Mag going digital? Here’s how to get readers to click

I’ve heard from many of you that you’ll be taking your magazine digital for one or more issues.

While it definitely saves money on printing and mailing costs, it will also likely require some dramatic shifts in your editorial priorities.

  • You can no longer literally “push” the publication into your readers’ hands
  • A move online typically means putting class notes, the most popular section of your magazine, behind a reader-repelling password-protected wall

Even more than that, putting a magazine online means you lose a ton of control over the experience you give your reader.

When you send a print magazine, you decide the size of the publication, the feel of the paper stock, the design of that beautiful opening spread of a feature package.

But with a digital magazine, you don’t know if your reader is on their smartphone, tablet, laptop, or desktop. They may be connecting to it from an email blast, a social media post, or directly from a website. Are they seeing the same thing you and your team dreamed up together?

Maybe, maybe not!

So now what?

Focus on what you can control

If you can’t know with 100 percent certainty what a reader is seeing or where they are seeing it, what should you prioritize to make sure you’re giving your magazine and your stories the best chance to make a big impact?

Two words: Your headlines.

Your headlines are by far the most important place to spend your time when it comes to your editorial content.

They’re the first thing your reader will see, and they’re what they’ll use to decide whether the story you and your team have spent weeks or months working on into is worth their attention.

This probably makes intuitive sense, but we often don’t act this way.

Headlines are almost always the last thing we add to a story. We spend 60 seconds coming up with a yawner like “Scene Stealer” or “Mentorship Matters” and call it a day. (No judgment here! I’ve done it too.)

But do you think that sort of humdrum headline is really going to persuade your smart (college-educated) reader to dive in?

Probably not.

A headline is your first, best chance to hook a reader. Don’t waste it.

The Ogilvy Rule for better headlines

I’m not the only person who thinks most of us need to spend more time on our headlines.

David Ogilvy, known as “the father of advertising,” believed so strongly in the importance of headlines that he had a formula for developing them. Take the time you spend developing the body copy and divide it half, and that is the amount of time you should be spending on your headline. Here’s how that might play out.

  • Spend 2 hours on your story? Spend an hour on your headline.
  • Take 4 hours on a story? Spend 2 on your headline.

Perplexingly, this is often known as Ogilvy’s “50-50 rule,” though simple math shows that the actual ratio is 67-33. MATH IS HARD, AMIRIGHT?

Okay, let’s step back for a second here: it is probably unrealistic to think that you can commit hours to the process of headline generation, despite its relatively importance to the success of your publication.

But you should at least be aiming in that direction. Instead of thinking of headline creation as something to dash off before you zip a story off to design, spend real time thinking of some options. Work with your colleagues to build on your ideas. Sleep on it. Spend 20 minutes on your headline development, not two.

The payoff can be enormous. Research shows that good headlines can attract anywhere between 5 and 10x more readers than crummy ones.

With a digital magazine, good headlines are a particularly valuable currency. Make the most of them.