It makes me a little crazy when I watch other people write blog posts or emails. Or, rather, try to write blog posts and emails.
Not because I’m all that perfect at it myself, but because there are so many upside-down, weird things that people do when they sit down to try to “knock a few hundreds words out.”
Stiff language, passive voice and other pet peeves aside, I’d have to say that trying to write a sexy headline first is the biggest bee in my bonnet. The other one is trying to write a headline fast. You know, just getting it over with and then never taking the time to revisit or hone it.
I mean – are they crazy? They’re going to spend all the time, sometimes hours, writing one piece of copy and then make a mistake like that?
Because, dear friend, if your headline stinks or is boring or confusing…no one is going to read it. All that energy and time on your part, straight down the drain.
It’s just so important! It’s…it’s…like curb appeal!
If you’re having an open house and you want a lot of traffic, you probably know to paint the inside and invest in expensive furniture and pricey wood floors.
But if the outside looks run down and unkempt, no one will ever even walk through the front door.
Headlines are your first impression and first impressions count. They’re often the only impression you’re going to have on anyone. So you better make it good.
Okay, but how? How do you write a headline that begs to be read? There’s a bit of an art to it. Sales copywriters usually spend 80% of their effort on the headline and some will write 100 before settling for one! Ted Nicholas always did this and he was once the world’s highest paid copywriters.
But don’t get intimidated. It’s not as hard as you think. There are a few tips I can share that will equip you with the basics of writing a compelling headline.
1. Know Your Reader
Who are you trying to appeal to? Who is the ideal person to read this particular piece? Get a sense of how they speak, what their vernacular is. Immerse yourself in publications that cater to your target market and get a sense of the rhythms of the headlines they are using.
They write them that way for a reason! They must be working. In other words – don’t use scientific jargon on a Cosmopolitan-magazine reader and don’t use suggestive, sexy language when you’re trying to appeal to the eggheads.
2. Get Emotional
Appealing to your readers’ emotions is the quickest, easiest way to get them wanting to read the rest of your copy. So go ahead and tug at their heartstrings. Or play a bit on their fears. (“How to Survive the Upcoming Recession”, for example.)
You want to make them think that if they don’t read what you have written they’re going to be missing out and regret it…for the rest of their LIVES.
3. Verbs, Verbs, Verbs
Remember what I said above about the passive voice being a no-no when you are writing? That’s never truer than in the context of a headline. Think verbs. Strong, punchy ones. Make the words leap off the page…not just listlessly lie there. Think “Lose 13 Pounds by Christmas!” and not “The Science Behind the Grapefruit and Cheese Diet.”
4. Keep The Noise Down
Make the words themselves flow easily and effortless. You want your readers to only have to read your headline once to understand it. So keep excessive punctuation out of the headline. Lose the semicolons, colons, loads of commas.
The one exception to this rule is the parentheses. Those can be effective in a headline but you still have to use them sparingly.
5. Write It Last
Don’t pressure yourself to come up with a witty and wonderful headline right off the bat. The best time to write your headline can be at the end of your writing session, not the beginning.
First of all, you will have much better sense of what your copy includes after you are done writing it. Second, revving up your writing engine can be hard enough. Just get started and write the copy itself.
You don’t want to find yourself with a blank page an hour later, staring at the ceiling and chewing on a pen, trying to come up with the perfect headline. Try to tackle it last.
6. Be Beneficial
You have to remember that all copy, all GOOD copy that actually gets read, is not about you. Or even your product. It’s all about them. Your readers.
What’s in it for them?
Why should they waste even a few minutes of their likely precious time reading what you have written? This is why you have to be super clear what the benefits are. (This goes for the main copy as well, but that’s a different topic for a different day.) If your product or service offers more than one benefit, pick the most compelling one…and stick in the head line.
For example, let’s say the Grapefruit and Cheese Diet doesn’t just help people lose weight but it also increases energy, clears complexions and helps your heart. Yet the most compelling benefit is likely “Get Skinny!” Use the most popular, universal benefit in your headline.
7. Get Specific
Specific numbers make your headline claims more credible and grabby. You can tell readers that they can “Make More Money in 2015” but isn’t it more compelling to tell them they can “Increase Your Monthly Income by $600”?
Why do you think I’d say “Lose 13 Pounds by Christmas” and not just “Lose Weight Soon”? Make it real to them by making it specific.
8. Be Crystal Clear
Don’t get cute with the jargon or doublespeak. A headline like “New information and resources to achieve your maximum potential” is way too head-scratching. What kind of resources? Maximum potential in what? Health? Finances? Cookie baking?
Don’t assume your reader will take the time to drill down and dive into what you’re talking about. You may not get the chance. Tell them upfront, clearly, concisely.
9. Do It Out Loud
You should always, always read your headlines out loud to yourself. A headline is meant to be attention grabbing and packed with promise but first and foremost it has to be conversational.
If you read your headline out loud to yourself and you find your tongue tripping on a phrase or two, the same thing’s bound to happen to your reader. Take the time to speak all your headlines out loud and then pick one that flows the prettiest.
One small caveat to the “be beneficial” rule. Change it up if your target is more niche, as other benefits might rise and fall in priority depending on your readership. If you were trying to appeal to a teenage audience, you might test a clear-complexion headline. If you want an older reader, it might make more sense to mention heart health in the headline.
Write a headline to be used for a guest blog post. It can be about an article you want to write, or one that has already been written. In fact, go find 5 random blog posts and rewrite all of their headlines using the guidelines I set out above.
You’d be surprised how simple it is to upgrade a headline and make it better, punchier, more attention-demanding.
Then email me with the headlines before and after and let me see how much you improved it. I’d love to see.
Sorry, access to this special content
is for ‘Owners’ only
Owners log in
Not a member of
the Owners Club yet?