In every form of marketing everything you do will be designed to produce a specific outcome, to get “a most wanted response” – to use a saying widely quoted in internet marketing. When it comes to writing a headline the “most wanted response” is to encourage the reader to read on, whether this is in the context of an article, website content or a sales letter. If the headline doesn’t catch the imagination of the reader that response is unlikely.
There are certain issues which must be considered when creating a headline. I am a musician by profession and, over the years, have had many compositions both published and performed. Copywriting has many parallels with musical composition. A piece of music must have a structure and must communicate with the listener. A traditional way to get attention at the beginning of a piece is by the use of a fanfare. This isn’t necessary in a modern concert hall but dates back to a time when music was often performed at social events of one kind or another. A sudden blast of sound drew people’s attention to the musicians as they began their performance.
A headline must have a similar impact. It should announce to the reader that you have something important to communicate, in particular something which will be to their advantage. All copywriting must be ‘on message’. That is especially important with a headline. Most of the visitors to your article, website or sales letter will be there because they have been directed there by a search engine or via a link from another site. They arrive with a very specific agenda; a very specific need or desire. Your headline must convince them at a glance that you could very well be offering what they are looking for.
How do we do that? The first thing is to say that you must appeal to the self-interest of your visitor. They are not interested in you. They want to know whether you have what they need. Your headline should convey the main benefit of what you are offering. By doing that you are answering their question: “What’s in it for me?” before they ask it. Your headline should be honest and believable. “Discover the Secret of Making $1,000,000 by Next Tuesday” will send any visitor off to another website in a flash – even if you have got the secret to making $1,000,000 by next Tuesday. They won’t believe you!
Your headline should be punchy and to the point. You are not trying to actually sell anything at this point – that will come later in your content. A headline of just one or two words is unlikely to communicate anything meaningful to the reader even if you choose your words carefully. Similarly, a headline the length of a Dickens novel won’t do the trick either. One pithy sentence with, perhaps, a short sub-heading (adding qualification of some kind) could be ideal, especially if you choose the right words. Always use emotive words to enhance the desire of your reader to know more.
Never try to be clever! Use simple easily understood words not multi-syllable text that only language graduates are likely to be able to follow. Never be patronising to your readers; always remember they may well be just as bright as you – possibly much brighter!
So, write a fanfare of straight-forward words which outline a key benefit if you want your readers to read on. Keep it simple but emotive to get your “most wanted response”.
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