Create Curiosity, Hyperlink Carefully, Use Active Verbs and ‘Tee it Up’ to Help Get Your Content Read

In two articles that won 2021 EXCEL Awards, the American Geophysical Union science news product EOS delivers well-written previews and different ways to engage.

“At a critical moment in the effort to end one of the world’s worst oil spills, one scientist holed up in his office and pulled an all-nighter to calculate the well’s aquifer support,” subheads Modeling Under Pressure, a silver EXCEL winner for Featured Article.

“Of course our building is accessible—there is only one small step to get inside.” That quote leads one of the sections for the article Creating Spaces for Geoscientists with Disabilities to Thrive, gold EXCEL winner for D&I Initiative Feature Article (placed next to the wonderful photo you see here – credit: Anita Marshall). Another section begins: “Sorry, but you can’t come on the research trip—you’d be a liability in the field.”

These are all powerful and engaging uses of words—and a picture. The latter article is part 1 of a series produced in collaboration with AGU’s Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Committee. We all work very hard to produce top-notch content, but the work cannot end there. In these contend-with-so-many-distractions times, we also need to focus on ways to get our content read—whether that’s catchy promo blurbs, sensible hyperlinks, complementary photos and other curiosity-building methods.

But we can’t give too much away!

Earlier in her career, for a story recommending the most beautiful places to travel in the UK, Sarah Ebner, head of newsletters for the Financial Times, said that “we didn’t say where this place was, but teed it up with a description and then ‘find out where.’” The clicks were huge. The lesson is good, but I also love the phrase, “teed it up.” Word choices matter.

Arriving at the Financial Times just a few months ago, Ebner “was surprised to see that the breaking news alerts consisted of a few paragraphs with a ‘read more’ CTA at the end. Putting so much detail in these emails meant that there was no huge impetus to click through,” she wrote this week in an article on the INMA site.

“We had given too much of the story away already. We made some simple changes, changing these alerts to only one paragraph, and altering ‘read more’ to ‘read the full story.’ The click-through rate went up by 41% in a month.”

In a blog post on ASBPE, Scott Costa, publisher at tED Magazine, also talked about the importance of curiosity in your teaser copy. When the online daily newsletter is finished, he said, “[we] go through [to] make sure all the links work, the headlines have some punch, the subheads don’t give the whole story away and it looks really pretty. Our goal is to have the e-newsletter to our subscribers by noon Central Time, because our analytics show if it goes out any earlier or later, we will not get the maximum potential number of opens.”

Here are other ideas to make your content more noticed.

Never “more”? As she wrote, Ebner is “not a huge fan of ‘read more,’” but she does like “read the full/entire story” and “do you agree?” which she calls “so very clickable! All these small tweaks in language can be effective.” Being someone who spends time looking up words like “maintain vs. sustain” and other linguistic decisions, I agree that small word choices do matter. I use “read more” but will try what she suggests.

Make your CTA clear. What action are you asking the audience member to take? “Phrases like ‘click here,’ ‘learn more,’ ‘sign up’ and ‘download here’ are quick, simple and clear on how you are asking your audience to engage with the email,” publishing partner Omeda writes. “Also, consider having the CTA in the subject line as well.” A recent email study reported that using ALL CAPS in the “From” address gets a 19% higher open rate. And first-word capitalization in the subject line raises open rates 14% (Example: FINAL DAY: Free Registration to Tomorrow’s Webcast). While different rules apply in the marketing world, we editorial folks can still learn from them.

Use your preheader. The preheader is the first snippet of text in your email that appears next to your subject line. People see it before they even open the email. While only 11% use them, emails with a preheader get much higher average open rates—27.82% vs 21.46%. They also have much more impact than personalized subject lines. A preheader should complement your subject line.

Hyperlink the best choice of words. “I’ve seen newsletters that have a good story you’d like to read more of, but which hyperlink oddly, making you less likely to click,” Ebner writes. “I also regularly spot single words hyperlinked, sometimes seemingly at random! If there’s something we really want readers to click on, then I’m a proponent of making this as easy as possible.”

Deploy active verbs in subject lines. “Using words like ‘acquires,’ ‘accuses,’ ‘dies,’ ‘splits,’ or ‘expands’ grabs the attention inside email inboxes that are usually pretty cluttered,” said Costa. “We have to accept that many times negative news leads to a lot of open e-newsletters. Popular people or businesses could lead to many more. We pick out those selling points very carefully when we create our headlines for stories and subject lines for e-newsletters.”

“Think like your readers every day,” said Costa. “It is so easy to think about yourself and strategize about what you would like to read. Your readers might be completely different… [They] only have minutes to consume all of the day’s news from all sources in the world. Then they have other tasks, and their news consumption time is gone. You spend your day gathering news and deciding what to send out. Your day is completely different from your readers’ days.”

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