Want millions of readers? Write like the Daily Mail

Daily Mail,MailOnline,Jackson Rawlings,writing,news,business,blogging

The Mail isn’t exactly renowned for its quality of writing.

It seems there’s method in the apparent madness of what we read in the UK’s Daily MailJackson Rawlings lifts the lid off this controversial Pandora’s box…Sz.

So I’m guessing your initial thought was “why the bloody hell would I ever want to do that?” and I can’t blame you — the Mail isn’t exactly renowned for its quality of writing.

However, whatever your thoughts on the publication, a site which rakes in over 100 million hits a month and is generally considered the second biggest news-site in the world must be doing something right… right?

So as a bit of an insider, I thought I’d let you in on some of the (not-so) secret techniques the MailOnline uses to get its articles seen by almost as many people as live in the whole of Brazil, in a month alone.

These aren’t necessarily ‘best-practice’ tips, and some fly in the face of conventional wisdom on the subject (even, on occasion, going against Suze’s advice!). Not all will apply to you, your website or blog, but they might just make you think differently about how you write for the web.

Daily Mail,MailOnline,Jackson Rawlings,writing,news,business,blogging

Headlines: it’s all about the longtails

Titles don’t always have to be short you know; I mean sometimes they can even include semi-colons

Most advice when it comes to headlines usually centres on succinctness — keep it short, sweet and to the point to draw in the reader.

Now check out the MailOnline’s front page. Try and find a headline under 10 words. Every single one on that page will be longer than that, I guarantee it— here’s an example “Cameron’s hacking humiliation is complete as trial judge lashes him for ‘ill advised’ comments about Coulson guilty verdict — as jury fails to reach decision on final charges”.

That’s not what you’d normally consider a headline. In traditional print terms, that’s a headline, plus a subhead and possibly even first sentence.

So why does the online version of the paper consistently write headlines this way? Well, it’s all about the longtail. In fact, it’s all about the longtails.

In the example above, anyone searching any number of those combinations of words will likely stumble across that piece. The Mail is on the first page on Google for at least 5 different terms for a single article most of the time.

Someone more technical than me would be able to tell whether that’s due more to the ‘big brand value’ or conscious SEO practices, but I’m pretty sure this technique helps. It might just help you too.

Daily Mail,MailOnline,Jackson Rawlings,writing,news,business,blogging

If you are using images, use more.

Image is everything

The old “a picture tells a thousand words” proverb applies here but also the more updated web 2.0 version “a picture is shared a thousand times more than words”. Yes, I’m exaggerating for effect (I wonder where I got that from?), but in terms of social shares, it’s well-known that images are the way to go.

While most publications embrace this, few take it to its logical conclusion as well as the Mail does, publishing articles that are literally 95% images. This one, for example, only actually has two proper paragraphs (one of which is nicked from a previous article), the rest is just photos.

It’s clever because it taps into that mindless, lunchbreak-surfing, no-attention-span browsing that then translates into easy social shares.

So the takeaway here is, if you’re not using images, use them. If you are using images, use more. Think you’ve got too many images? NO. You don’t. Use more, dammit.

Court controversy like a Uruguayan footballer

There’s no hiding the fact that the Mail polarises public opinion. If it were edible, it would be marmite.

The Mail has no problem with this, because after all, even if someone logs on to slag them off, that’s still another visitor contributing towards the impressive number of ad views the site receives.

Some of the most popular stories tend to be the most controversial — anything to do with immigration always stirs up those pro and those anti — for example. Both sets will view and comment on the article. Kerching.

So how could you use this technique? Well, I’m not suggesting you start going off on some tirade against anyone coming into the country. But having something  to say, rather than just the usual old dull gubbins that makes up the majority of corporate and personal blogs, will make you stand out and be remembered.

Fail and fail fast

Daily Mail,MailOnline,Jackson Rawlings,writing,news,business,blogging

Accuracy is overrated…

Accuracy is overrated. At least according to the Mail approach.

No doubt there will be enough spelling mistakes and grammatical errors in one Mail article to get any pedant’s blood nice and hot and bubbly.

But does it matter? When you’re first to the story, and therefore get 90% of the traffic about said story for the next few days, does it matter that you spelled the suspect’s name wrong?

I can’t answer that. Literary purists may say yes, bank managers may say no.

All I know is that it’s easier to edit in a comma than it is to try and take the traffic from a rival publication after they’ve got there first to a scoop.

But from your perspective, maybe it just means not worrying so much about getting everything perfect.

blog,writing,news,blogging,business,#blogversationFind yourself spending hours crafting sentences trying to get them just right? How about publishing the first (decent) version and take it from there? Worst-case scenario, you come back and edit/delete it. Best case scenario, you get that all important reader who was just about to log off, who turns out to be the agent/publisher/partner you were desperate for.

Daily Mail,MailOnline,Jackson Rawlings,writing,news,business,blogging

Jackson Rawlings

Daily Mail or Daily Fail? You decide.

photo credit: malias via photopin cc
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photo credit: Loz Flowers via photopin cc




  1. It seems that whilst many journalists decry bloggers because of inaccuracies, the Mail has decided to model their techniques.

    I don’t think it a loss though. Newspapers have always had biases of politics and accuracy. It would be lamentable, however, if the entertainment is diluted by this drive to dominate Google 😉

    • I wonder if these days it isn’t more a case of what ISN’T diluted by the drive to dominate Google, Stephen. I don’t know the statistics regarding other newspapers, but you really do have to hand it to the DM for getting over the media hump between print and online with such huge success…

  2. Nick Rippington says

    The one thing I would point out Jackson is that publishing with the name wrong could be catastrophic, particularly in legal terms. OK, you don’t need to get all the spellings right, although I would suggest this is a huge problem with society today that people aren’t concerned with getting things right. Sometimes even if the name is right, you can end up being sued because you have used a picture of someone with the same name, but it’s not the right person. The Mail don’t tend to worry about being sued, they have huge pockets. Not so with the rest of the media I’m afraid.

    • Good point, Nick, and worth remembering for the likes of the rest of us. As you say though, the Daily Mail don’t really have to worry too much and I imagine that even if they were to get sued for something, the publicity that would attract would more than pay for their legal costs…

  3. Just found this on ‘The Poke’ and remembered your post here 😉 http://www.thepoke.co.uk/2014/10/05/typical-daily-mail-front-page/