Brilliant Reads: how Upworthy writes *those* headlines and how online ads affect offline sales

Welcome to the latest edition of Brilliant Reads. This week we have the lowdown on how Upworthy writes *those* headlines, and evidence that online ads might have an impact on offline sales.

How does Upworthy write *those* headlines? (Quora)

In this Quora Q&A, Adam Mordecai, editor-at-large at Upworthy, explains the site’s headline writing process. If you’re not already familiar with Upworthy, its combination of a good eye for content and attention-grabbing, click-driving headlines has given it unbelievable amounts of traffic. Some of the site’s top-performing headlines include:

Whether you like the style or not, you have to admire the work that goes into writing those headlines. According to Mordecai, they’ll write write 25 variants of a headline per story, which then go into a custom click testing system (unofficially known as the ‘magic unicorn box’) which decides which will perform best.

Understandably, Upworthy isn’t giving away the algorithm behind the system. However, Mordecai does share a lot of tips on how to write a great headline that drives clicks. Here are some of the best:

  • “Tell a story in your headline, but don’t give it all away. (This is what makes us so successful, though some people really hate it.)”
  • “To optimize shareability you want to make sure everyone can feel comfortable sharing it. Think to yourself, “Would my mom share this headline?””
  • “Don’t use terms that overwhelm, polarize or bore people. I never use Social Security, The Environment, Immigration, Democrats, Republicans, Medicare, Racist, Bigot, etc… You can talk about issues without giving away what they are.”
  • “Always test. No matter how clever you think your headline is.”

Image credit: Upworthy

Online ads can have a positive impact on offline sales(Google Think Insights)

Online advertisements can have a positive impact on sales in bricks-and-mortar stores, according to a study conducted by Applied Predictive Technologies.

13 top retailers in the US increased their search spend in test markets, while keeping their regular search spend constant in comparable control markets, and resulting in-store sales were measured.

Investing in search ads, even at a modest level, increased incremental offline store sales by an average of 1.46%. The sales return on search ad spend was significant as well — between two and 14x, according to the meta-analysis. One participating retailer invested $466,000 in search ads over a six-week period and saw an in-store sales increase of $5.6 million.

Image credit: johnnytakespictures

Why responsive design won’t fix your content problem (A List Apart)

In this post, content strategy royalty Karen McGrane explains why responsive design isn’t enough to fix your content problems.

In some businesses, there’s an assumption that a responsive site is a fix-all for content issues. But as McGrane highlights, making the content work on all devices isn’t enough to fix problems born from old, irrelevant content, poor editorial workflow or a lack of governance.

Starting the 2013 round-ups early

It’s a little early to be wrapping up 2013, but the end of year round-up posts are already starting to appear. Here’s a couple to to get you started:

The 20 most shared video ads of 2013  (Econsultancy)

The 25 most beautiful data visualisations of 2013 (FastCo)