Write Headlines for Humans, not Robots

How Quartz keeps a journalistic approach in a digital world

reading_stockIf we could paint a picture of information overload, it would resemble a very busy scene out of New York City. Every outlet wants to be heard, every brand wants to cover everything. From the trends of cat photos being featured on blogs, to a list suggesting, ‘Seven Ways to Make Your Morning Commute Better,” brands are competing for attention. So how can you break through this very crowded and noisy environment?

Quartz, a digital, social savvy, and mobile-oriented publication, is a new kind of global business news outlet. A sister publication of The Atlantic, Quartz presents a different model. Instead of trying to cover everything like the major news publications do, the small editorial staff focuses on shifts that are happening in their industry, which they like to call “obsessions.”

While readers of other online publications have to wade through advertisements just to get to an article, Quartz partners up with the brands, so ads become a part of the read, which commands a premium of advertising and results in higher quality readership.

With five million unique visitors online and counting, Quartz attracts daily, social savvy, deep connector readers, creating as little friction as possible. “We write headlines for humans, not robots,” Zach Seward (@zsweard), senior editor of Quartz explained at last night’s PRSA Silicon Valley’s “Inside the Newsroom” event themed “Social, not search.”

If you’re fighting to get your message heard in an information overload-environment, Kevin Delaney (@kevinjdelaney), editor in chief and co-founder of Quartz, said

“Create interesting headlines.  If you can’t come up with a good headline, how important is the news?”

Think of a headline as a tweet or status update. “A click is great, but a share is huge,” Seward added. “That’s where real traffic comes from – not robots.”

That same “less is more” advice can be applied to all content on the web. Remember the last time you were flipping through your newsfeed on Facebook, and rather than clicking on the long paragraph your cousin posted, you were more inclined to engage with the photo your co-worker posted from last night’s staff party? Readers treat your online content the same way.  Unusual photos or graphics will always grab the reader’s attention.

“We realize that business journalism does not lend itself to interesting photography [but] don’t try to write when a chart will do. Include charts maybe in the middle, a photo, etc.” Delaney said.

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