In this article, I’ll explain the importance of a strong, compelling headline, and how to write headlines that sell.
Whatever medium you are writing headlines for, the primary objective is to attract the reader.
Headlines are important. They are your opening pitch, with the ability to attract, repel, or simply go unnoticed.
A powerful headline should grab the reader’s attention and entice them into the story. They are tempting signposts to the information the reader desires. When used effectively, headlines can make all the difference between achieving your goals or your hard work ending up in the copy graveyard.
That said, short of offering FREE MONEY in your headline, it can’t do all the heavy lifting by itself. It is part of a process – an important part – but needs to be backed up with strong copy and an effective CTA (Call To Action).
What Makes a Killer Headline?
When I started out writing press releases in the early noughties, the focus was on writing a catchy headline that encompassed the story with traditional media front of mind.
With the growth in writing for the web and SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) times have changed dramatically since then, but whether you are selling a story, product or service for a blog post, website or off-line content – the same fundamental rules still apply:
- Attention-grabbing Headlines
Think about your story/message and who it is targeting. Choose your words carefully, you have one line to attract your audience and deliver the key message with just a few powerful words.
Think about your keywords and get to the point. You need to pull your audience in and make them want to read on. For example, if you are writing a headline for a luxury brand then you need to reflect that in the words you use.
Try fitting adjectives such as premium, opulence, designer, prestige etc.
Your headline should build the desire to find out more aimed specifically at the target audience. The headline needs to be in keeping with your brand.
Understanding the use of imperative sentences can be a great help here. Check out our post Imperative Sentences – Using Commanding Language in Your Copy for a more detailed explanation.
The use of words that would usually be considered redundant, can also work well in headlines. Terms such as “added bonus”, “free gift”, and “future plans” are all good examples of this, as they contain a word that is simply not required.
As copywriters, we are trained to cut to the chase, ditching superfluous words in favour of ‘tight’ copy, but in this instance, brevity is not always your friend. Tests have shown that the take-up rates on such phrases are higher as they serve to enhance the copy, despite enraging the purists and going against the grain.
The trick here is to use intelligent redundancy, where necessary, to deliver results. Our Intelligent Redundancy article will show you how.
Use headlines that act as a flag to the reader, pose a question that the reader will be intrigued by or offers a desirable benefit. This can be achieved in many ways.
Attention-grabbing headline examples:
• FREE designer make-up masterclass. Book today and receive complimentary samples tailored to your skin tone. (Replace ‘designer’ with the name of the brand if you are looking to rank for that keyword)
• Fancy a luxury getaway without the premium price tag?
• 25% off all prestige brands. Don’t miss out! Offer ends at midnight
Make sure your headline is compelling and enticing to the target audience. Use your chosen keywords mixed with adjectives that pack a punch and offer the reader a reason to read on.
- Deliver a Complete Message
Keep it simple. You don’t have long to draw the reader in but need to be clear about your offering.
Studies have shown that 8 in 10 people will only read the headline, skimming the copy for a piece of content that draws them in. As a result, your headline alone carries 80% of the difference between success or failure. That said, it won’t succeed in insolation, and needs to be backed up with relevant content to carry prospective customers through the process to your CTA.
Think carefully about your offering, what you want your customers to know and draft many different headlines using a mix of your ideas, adjectives, keywords and search phrases. This will help you to craft the perfect fit.
Remember that people are driven by logic and emotion when making a decision. Consider both factors when creating your copy, paying particular attention to emotional motivation, as that is how you can differentiate from the competition and connect with your target audience.
If you think about a car purchase, the logical motivators are:
• A vehicle that gets you from A to B
• The car’s a practical size for your needs (for example, a family-sized car)
• Opting for something more reliable if your previous car has broken down
The deciding vote on brand, colour, model and extras etc is driven by emotional motivators. These are the buyers’ often unconscious desires and motivations that shape their behaviour and decision-making process. Tapping into the emotions behind a purchase and creating desire is key to effective communications.
This is explained in more detail in our post about Emotional Motivators.
- Headlines Should Pull the Reader into the Body Copy
Don’t leave all the work to your headline. That is only part of the process. The body copy needs to do its job and drive the reader through to the CTA. Keep it informative and, ideally as short as possible, so your reader doesn’t lose interest. Body copy should seal the deal with persuasive content.
The AIDA formula is a useful guide on how a headline should attract the reader, pull them into the body copy and take them through the process to the CTA. To find out more, read The AIDA Formula – and How to Actually Use it in Your Copywriting.
- Make it Stand Out
The size and position of your headline can help to attract the reader. Position your headline clearly at the top of your copy and make it stand out in terms of size, font weight and message.
The pressure is on when crafting the perfect headline and there are many elements to consider, but this guide should help you to navigate your way to success.
Look at different examples from different brands and you’ll soon start to notice the formulas used. Make it impactful by using emotive language that targets your specific audience.
Finally… remember that practice makes perfect.