Do penguins have knees?

No doubt you have been a victim of a click bait, and most likely, from an online news source. In my case, it was from a blog peddling local ‘news’. It was the advent of blogging and to capture high traffic and hence earn from online advertising, the ‘news’ blogs outdid each other in screaming outrageous headlines. So, there I was whiling away the time on social media when this bold headline popped up on my timeline. “Exclusive! Kibaki spotted drinking chang’aa in Kangemi!”

Some background. The Kenyan president at the time was Emilio Kibaki. A highly polished gentleman, the mainstream media caricatured him as so and with a golf club to boot. It was said that he partook the White Cap brand of beer before he quit drinking. Now, this brand was named after the majestic snow-capped Mt. Kenya and was associated with men of means and class. Plus, the implied fact of the president’s choice of beer brand having something to do with his roots being in Nyeri, one of the counties that Mt. Kenya straddles.

So, yes. I did fall for the clickbait as my curiosity was sufficiently piqued. An excerpt from the article: “John Kibaki, a resident of Kangemi, was spotted drinking chang’aa in one of the many illicit liquor dens in the locale…” While I may have imagined this whole scenario, it is akin to what many of our local blogs do to capture our eyeballs. Shock them. Intrigue them. Distract them. Headline! Headline! Headline! Welcome to the age of the click bait.

Ultimately though, we have gotten immune to such sensationalism by and large – shocking headlines and shallow stories – and reverted to ‘serious’ news sources. That said, there are lessons we can draw from these blogs as to how they headline their articles and use them successfully. That first and foremost, the headline is where your publishing is won. To quote the advertising maverick that was David Oglivy, “On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.”

So, how do you generate catchy headlines that get people to read what you publish? The obvious place to start is from your content. What are the salient points you are putting across? What are the key words that are drawn from these points? By thus identifying the two, you can then play around with the key words in generating a catchy headline yet one that ties to your content. What is more, such a method is advantageous in getting your post on the front page of the web courtesy of search engine optimisation. This, considering that nowadays, integrated communication means that, sooner than later, everything published ends online; with social media being a publishing platform with huge impact in sharing our daily narratives.

A second way to generate catchy headlines is to insert figure in your headlines. ‘10 ways to sleep better’, ‘5 proven ways to lose weight’ and so on. Such a headline appeals to the reader to read the rest of the article so that he can use this information that promises to better him with X number of steps if he acts accordingly. The implied statics that come by combining words with figures combines the emotional and the rational in the reader to want to delve deeper into the content so headlined.

Another way to generate arresting headlines is by offering new insights into a specific topic. ‘New study reveals that…’, ‘4 out of 7 Kenyans have…” and suchlike. This method plays into what we have mentioned in the previous paragraph, though, by introducing new data. As such, the reader is invited to dive into the new information and the ramifications of these.

Other methods of generating catchy headlines include hyperbole (Why having a website can make you a millionaire), puns (Tiger Woods mauled at Presidents Cup, but handshake signals end to row with caddie Steve Williams – actual headline from The Telegraph, UK), nouns (Lessons on Leadership) and adjectives (The Essential Guide to This and That, etc). Of course, it goes without saying that content and context should always guide your headlines.

And yes, penguins do have knees.