A story’s headline on a website doesn’t always work on Twitter, so Slate has found a cool fix.

Slate Twitter headlines

A headline that works on a website or in a print publication often isn’t the best headline for getting a story shared on social media. That’s a problem for sites using those automatic “click to tweet” buttons, which generally just grab the original headline from the story even though, with no subhed or contextual paragraphs underneath it, that headline free-floating on Twitter or Facebook may be too opaque to draw readers in or even give them a sense of what the story is about. (Here’s a New York Times example I complained about on Twitter earlier this week.)

Slate has come up with a cool fix to this problem: Click the “tweet” button on a story from Slate’s website and, rather than tweeting the story’s original headline, the site tweets out a much more Twitter-friendly headline. A few examples:

Magical social media elves aren’t making this happen behind the scenes. Rather, the site simply added a feature to its CMS that allows writers to specify a separate Twitter headline, innovations editor Katherine Goldstein told me. (Update: The Huffington Post and Wall Street Journal tell me they are doing this, too.)

“We’ve had about 100 percent Twitter referral growth over the past year, and this is just one part of a big social push that we’re doing,” Goldstein said. And sometimes it turns out that the best headline for Twitter is the best headline, period: “One of our bloggers said that he used to spend time doing custom headlines for Twitter and then he started making those custom headlines his regular headlines. Those are the kinds of conversations and thought processes we’re really encouraging our editors to have.”

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  1. i found this interesting and also your examples of what you think works best on Twitter. But what puzzled me is that since Slate is all digital — and thus doesn’t face the challenge of taking a headline that works for someone reading a print publication but not social media — why the Twitter headlines you came up with that you thought more effective in the digital world didn’t prompt you to use those as the headlines ON the site’s articles if they worked better for attention-catching, and SEO

    1. Laura Hazard Owen Bruce Friday, July 19, 2013

      Thanks for the comment Bruce, sounds like one of the Slate writers (mentioned above) is doing just that.

    2. I have to agree with Bruce on the Twitter headlines being the better overall titles for the articles. Particularly the last example, “Everything is better on a stick”. The question is why is there a perceived reader of Slate online that is distinct from a subscriber to Slate Tweets? Is is the success of the re-tweet that is more desirable?

    3. thedigitalreader Bruce Friday, July 19, 2013

      One reason not to use a tweet as the title is that the tweet has to be sharper, tighter, and more impactful. It has to catch the eye all on its own, while the title works in partnership with the article (or the blurb, depending on the site design).

      1. I understand what you’re saying but given how many readers get to the article by means other than visiting the site (RSS, search etc.), it strikes me a publication is leaving something on the table if, for design reasons, the headlune is not as sharp and impactful as the tweet.

  2. Feed.us does this. We have Separate headlines for twitter, FB and for browser page title (for SEO).

  3. I would say this is NOT good for SEO purposes if your content has two different links/URL’s for the same article/story.

  4. kelvinhanratty Sunday, July 21, 2013

    why would that be? this article states that it’s the title of the article that would be snappier, nothing to do with the URL of the article itself. The url would be the same regardless.

  5. Neal F. Fischer Monday, July 22, 2013

    Maybe I am missing something here. From the article: “Magical social media elves aren’t making this happen behind the scenes. Rather, the site simply added a feature to its CMS that allows writers to specify a separate Twitter headline, innovations editor Katherine Goldstein told me.” So, what is the name of the plugin or feature?

    1. Hey, it’s a custom tool in their CMS, not a plugin that you can download — but media companies should be able to build this in fairly easily. The Huffington Post and WSJ are already doing it, as well.

  6. The second example seems particularly strange … the vagueness of the original headline offers better click bait AND is shorter. The longer version tells the whole story (and eats up more of my precious 140 characters). I’d be peeved to see this one switched and that’s likely true of others, too.

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