Archive | September, 2012

Are you an attention seeker?

8 Sep

Of course you are! If you want to capture your reader’s attention and compel them to read your copy you have to be – and therefore a great headline is a must. 

Whether it’s for a brochure, report, web page, leaflet, email subject line or sign up box for a newsletter, your headline is your first opportunity to capture your reader’s interest. Headlines for your marketing material and website work in much the same way as a newspaper headline, focusing the reader so they know where to begin and tempts them to read the words underneath. Without a headline your copy could be ignored and your carefully crafted marketing message or the information you want to impart could be missed.

This is particularly true when you consider that people tend to scan pages, so the headlines and subheadings are the parts of your copy that will stand out and be read first – make sure you write one that will stop them in their tracks.

Your headline is the most important part of your copy, so you should spend a considerable time thinking about it.

So what makes a good headline?

 There are three important things to remember when writing your headlines:

  • Be reader-focused – Your headline needs to focus on the desires of your reader in order to get them interested. They want to know what they can get, not who you are. Therefore, don’t write “We” or “Our” sentences, write “You” and “Your” sentences.
  • Make your headline stand out – You headline is the starting point of your copy – unless it’s a subheading – so make it easy for your reader to find. To ensure your headline or subheading gets noticed, make the headline font at least four points larger than the main text and your subheadings at least two points larger.
  • Address you reader’s needs – When thinking of a great headline, I like the approach Maria Veloso takes in her book Web Copy That Sells. Maria identifies that a good headline stems from addressing two basic human needs:   

1) To gain pleasure

2) To avoid pain.

With this in mind, here are some tips for writing good headlines:

  • Use Questions:  The brain naturally can’t help answering them. It’s the old “Don’t think of a pink elephant” trick. By asking your reader a question, you’re already getting them to consider the situation you are presenting them. For example: 

What would you do with an extra £200 per month?

Can you afford to let your computer break down?

  • Include emotional triggers: Use words that trigger the desire for improvement or for the reader’s life to be changed for the better.
  • Promise to reveal secrets: Give your reader the sense they’re being let in on a secret or the first to know something. It builds a sense of anticipation and makes them want to know the secret. (Of course you don’t give that away until much later in your copy!)
  • Highlight the benefits – You can highlight the best things about using your product or service, but it has to show the value – put it in a context that’s recognisable to the reader.

Don’t simply say ‘This washing powder will make your white clothes stay white’ – you’ll have highlighted what it does and that’s great, but what does it really mean to your reader? Try to say instead: ‘Stop the scrubbing – rid your whites from ugly stubborn stains in one quick wash.’

Remember to then lead your reader into those promises from the first paragraph – paint the picture of them scrubbing away, as they will need to know you understand their problems before they’ll believe in your solutions.

  • Offer tips – Promise to tell your reader something that will benefit them with some ‘How to’ tips or ‘What to do when…(something happens)’

How to get the beautiful beach body you want in just one week

What to do when your bills have left you broke

  • Use the imperative – If you’re talking about an action the person reading can take as a result of using your product or service, your headline should use the imperative. This means words that command you to take action now. Such as ‘Create your own website‘ or ‘Improve your computer skills.’ However, I would go on to add a benefit or time scale for context: ‘Improve your computer skills in just one hour‘ or ‘Create your own website and improve your sales.’
  • Make your headline editorial – The headline should sound like it’s for an informative article, otherwise the reader will smell they’re being sold to and stop reading. 

A little extra to think about – If you’re writing headlines for a web page, blog or online article and want to improve the ability of people to find it through search engine optimisation (SEO), try and get your keywords in your headline – but don’t force it if you can create a better headline without them. 

Lamb’s final thought

Different subjects lend themselves to different styles of headline and you might find some styles work better for your topic than others. 

It’s good practice to come up with a good long list of headlines and choose the best one. Creating a headline is usually the last thing I do with my copy – I find the headline is easier to create once I’m happy with the copy, but everyone works differently. You can always ask friends or family which one they are drawn to the most – while they won’t necessarily be your target audience, it might give you a better idea of what definitely doesn’t work.