Copywriters Have Better Sex
Ask anyone who has worked in marketing for more than five minutes what the most important part of any piece of copy is, and you will get a Pavlovian response that it’s the headline.
This has been true ever since newspapers were first sold to the public, if not earlier.
But, algorithms are changing the way headlines work. They still matter. The headline to this piece grabbed your attention.
Algorithms Create the Menu
But, why did you see this story in the first place? You had the chance to be intrigued by my provocative, nonsensical headline because an algorithm showed it to you. Based on your past behavior the algorithm determined you would be interested in an article about marketing, copywriting, and headlines.
The algorithm didn’t think you were interested in the bedroom prowess of copywriters.
When you log into any social media platform, use a search engine, or browse on a site like Medium, you are shown a selection of content. You pick and choose what content interests you enough to click on it based on a number of factors, including the headline.
But, before a piece of content could be clicked by you, you had to be able to see it.
Think of the internet as a restaurant. Most people only order from the menu they’re presented with. On the web, the algorithms create the menu that readers order, or click, from.
Algorithms Read Content
For years one of the most frustrating things for marketers was the ability of black hat SEO gurus to game search engines with gimmicks like keyword stuffing, words made to be the same color as the background so that bots could read them, but people would never see them, and dubious back-linking practices.
SEO still matters. But, for the most part, the maturity of machine learning has put most black hat SEO ninjas out of business. Algorithms now read content on a deeper level than just indexing keywords.
Algorithms used by the world’s largest technology companies are better than ever at determining the relevance of the content. They can also determine the quality, originality, and authority of content.
Another reason headlines are losing some of their importance is the evolution of meta descriptions. Most places where you are looking at content, you see a short blurb about the content called a meta description. This gives you a chance to get a feel about an article or web page based on more than just the headline before you click.
Some sites, like Medium, use subtitles. These subtitles perform the same function as a meta-description on a search engine. They give the reader more details about the piece.
What About Headlines?
Algorithms are much more than just an automated indexing service. They are a type of information bouncer. The algorithms are now the gatekeepers. A killer headline isn’t enough to bluff your way into the club. You have to have great content to match your clever headline.
The old rule that you should spend more time on your headline than your content doesn’t make sense in the world of web copywriting. You still need to spend time crafting a strong, compelling headline. But, you need to be more worried about the content under the headline.
If you skimp on the quality of your content, you will find that your blog post or web page with the award-worthy headline didn’t make the cut. The algorithm could see right through your skimpy content.
Audience First Copywriting
For all the hand-wringing about the effects of AI on marketing, most of the changes are extremely positive — at least for consumers of information. To survive in a world with super algorithms, more marketers will have to write copy that is centered on the needs of their audience.
Algorithms will only show content to people that the data shows people find useful or entertaining.
How many times have you been suckered by a clickbait headline, only to realize the content is garbage and click away seconds later? It’s one of the worst parts of the internet. In two or three years, that experience may be gone forever. Machine learning will allow algorithms to sniff out articles that are all sizzle and no substance and remove them from the menu of options that are presented to people.
Headlines will never go away. They are a useful signaling tool. But, anyone interested in actually having people read their work will spend more time creating something of value. Something that people and bots both are eager to read.
Because I’m a copy nerd, I spent a lot of time toying with the headline for this article. I settled on something mildly titillating, but obviously ridiculous. I originally wrote the headline:
Copywriters Have More Sex
However, I figured quality was more interesting that quantity.