Message & Media: Making Headlines. Literally.
Headlines are the one copy element almost every ad, email, brochure, blog post, whitepaper, landing page, self-mailer, postcard and Web page have in common. An irresistible headline is the lure that hooks your reader.
According to advertising great David Ogilvy, "On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy."
This means writing effective headlines is extremely important for copywriters and content developers, as well as their creative directors and approving managers. It's not a cut-and-paste job!
So, how can you craft headlines that hook more readers? Try these 19 quick tips.
1. Use numbers, especially odd numbers. Scan magazine covers at your grocery store checkout and you're guaranteed to find numerals starting many of the headlines. The more obscure the number, the better: "127 Secrets Your Financial Planner Won't Tell You" or "13 Foods That Are Killing You."
2. Ask a question. One of the most successful ads of my career, seen below, had the headline, "What the devil is this?"
The subhead copy—"Then Ed bit into one and the plot thickened"—added intrigue to the story that unfolded. The ad ran for nearly 20 years.
3. Use adjectives. Describe what the body copy offers with a promising adjective such as: essential, affordable, basic, free, one-of-a-kind, limited edition, exclusive or fun.
For example, "An Essential Guide for Anyone Who Writes Anything."
4. Make a strong promise. What homeowner doesn't want to know this kind of information: "How to Sell Your Own Home in Less Than 36 Hours"?
5. Five Ws and One H. Headlines that start with Who, What, When, Why, Where or How empower: "Why Frequent Flyers Won't Eat Airline Food ... Even Peanuts."
6. Make a list. Readers love lists of reasons, steps, ways, tips, tricks, secrets, ideas, techniques, strategies, facts, methods, even statistics: A great example is "Request This Checklist of 15 Tips for Writing Control-Beating Headlines."
7. Demonstrate value. A good headline often answers the question, "What's in it for me?" Here's a B-to-B headline that successfully generated profitable leads for a leading fume hood manufacturer for more than 10 years: "How to Select the Right Fume Hood."
8. Breed distrust. Write a headline that appeals to human cynicism and fear of manipulation: "Is Your _______ Telling You the Truth About ________?"
9. Educate. Include words such as "guide," "101," "beginner's" and "complete" to reassure your reader the information is easy to understand and use: "Teach Your Dog to Fetch: Canine Training 101."
10. Use the word YOU. Make an immediate connection with your reader when you write in the second person. It's the difference between: "3 Drinks to Drool Over" and "3 Drinks You'll Drool Over."
11. Start with a verb. Because your headline is an invitation to start reading, build reader momentum by starting with an action word that encourages continued interaction: "Grab This Deal Before It's Gone."
12. Convey urgency. This headline, "Just 5 Days Left to Try This Limited Edition Fruit," reinforces a pending deadline at the beginning and end of the headline.
13. Be specific. Specificity establishes credibility and authority: "Learn Why Marketing to Inactive Customers Is 37% More Profitable Than Prospecting." Also, the use of the odd number gives this headline a boost!
14. Sell benefits, not features. Which is stronger: "Kobe Steaks Now on Sale" or "The World's Most Tender Steaks Now on Sale"?
15. Animate with alliteration. Applied with aplomb, alliteration can make your headline fun without being flippant: "5 Fabulous Fashion Tips for Fridays."
16. Drop a name. People love to read about known experts and celebrities: "Why Denny Hatch Would Never Write This Headline."
17. Create controversy. There's intrigue in disagreement: "7 Stupid Mistakes We Know You Make at Work."
18. Money talks. Add a $ and attract attention: "Pure silk blouses under $29.99." Or, an example from The Wall Street Journal: "The Life of a $140,000-a-Year Welder."
19. Make it quotable. Early in my career, a nuclear-engineer-turned-extraordinary-marketer introduced me to the power of putting headlines in quotation marks: "Does your toilet need a tune up? Find out ..."
Guess what? These words work in more than just financial marketing headlines.