. He has over 15 years of experience as a digital strategies coach and consultant in organisations like WAN-IFRA or his own ventures. David is passionate in serving the media community and shares here his expertise with us. This is a first episode from a series of articles on R&D Product Development.