This time I decided to Google “how to write headlines” (you can Google anything) and found tons of articles, blogposts, etc. from other writers. How depressing! I thought I had a unique idea, but it turns out countless others have weighed in on the topic. Crap-tastic. So if you want other perspectives on why it’s so important to have a strong headline, search away.
Anyone still with me? Good.
Why do strong headlines matter?
There’s a lot of talk these days about how we’re a visual society. Videos are the next big thing on Facebook. YouTube, Instagram and Pinterest are huge.
But words are still critical. You need an attention- grabbing subject line on your email to get folks to open it. Your blog will benefit from a headline that draws in readers while including the right keywords for search engines. In fact, search engines don’t look at pictures. They look for words.
The headline’s the hook that draws the viewer in. In the words of the great David Ogilvy (a real-life “Mad Man”)
“On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.”
Pictures are great for catching the eye, but you need words to make your point clear.
Guidelines for writing headlines
Although there are some who promote formulas for how to write headlines, I’m not a formulas girl. Instead, I use some guidelines. Here they are:
1. Know your prospect This is essential. People are more likely to buy from folks they’re comfortable with, so the more you’re in touch with your prospects’ world, the better. The prospect’s needs should drive what you offer. Her environment needs to inform your cultural references. His language should be your language. Headlines need to grab attention, and an understanding of the prospect makes it easier do that.
2. Take your time Creativity takes time. Whenever possible I jot down headline ideas and then put them away for a while. Hours or days later I find I can hone them and maybe come up with something better.
3. Consider several ideas There’s a myth that great ad campaigns are born fully formed through some kind of creative magic – like Athena springing full grown from Zeus’ head. The truth is that great ideas come from lots of thought, study and brainstorming. Many ideas are generated before THE ONE is chosen.
If you’re tasked with headline-writing, jot down everything that comes to mind. Then sift ideas through the filters of prospect knowledge and your piece’s objectives.
4. Show your personality People like to know who they’re dealing with, so don’t be afraid of showing some personality. If you can do it in a way that rings true, consider using humor. Humor, done right, can grab attention and demonstrate that you really know the audience.
5. Keep the tone appropriate to what you’re writing It probably goes without saying but I’m going to say it anyway: appropriateness of tone depends on the type of piece you’re writing. The subject line of a sales email can be promotional and fun, whereas a white paper’s headline should be straight-forward and factual.
Contact me if you’d like help with headlines, body copy or both.
Photo by Karen Roe