Headlines That Work: Has Science Finally Settled the Geek/Nerd Debate?

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Welcome to Headlines That Work, a new regular feature here at Copyblogger where we will nerd out about writing headlines.

Headlines, as you know are “the first, and perhaps only, impression you make on a prospective reader.” This is why your headlines need to be magnetic.

And it is why nerding out about headlines — studying them in-depth to analyze why they work — is such a worthwhile endeavor.

But wait … are we really nerding out about headlines … or are we geeking out about them? Is there even a difference?

Yes! And finally science has stepped up to settle the debate.

Here is a headline that works

A post at CNet.com announcing an all-important scientific breakthrough features a splendid headline that works on a number of levels.

Here is the headline:

At last! Science draws a line between geeks and nerds

So why does this work?

In our ebook Magnetic Headlines, one of the hundreds of essential bits of knowledge you learn is that people who consistently produce winning headlines understand that “all compelling headlines make an intriguing promise that makes it almost irresistible to the target audience.

Key word: “irresistible.”

Key phrase: “target audience.”

The “At last!” beginning is important, because it grabs attention and suggests that some longstanding debate or controversy is finally coming to an end. It makes reading the rest of the headline, and the post, irresistible.

This notion of finality is then backed up by invoking science immediately — “Science draws a line…” — suggesting that the reader will no longer have to guess about where they fall along the geek/nerd spectrum. The answers can be found right here!

Whether it be on CNet’s homepage or in a social media channel like Twitter, that headline is going to be clicked by CNet’s audience as well as casual observers.

Context and credibility matter

A headline cannot be written nor analyzed in a vacuum. The audience it is targeting matters*, as does its context. This is why CNet’s headline for this story is so spot-on.

* – Hence why you cannot just take any proven headline template and use it on any post, expecting it to deliver results. You must choose the right one for the right audience. It’s not easy, especially at first, but you build your “headline intuition” over time with practice.

CNet is an online publication for geeks and nerds (and probably dorks too). It is about technology and electronics and all kinds of different gadgets. The target audience of CNet consists largely of people who, it is safe to assume, appreciate and respect science and empiricism, and who have probably pondered at some point in their lives whether they are a geek or a nerd.

The headline plays perfectly on this knowledge and does so, importantly, in a straightforward manner.

As we also explain in Magnetic Headlines, credibility is key. Invoking science lends credibility to the promise this headline is making to readers: that a real, evidence-backed line has been drawn between geeks and nerds, and clicking to read the post will unveil it.

But what do the numbers say?

Theory is all well and good, but data needs to be a driver in decision-making. And looking at data over time will help you hone your instincts for what works and what doesn’t.

The geek/nerd post has 4,400 Likes on Facebook right now, as well as hundreds of tweets and +1s. But these numbers only mean something in relation to a typical CNet story.

For comparison’s sake, the “Most Popular” story on CNet on November 7th was about a Photoshopped movie poster for Thor found in China. It had only 2,100 Likes on Facebook 36 hours after being posted.

So we can reasonably surmise that 4,400 Likes is a pretty good haul for a CNet post. And I bet that its headline is a major reason why.

What say you?

What do you like about this headline? Or, what do you dislike about it? Venture into the comments with your opinion.

I think this headline works, and the data suggests it works, but you may disagree.

That is the beauty, and occasionally the frustration, of headlines: there is never a single right answer. Which is what makes writing killer headlines both art and science.

And finally … what are we?

So, the only reason why I stumbled upon this headline in the first place is that I was trying to decide what we are here at Copyblogger.

We are passionate goonies. We are misfits doing meaningful work. And we’re clearly nerds and geeks … but which one more than the other?

I originally thought geek worked better. A colleague of mine, however, cast his vote for nerd. So I wanted to see what the differences between the two are.

It turns out, the characteristics I had been associating with the term geek are more generally associated with nerds. For example:

Geeks are fans, and fans collect stuff; nerds are practitioners, and practitioners play with ideas.

Or, as Chris Pirillo put it:

Nerds love knowledge for the sake of knowledge; geeks love knowledge for the sake of unapologetically making you feel stupid for not having the same level of knowledge as they do.

We love knowledge. And we especially love knowledge as essential to copywriting and content marketing as writing headlines. But we don’t ever want to make you feel stupid for not having the same level of knowledge as us. We want to transfer our knowledge to you.

So … “nerds” it is!

An we invite you to keep nerding out with us moving forward here at Headlines That Work to see examples of the best headlines published on the web with in-depth breakdowns of why they work.

And, of course, download our Magnetic Headlines ebook and keep it handy every time you need to write a headline.

I open this ebook up, literally, every single time I write a headline. It is filled with not just theory, but also templates that have been proven to work over time. You just have to figure out how to apply them.

Remember: good headline writers are not born; headline writing is a skill that can only be learned.

Stick with us. We’ll teach you.

And don’t worry, yes, at some point we will analyze this controversial doozy of a headline

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