Learn the Secrets to
Writing Attention-Getting Headlines
I think we can all agree that in today’s world most of us have more demands on our time than we can possibly meet. So when it comes to grabbing someone’s attention to read an advertisement - whether it be a direct mailing, an email, or an inbound marketing blog post - you don’t have a lot of time to make sure your reader is going to stick with you while you make your pitch. Copyblogger tells us that 80% of people will read a headline, but only 20% will read the rest of the copy. So, how do you get readers to stay with it and (hopefully) sell to them in the end?
First of all, the most important thing to remember is that you are trying to make a sale. Too often, copywriters get caught up in trying to be original and creative, when what they really need to do is utilize time-tested methods that have worked over and over again. The headlines should focus on what the customer wants and should avoid getting caught up in cutesy wordplay. Judge how good your copy is by how many sales it generates instead of by how original the writing is. Getting a laugh from a witty headline doesn’t mean much if it doesn’t convert to a sale.
Making a Good First Impression
As mentioned in our recent article What Makes Good (and Effective) Copy?, the purpose of the headline is to make a good first impression - good enough that it makes you want to keep reading on to the first line, and that first line makes you want to read on to the second line, and so on until you’ve (hopefully) made a sale. In The Copywriter’s Handbook, Robert W. Bly points out that the “first impression” varies by medium. For example, he says that in print the first impression is the headline and the visual, and in a brochure it’s the cover. These are what need to grab your audience’s attention and draw them in to read more. Here are more examples of what makes the first impression according to Bly:
● Radio or TV commercial - first few seconds of it
● Direct-mail package - copy on the outer envelope and/or first few sentences in the letter
● Press release - lead paragraph
● Sales brochure or catalog - front cover
● Sales presentation - first few slides or charts
● Website - home page
● Email marketing message - From line and Subject line
If you want to convert those 80% that are reading the headline, you have to make them want it.
If you were to search online for articles about writing great headlines, you’d see a variety of opinions. However, nearly every one of them is going to tell you to stick with what works. So, what does work?
In The Copywriter’s Handbook, Bly lists 8 headline categories that he feels work again and again.
1. Direct Headlines - state your purpose directly avoiding wordplay and puns
2. Indirect Headlines - make your reader curious by raising questions that are answered in the copy
3. News Headlines - introduce a new product or a new use for an established product
4. How-to Headlines - promise a solution to a problem
5. Question Headlines - make sure the headline focuses on the reader and not your company
6. Command Headlines - use a strong verb as the first word, demanding the reader to take action
7. Reason-Why Headlines - lead into a list of steps, reasons, ways, etc.
8. Testimonial Headlines - use customer’s words in quotation marks
Copyblogger offers 10 Sure-Fire Headline Formulas That Work where you can simply fill in the blanks to create your own attention-getting headlines. Some examples include:
● Here’s a Quick Way to <insert problem here>
Who doesn’t want to know how to accomplish more in less time?
Ex. Here’s a Quick Way to Keep Your Inbox Clear
● What Everyone Ought to Know About <blank>
It makes the reader want to keep reading to be sure they’re not missing out on anything.
Ex. What Everyone Ought to Know About Driving in the Winter
● Get Rid of <problem> Once and For All
This gives your reader a benefit to read about right off the bat.
Ex. Get Rid of Pet Smells Once and For All
Writtent lays out “17 Must-Use Words” to use in your headlines. These include:
● How To
● You, Your
Another suggestion that shows up again and again is to utilize numbers. Our brain LOVES numbers because they help us organize things in a logical manner. When we see a headline such as “5 Ways to Save Money This Month”, it triggers our brains and draws us in to the copy.
The 4 U’s
Many articles and books on writing great headlines will reference utilizing the “4 U’s”. These are a time-proven way to help write powerful headlines.
1. Unique - say something new, or say something old but in a new way
2. Ultra-specific - give enough information so that the reader knows what the copy is about
3. Urgent - create a sense of urgency by incorporating a time element, such as a limited-time offer
4. Useful - offer a benefit for the reader.
Robert Bly also suggests using these “4 U’s” to decide how good your headline is. After writing a headline, score each component on a scale of 1 (poor) to 4 (excellent). He states that a good headline will have 3’s and 4’s in at least 3 of the categories. If not, tweak it until it does. For a much more in-depth look at the “4 U’s”, check out this article.
Using What You’ve Learned
It’s been said that “headlines are worth 90% of the advertising dollar”. With that much invested, you want to make sure you get it right.
Now that you know a little bit about writing great headlines, you may start to pick up on these well-utilized methods as you look at other marketing. You might have even noticed that we used a couple in our own headline for this article. And if you’re reading this, then it must have worked!
Join us next week as we explore how to write copy for different media.