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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.

 

Writing slick content for mobile users

4 Aug

A neat bit of information has been published by usability guru, Jakob Nielsen and the team at Nielson Norman Group, about writing for mobile phones.

Websites and social media are no longer limited to the laptop, Mac or PC – people are carrying around the world’s information in their pockets via mobile devices such as phones and iPods. 

That means it’s useful – and important – to know how people use these devices and to ensure your content fits with how they’re used so that your product, service, brand and advertising messages gets across – and it’s likely to be different again from how people usually use the web. Mobile use has an impact on design, but on us copywriters too.  

Jakob Nielson’s research included how people use mobile websites, apps and email newsletters. I’ve distilled these fascinating findings (if it floats your boat) down to these few pointers when writing content for mobile users:

Main point:

  • The overarching aspect is to focus – the first screen has to contain only the most essential information

Problems:

  • The narrow field of view of a mobile device makes it harder for users to comprehend content as there’s little visible context. 
  • People are usually in a rush when using mobile devices – less time is spent looking at emails and newsletters on a mobile
  • If faced on the first screen with lots of text, people are turned off.

Solutions:

  • Therefore, when writing for the web it’s important to be concise – and even more so with mobiles. Place only the most important information on a single page and place secondary content (the more in depth explanation and detail) on another page. 
  • Mobiles benefit from the progressive disclosure principle – meaning you reveal content piece by piece using hypertext to take the user to the detail. That way you save the basic information on the first screen and the rest is elsewhere. It allows users to click to the section they are interested in rather than scroll down the page
  • Don’t make your user work hard to find information – make everything as obvious as you can
  • Don’t clutter the page  – no big picture taking up useful copy space.

Jakob’s final thought

It’s better keep the initial screen focused and let particularly interested users delve into the detail – your customers will be more satisfied, you’ll get more traffic and your mobile content works better for your business.

Read the full blog update on writing focused content for mobile users by Jakob Nielsen.

Six steps to killer web copy

7 Jul

For those who aren’t sure, web copy refers to the words on websites that sell things or gives information. 

Let’s start this one off explaining why you need words on your website

  • It’s the words that sell things and get people to take action, not just pictures.  Pictures are important too – they have impact, are entertaining and tell people more about a product, event, place etc.  But you’ll find people look for words to explain things and tell them what to do.
  • It’s great for getting found in the search engines.  Search engines scan text to provide people with useful search results.

For the moment I’m going to leave out the how people read part of writing web copy –  it’s to do with the layout of your web copy to make it easy and more interesting for people to process – but we’ll talk about that in later blogs.

Here we will look at the basic structure of web copy and what you need to cover in order to make the best connection with your reader.  I’m mainly dealing with sales, but this structure applies to anything you want to promote.   

1.  Establish your objective

You should only start thinking about your web copy when you know why you are building a website:

  • What do you want to achieve from your website? 
  • Do you want to get people to buy from the site, call you or sign up to a newsletter? 

Establishing an aim makes it far easier to write the copy.

2.  Know your reader and talk directly to them

Knowing who you’re aiming at is the first step to knowing how to get them to buy from you, sign up to something or do what it is you want them to do using your website.  Before you write a single thing, try to answer the following questions:

  • Why do people buy your products or services?
  • What advantages or benefits does it bring to your customers? That is to say, how has their life changed as a result of getting what you have to offer?
  • What is your unique selling point?  That is, what makes you better or different from your competitors?

It’s as simple as asking previous customers, or getting them to leave comments through your site.  If you’re writing for someone else, ask them why people buy from them.

3.  Become an attention seeker!

Now you need to get you reader’s attention so that when they arrive on your site they are too interested to leave.  You do this with a tempting headline that says “You need to read on”.  I’ve devoted an entire step to this one because your headline is very important!

Get your reader’s attention with a great headline – but make sure it relates to the rest of the copy and no using naughty words just for the sake of it, cheeky.

A headline isn’t “Welcome” or the title of the page (boring!).  That’s not enough.  Your intention is to use words that you know will get their interest and make it difficult for them not to read on.  Your headline is likely to be the first bit of text your site visitor will read, so it’s important to make it a good one.  Try questions or suggest a secret will be revealed and always have their desires in mind.

You can find out more about what makes a good headline in later blogs.  It’s an important – if not the most important – part of your web copy and demands further detail.

4.  What’s the problem?

So many people make the mistake of pushing the product or service before the reader has any understanding of why they might need it.  Your reader is much more likely to be interested in what you’re promoting if you can show them where it fits into their life.  You do this by identifying your reader’s problems and remind them they have them before you can offer the solution. 

This shows you have an understanding of your reader’s predicament without stating the patronising turn off, “We know how you feel.” Really?  Do you?  Demonstrate it, rather than giving them the opportunity not to believe you.  It also helps to build up a relationship of trust, which in turn makes it more likely they will buy into what you say. 

Laying out their issues makes up your first (and sometimes also second) paragraph – make it interesting as it’s the one that could stop people from reading on.

Some examples

  • If you feel like you’re living under a pile of paperwork, with endless phone calls and meetings, it can seem like there isn’t enough time in the day. 
  • Whether you’re feeling tired due to over-worked muscles, or simply can’t get a good night’s sleep, having no energy can really get you down.

Hopefully people will read this and go “Yes, that’s me!”. 

When you write your copy, always address your reader directly. It’s much more inclusive as it builds a sense of relationship. That means you shouldn’t talk about yourself using the words “We” or “Our” in sentences. Focus on using”You” and “Your” so that it sounds like you’re speaking to one reader. It’s flattering to be paid interest.

5. Lead them into temptation

It’s widely known that playing on the desires of people gets them to buy things.  People buy what they want, not what they need.  Therefore you need to make them imagine the desirable life they could have if they no longer had the problems you just identified. 

You can even use the word “Imagine”: 

  • Imagine what life would be like if you could take back some time for yourself and re-address your work/life balance.

Or perhaps:

  • Pushing yourself to the limit isn’t good for you.  How much better would you feel if you could take time out to slow down the pace and relax?

You can also show you realise that they may have tried other solutions in the past, but were never satisfied.  It makes your solution sound better. 

So, we’ve demonstrated the problems and given a picture of what life could be like without them.  Now it’s time to introduce your product.

It’s a well known sales tool that if you can make someone imagine already having that product or service, they are more likely to buy it.  Don’t simply tell your reader that they will no longer have those problems:

“You won’t feel tired any more.”

Focus on the useful features of your product and service and what advantages and benefits they will bring your reader.  It’s much more powerful to tell them what they will be able to do as a result:

“You’ll find that after a relaxing day at the Rejuvenation Spa you’ll have more energy to do the things you love and start your working week with a fresh outlook.”

Feature:  The spa is relaxing

Advantage:  You’ll start your working week with a fresh outlook.

Benefit:  You’ll have more energy to do the things you love.

Don’t forget to tell them your unique selling point – the reason why they should buy from you rather than your competitors. 

6.  It’s time to take action!

Now you must close the deal.  This is called your ‘Call to action’ – the point where you get them to do what you want them to do.  That could be to buy a product or service, contact you for more information or sign up to a newsletter or report.

This is your final opportunity to clinch the sale.  Remind them why they should get what you’re selling or promoting and tell them how simple it is to get what they want.  Don’t give them any excuses not to buy.

Make it as easy as possible for them to take the action you have persuaded them to take – place all your contact details at the bottom of your web copy so they don’t have to go looking for it.

Lamb’s final thought

Putting together good web copy takes a lot of practice.  You need to consider language, detail and your reader’s psychology among other aspects.  However, even if you follow these basic building blocks you’ll have the basis of web copy that works.