Usually, I advise people that when writing headlines or titles for online content, it helps to not be too “cute” or “cryptic.” This is because headlines are often viewed out of context online (in search engine results or feed readers, etc.). They generally need to speak for themselves.
That said, I love a good pun. And sometimes, depending on the author, topic, and target audience, a good pun is just what’s needed. This morning, my friend and fellow blogger Koan Bremner pulled off a magnificently punnish headline: “Ctrl-Alt-Delete.”
Now that might not sound like much of a pun you need to read the article to see why it works so well. Normally I would consider that a problem, too.
However, here’s why I think it’s a great headline, even though it’s geeky and superficially cryptic and what other bloggers can learn from this example…
First of all, Koan’s blog is mostly personal, which means that it’s entirely fitting for her writing to strongly reflect her personality including her wry, lighthearted sense of humor. It also means her blog is strongly about building a relationship with her target audience. That audience mainly includes people who are interested in her, or in the issues she discusses (gender, technology, music, society, UK life, and more.)
Given that closeness with her audience, occasional in-joke headlines work well definitely better than in a blog or other venue that actively courts a broader audience and less personal connection.
This week, Koan has gone through a major transformation the culmination of years of effort, preparation, and planning. Read her posting to get the full story. Be prepared: It’s very frank, as it deals with surgical and post-surgical matters related to gender reassignment. But she tells it well.
The final element that makes this otherwise mysterious headline a success is that Koan doesn’t leave her readers guessing long. The lead of her posting delivers the “punchline”:
“Those of you running Windows (any flavour) will recognise the title of this post as the keystroke for a reboot those of you running OS X… won’t because, of course, you don’t need to keep rebooting a Mac in the way you do a crashed PC… 😉
“Anyway… my personal reboot is now completed and my operating system is now running on its shiny, upgraded hardware, and all the diagnostic tests are showing record-breaking performance.”
If you do on rare occasions decide to go with a cryptic or cute headline that requires explanation, make sure to offer that explanation immediately. Most web users will only give you a second or two to grab their attention. If you manage to intrigue them in the first second with your headline, you’d better clue them in before they click away in the next sentence.
The way Koan uses humor in this piece is more than fun. She’s recounting a very personal and serious story which could have seemed heavy or daunting had she not deftly gotten people laughing right from the start. This is a positive, optimistic time for her, and she communicates that energy to her audience with humor.
She’s definitely better at using humor than I am. I could learn from her on that.
Well done, Koan, in every sense!