Your headline can make or break all your other content creation efforts.
Writing Headlines That Don’t Suck
In this hyper-connected digital age we live in, with the advent of Instagram, Facebook, Vine, Twitter and a whole slew of funny-sounding one-word companies, anyone, and everyone can be an Internet marketer.
Imagine walking through a shopping mall where every vendor is shouting at you like the announcer of a monster truck radio ad, and that’s the experience of today’s consumers browsing the web. Clearly, it’s very important to stand out from the rest of the noise.
Your headline is the only chance you have of drawing customers in. It’s the difference between gaining a customer and wasting time and/or media dollars. So how do you do it?
Why Better Headlines Should Be Your Focus
Well, before you start thinking about the ‘how’, it’s important to step back and think about why you’re writing a headline in the first place. And further, why a headline is even necessary. There’s a reason David Ogilvy, one of the fathers of modern advertising, said,
“On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.”
If you think back to any time you’ve surfed the web or flipped through a magazine, you’ll see that Ogilvy is spot on. You may have quickly glanced at a line, but most of the time you move on. You’re not inherently interested in blocks of text and reading every word of every ad you come across.
This may seem obvious, but when you’re the client, you sometimes forget that people aren’t lining up to read your copy. This is why the headline is so important. It needs to capture the voice and personality of your brand as well as communicate the value you can offer, all while being interesting enough to answer the age-old question,
“Why should I care?”
Sound like a lot? It is. That’s why Ogilvy said the headline should warrant eighty cents out of your dollar. No one’s going to read your body copy or spend time on your website if they aren’t drawn in by the headline. Review your headlines with the following tips in mind to start writing better headlines.
Be The Target
The best way to figure out how to draw in your customer is to think about who your customer is. We’re not just talking about an age range or one of those fancy segmenting terms like “millennial” or “baby boomer”. Try putting yourself in their shoes. Don’t just see the target, be the target. Give them a name. Think about what they do on a day-to-day basis–their hobbies–their goals. The more you understand your target, the better you can hit on something they care about.
Be Clear and Concise
Whatever you need to say to get that precious click-through, do it clearly and do it quickly. As previously stated, you are one of many voices fighting for attention, and from people who have relatively short attention spans. You need to use enough words to be understood but too many will bore your audience.
Brevity can also make your message catchier and more interesting. Language has a rhythm to it and a nicely flowing message can do wonders for your conversion rates.
Whenever you can, trade conjunctions for shorter sentences. They read better. Make your message shorter, hence more inviting. And sound punchier. You may call them fragments, and you’d be right, but your high school English teacher isn’t grading you on your web writing. When you’re talking to your customers, even when that’s through text, you’re doing just that–talking.
So make sure to write like you’d talk and not like you’re getting paid by the amount of professional sounding business terms you use. Unless you are. In which case, ignore me, by all means.
They don’t call it the World Wide Web to be ironic. It stretches across the world. And it’s wide. Very wide. So odds are someone out there is trying to say the same thing you are. Your only chance to do a better job is to say it in an interesting way.
Start by writing out your message as simply and directly as you can. Then re-write it. Then re-write that. A good headline isn’t just the third or fourth draft, it’s closer to the 13th or the 30th. A good headline is like a good book; it leaves you with a punch and makes you think. But unlike a good book, you only have a handful of words, so make them count.
Since it’s so important to be unique in your writing, avoid clichés. Because they come a dime a dozen. Unless you can put an interesting spin on things, that will leave readers’ heads spinning. Okay, I’ll stop now.
Explain the Benefit of the Benefit
Don’t just say what you can do for the customer — the benefit you have to offer — put it in context of why they should care. Say how you can improve their life. From the title of this article, you can tell you’ll probably learn about writing a headline — which is the perceived benefit.
But why do you want to write a better headline?
What can that do for you?
The answer can be different depending on what actionable result you’re hoping for but if you’re not talking to your customers about why they should care, you’re merely talking at them.
Leave Them Wanting More
Most likely, you have more to say than just your headline. Don’t feel pressured to get everything out immediately. You have body copy, a call to action, and other pieces of communication along the way. The purpose of your headline isn’t to communicate everything on your list of important points, it’s to draw the customer into that list. This is also where concise and interesting come in to play.
A shorter, vaguer message that promises to place your business conveniently in the customers’ lives will do better than one that rambles. This also means your headline should be single-minded. Pick the most important benefit and focus on that. Two benefits in a headline will make both look less important and make your message weaker by robbing it of that “punch” that a single-minded message can have.
Take Your New Headline Skills for a Spin
Here’s an example from an international kid’s beverage brand. I won’t name them because I don’t fully understand confidentiality agreements I may have signed, but you’ve definitely heard of them. The assignment was to introduce a new size for their portable juice drink.
The problem was they’ve spent years only offering one size, targeting moms of kids up to 11ish. Kids older than that saw the juice drink as a ‘baby’ drink and at a size that wasn’t matching up to their growing thirst needs quite like Gatorade or others in the category. I started with a clearer message. The objective was to change the minds of moms with kids around the 11-15 range. They’re not too old for us. I’ll walk you through a few of the headlines I wrote.
The [JUICE DRINK] you love now even bigger.
Same great taste. Now with even more to love.
Go big. No bigger.
It made more sense when paired with an image of a kid getting air on a skateboard.
You can see these lines are mainly focused on the what and not the why. From reading this, you can glean it has more juice, but we’re still not quite focusing on the target and what she needs. She’s a mom with a kid who is growing older, has changing needs, and needs a product to change along with them.
A mom who wants her kid to be more active, and our juice drink is the thing that helps them stay active. We can’t really say that we’re giving them energy or helping them grow since we’re a sugary juice drink, so we do the best we can without overpromising. Here are the final headlines from the banner and print ads.
For Ages Big and Up
This first line is for the banner, so it had to be very short. Still, it communicates we have a bigger product (which becomes clearer next to a picture of the pack in the lockup), and that it’s for bigger kids. The imagery helped drive this message home.
Term: Lockup is the particular graphic arrangement of a log and a tagline.
Play Should be More Than a Button
Here’s a good example of not trying to fit everything into the headline. Our target is a mom who wants her adolescent kid to play fewer virtual reality games and more actual reality games. Sure, we want her to know the juice is bigger, but we still have the photography and the packshot to complete that message.
This headline tells her that we align with her philosophy on active childhoods and our bigger juice drink is the perfect fit for that post-activity thirst-quencher. Also, the tagline communicates the bigger, so we don’t have to worry about fitting bigger into every headline.
They’re Getting Bigger. Their [Juice Drink] Should Too.
Here we focus on the needs of the target pretty clearly. We know her kids are growing, and that’s where we fit in. It also says ‘bigger’ pretty clearly, which makes the client extra happy, but it doesn’t just say bigger. It says why it’s bigger and why these moms should care. Now, it’s up to psychology to do its job. And it’s up to our sales team to pray that it works.
Go Write Stuff
Try these tips out, test them on your social channels (or wherever it is you’re posting stuff), and decide what works for you. Different audiences will react to the same message in completely different ways. Above all, keep writing. Practice won’t make perfect, but it will certainly help increase your fluidity, confidence, and effectiveness. Good luck.
A professional copywriter in Chicago who is so humble, this is all he wrote for his bio.