A-mail: a lesson in headline optimization

A-mailHeadlines are important. They tell me whether or not a section of a web page might interest me. I’ve been noticing some less-than-grabbing headlines on A-mail lately, so I thought A-mail would make a good case study in good headlines versus bad ones.

Meaningful and Engaging

Your headlines should be meaningful, containing key words about your post’s topic, and engaging, piquing the curiosity of your readers.

The Good

Here’s an example of a good headline from a recent A-mail:

Smoking in Designated Areas Only Please

What makes it good?

It gives the topic of the post. Even better, I don’t even have to read the A-mail post to get the message. The post probably gives me information about the designated smoking areas, but it can also act as a simple reminder that smoking elsewhere is not permitted, and the headline alone did all that.

Here’s another:

Volunteer with Campus Kitchen

Again, it gives the topic of the post and acts as a self-contained message. It tells me what the post is about so I can decide whether I want to read it.

The Bad

Now, some bad headlines. Here are two well-intentioned A-mail posts that could just use a better title.

Thanks, Auggies

The post is thanking various people on campus for their work on City Service Day, which is great! But if it is about City Service Day, it should say so in the headline. A better headline might be, “Thanks for a great City Service Day” or “City Service Day: Thanks, Auggies.” ¬†Getting the topic in the headline is the important thing.

Here’s another:

A Huge Thank You

This post is thanking all the Minnesota State Fair volunteers for their work and gives some information about how many prospective students filled out info cards, how many alumni updates we had, etc. So, good information, but the headline gives us no indication the post is about the State Fair. Some better options: “State Fair Booth Visitors Summary” or “Thanks State Fair Booth Volunteers.” As long as it mentions the State Fair, it’s going in the right direction.

Why does this matter?

Because you want people to read your post, especially if it applies to them directly. Meaningful and engaging headlines help the right people see your post.

Let’s say I was a state fair volunteer or was interested in how our state fair booth did this year. That post about the fair would be interesting to me and I would make sure I read it. But since it was hidden under the headline “A Huge Thank You,” I didn’t know it was about the fair, and consequently skipped over it.

It’s not an email subject line

Just to be clear, I don’t meant to pick on the “bad” headline writers. I see this regularly in A-mail posts, but also on web pages or other digital communications, such as emails. Many of us write vague subject lines on emails because people usually open and read the email regardless of the subject line. So often it just doesn’t matter what you put there. But A-mail is different. People will skim over the headlines and read the sections they are interested in, or they may scan over the whole thing and stop if they see something interesting. Either way, never assume people are going to read your A-mail message just because it’s in A-mail.

Make things easy for everyone and write good A-mail headlines.