In the busy, boisterous professional world we live in, grabbing someone’s attention as a marketer is no mean task. How will you get them to read what you write? It takes more than design or a snazzy color palette to grab attention, right? Good content helps, but not unless the reader is drawn in to invest time into reading it.
One word: Headlines.
Writing great headlines is a crucial skill from a copywriting and marketing standpoint that can be learnt only through
Types of Headlines
Bob Bly defines five types of headlines in The Copywriter's Handbook:
These headlines, like the name suggests, are very direct. They go straight to the point. There is no beating around the bush or sparks of creativity. These headlines announce the product, follow up with a few interesting features, and are generally meant for readers with precious little time to spare.
An indirect headline builds curiosity and raises questions which are answered in the article. It gets people thinking about what’s been said, and what’s been left unsaid, thus helping the brand acquire valuable real estate in the reader’s mind.
News Headlines are used for announcements and, well, news! News headlines need to be brief, compelling, and informative, or they run the risk of being looked over.
Question headlines do not only ask questions, but drive the reader to seek an answer to this question, which the article conveniently provides.
A command headline is aggressive. It isn’t subtle, it isn’t soft, and it most certainly isn’t sweet. Instead, it boldly tells the reader what exactly it is they are supposed to do.
Tricks of the Trade – What to Add in a Headline
Despite their importance, headlines are often the most neglected part of the article. People assume that a headline is only the cherry on top when instead it is the entire sundae. A compelling headline receives more traffic and more engagement, with more clicks, shares, and likes. The headline you produce is the first impression you make on a reader.
Need help bettering your headlines? Here are some tricks of the trade:
1. Use stats and numbers!
The human brain is wired to sift out numbers from text, and astonishing stats in a headline make for much more compelling reading. Pick a magazine cover at random and have a look through the headlines: chance are most would rattle off stats to start off their headlines. Numbers are very clear, specific, and workable, unlike words, which are vague and do not convey tangible information. Odd numbers are said to be more preferable.
2. Use trigger words!
Trigger words are a cardinal part of a headline. No matter how long or short your headline is, it needs to answer the questions ‘what, why, when, and how’. These words persuade a reader to dive into the next portion of the content.
3. Make promises that can be backed up!
Readers LOVE promises. Will you teach them a new course? Will you help them acquire a new skill? Or help them perform a task they have had trouble finishing? Promise them something in return for the effort that they are going to put in to read your article. Dare your reader to read your article. This will lure them in. Deliver what is promised at the end, though!
4. Use keywords!
When writing headlines, keywords are crucially important. Identify the common keywords that are used by people, and find relevant terms to use from this stock of keywords. Keyword-rich headlines provide users searching for a particular term exactly what they were looking for, and help increase traffic to the page.
5. Capitalize on desires - Appeal to their curiosity
Headlines that play on the reader's desire are the ones that are most favored. For instance, if you were a professional looking for information on Project Management, the headline ‘5 things you don't know about the Project Management Industry’ will surely click with them because we live in a curious world. If there is something we think we don’t know and were not aware of, we would want to find out all about it, right away! This will draw them in and prompt them to click on the article.
6. Promote Your Piece As Busting A Myth
Myths are a rage in today’s world. If some are busted today, more will be created tomorrow to fill in the void. The urge to either perpetuate or bust myths is almost universal. Having titles like ‘5 myths about Digital Marketing' will be compelling to Digital Marketers. Something they thought was true will now be busted, and damned if they didn’t know!
7. Offer an easier way out!
This is the age of instant gratification. Everybody wants the easy and simple way out. If there were a way to get things done with less investment in terms of time, money, and resources, you would take it without a second thought. Leverage this tendency to create a compelling headline that pitches the convenience aspect of your piece, and sit back watch the number of clicks rise. Headlines like ‘How to get certified, the easy way' is something that will entice certification aspirants the world over.
The 4 U’s of Headlines
Use the 4 U's. This is an essential formula that all copywriters should implement. It introduces clarity and brevity into the mix, and gives your headline a crisp twist.
- Urgency - The first U stands for urgency. When writing a headline, attempt to create a sense of urgency, perhaps by stating a problem that needs to be resolved immediately. A sense of urgency always prompts a reader to open a message. However, if you ever find yourself at a point where you cannot use all of the Us in your headline, leave out ‘urgency' because maintaining it throughout the content is very tricky without sounding too salesy.
- Uniqueness: The second of the ‘U's is the unique component. In your headline, if the solution you offer is very obvious or boring, or something they have read elsewhere, readers will completely ignore your message. You headline must have a unique solution to the problem you’ve posed. It needs to stand out from the crowd.
- Usefulness: The third U refers to the usefulness of the content. If the unique solution you provide is actually useful to the reader, they would definitely consider purchasing your product. Tell people how you have helped others and offer them testimonials to back up your claims. The utility aspect is what keeps a reader going. If you offer a benefit, or solve a persistent problem, or just provide value to your audience, your product will sell.
- Ultra-specificity: Your headline may be urgent, unique, and useful, but unless it is ultra-specific, it tends to be glossed over. The fourth ‘U', ultra-specific, requires for your headline to be specific about the benefit, offer, or the content of the piece being advertised. This is so the reader has a clear idea about what to expect when they read ahead, and helps the reader distinguish your content from the dozens of others they may have read already.
Why Headlines Fail
There’s several reasons a headline may fail horribly, of which the most common are as follows:
1. Excessive brevity, non-specific
The preferred length of a headline is 6 words, 55 characters. But a few writers take this to a completely new level by creating headlines that are only two words long. For example, "It's complicated". Although curiosity-inducing, the headline conveys zero information about the piece, and since the reader cannot possibly understand anything from this headline, they will either ignore it, or delete it.
2. No mention of benefits
Benefits are what draw a reader. If a reader sees no beneficiary component from your article, they will not click on it. Take, for example, the headline of this piece, "How to Craft Killer Headlines That Blow Your Readers’ Minds": this headline whets the reader’s curiosity because he or she now knows there is something of benefit to be gleaned from this article, i.e., are assured of some advantage/ benefit.
A vague headline is a terrible way to try and engage the reader. If they do not understand what you are trying to say, why will they read it? It sends out a guessing game message, and readers do not have the time to guess. For example, "Isn't it time you shopped?" There isn't any information on where, what, how and when.
4. Confusing headlines that lack clarity
Some headlines may try to convey a certain message but end up confusing readers, instead. Bad word plays, or idioms and puns that do not work result in such headlines. A confused reader will not stick around to continue reading your message.
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