How to write headlines that stop’em in their tracks?
Simple – all your headline needs to do is convince your reader to keep reading.
Ok, perhaps that is not as simple as I make it out to be. Just like your lead generating offer, your headline has one job. It doesn’t need to close sales, or win copywriting awards, it just needs to grab and hold your reader’s attention long enough to keep them reading.
Studies have shown that around 80% of people read headlines when they’re looking through the newspaper, but only about 20% actually read the ad or article.
Your headline is the only tool you have to get the rest of your copy read, so you’ll need to focus the majority of your copywriting efforts on catching and holding your readers’ attention. The rest of your copy only matters if you can get them to read it!
In this blog we’ll cover:
- The role of strong headlines in all of your marketing materials
- Headlines as emotional motivators
- How to create strong headlines for your audience?
- Examples of strong headlines
- Headline templates
- Testing and measuring headlines
Headlines shouldn’t be limited to advertising alone – they’re essential elements of sales letters, direct mail cards, websites, newsletters and brochures.
Headlines are used to grab and hold reader’s attention in ALL marketing materials – not just advertisements in newspapers. Most readers take only a few seconds to decide if they want to spend any time reading what you have to say, in an email, website, sales letter or direct mail postcard. Just like you, your audience is bombarded by information every minute of the day, so if you haven’t convinced them to care in a few seconds or less, they’ve already moved on.
Your sub-headline is almost as important, because it’s your second chance to tell the reader why they should care and keep their attention. It also creates a transition between your headline and the body of your letter or advertisement, and acts as a teaser.
Every headline should:
- Grab the reader’s attention
- Be something the reader cares about
- Offer your reader something
- Trigger emotional reactions
- Incite curiosity
Headlines need to trigger an emotional response and motivate your reader to keep reading.
When you’re writing, you have to put yourself in the mindset of your audience. People are pressed for time, so your headline has to offer something to them that is going to solve their problem, make their life easier, or give them information that they know they need. Otherwise, they’ve already turned the page.
For example, if I were to write a headline like this – Give me three hours of your time and I’ll show you how to double your annual income by creating a passive income stream – I’m probably targeting overworked, overwhelmed, underpaid professionals who are struggling to provide for their families. I’ve tapped into their emotional motivators and caught their attention.
There are a few categories of basic human needs that most purchase motivations come from. When you are aware of these, you will be able to incorporate them into your writing and appeal to your target market’s emotions.
By identifying your target market’s needs, wants, and desires, you’ll be able to identify the words and phrases that will effectively trigger emotional reactions, which will motivate them to take action.
When you begin writing your headlines, you will discover that certain word combinations are also very powerful. You can combine your list of emotional trigger words with these power words in all of your copywriting.
According to a Yale University study, the top two rows of words are the most powerful words in the English language.
How to write effective headlines for your business in a few easy steps.
- Identify who you are trying to target.
You need a clear understanding of who you’re writing for and what their motivators are before you can attempt to reach them. This is your target market.
If you are trying to target a more specific group within your target market, you can choose to segment your market into sub-markets by demographic or behavioristic characteristics. For example, you might choose to focus on only men, or only women with children under five years of age.
The more specific you can be with your market, the easier time you will have identifying and reaching their emotional ‘hot buttons.’
- Identify what you are trying to communicate.
Once you know who you’re speaking to, clearly define what message you need to communicate to them. Be specific, and even write it down in plain language before you start drafting your headlines.
To clearly articulate your message, ask yourself questions like:
- Do you have a solution to their problem?
- Do you offer a new product or service that they need?
- Can you provide the information they’re looking for?
- Do you have a better option for them?
- Identify the motivators or “hot buttons” that will elicit an emotional response from your audience.
Take the list you drafted above, and highlight or write down the words that will pique your target market’s interest, or trigger their ‘hot buttons’.
If you’re selling vacuum cleaners to young mothers, you’re going to want to identify words that would appeal to her desire to keep her home germ free for toddlers, and make her cleaning efforts easier and less time consuming.
When you’re writing for sales and marketing, always try to paint a picture for your audience. Carefully select descriptive words they will relate to and resonate with, and strong power words like the ones listed above. For example, phrases like “challenging outdoor experiences” would appeal to physically fit readers, but not those who don’t like to exercise.
- Choose a type of headline that will work best based on the emotional motivators you have identified.
Direct Headlines clearly and simply state the offer or message, without any attempt at humor or cleverness. Pure Silk Scarves – 40% This Weekend Only | Brand New Security System Just $99 Per Month
Indirect Headlines are subtle, and often use curiosity to pique a reader’s interest before providing an explanation in the body copy. Clever puns, figures of speech and double meanings are often used. The key to weight loss success lies in your backyard.
News Headlines mimic a headline you would read in the newspaper and are a great option for a new product announcement or industry scoop. These work best when you actually have news, and can stay focused on benefits, not features. Newco launches the ultimate timesaver for new moms
Question Headlines ask the reader something they can closely relate to or would need to continue reading to discover the answer. Questions are easy to read, and can immediately tap into your reader’s emotions. Are you tired of worrying about your children’s education fund? | Do you know what’s in your fruits and vegetables?
‘How to’ Headlines indicate that the rest of the copy or the offer itself will describe a step-by-step process of interest or use to the reader. These two words create headlines that work wonders. How to find a job in a recession | How to start a profitable internet business from scratch?
Command Headlines are similar to direct headlines, but always start with a strong verb or command for action. It usually focuses on the most important benefit you offer your reader. Triple your energy in just three days | Stop wasting money when you travel.
‘Reasons Why’ or ‘Ways to’ Headlines precede lists of tips, suggestions, product benefits or even mistakes of interest to your target audience. Keep the list to a reasonable length or you’ll run the risk of losing your reader. Eight ways to save money around the house | 25 mistakes you could be making at the grocery store.
Testimonial Headlines use other people’s opinions and expertise to persuade a reader to keep reading and begin to build trust. Quotation marks are used to indicate that the words are a testimonial, not the words of your business, and they can increase readership by almost 30%. “ToneYour Bootcamp completely changed the way I look at my body” – Miley Cirrus | “I never thought I’d get out of debt before I discovered Money Saver Inc!” – Grace LePage
- Draft at least ten different headlines using the templates below, and pick your best three to test and measure.
We often get asked how long a headline should be. This is something that is debated in the marketing community quite a bit, but I always tell my clients not to stress about it. Use the number of words you need to get your point across, without writing a paragraph. Remember that your headline needs to do one thing: get the reader to keep reading.
Don’t be afraid to draft pages of headlines or sift through the pages of a thesaurus before you get yours just right. Sometimes you’re only a word or two away from transforming a boring headline into a really effective one. If you’re having trouble, you can rely on the headline templates in our e-learning system.
Headline Template Examples
- How to become the smartest _____ in _____
- How to end ______
- How I improved my _____
- How to develop _____
- Seven ways to add to your _____ without cleaning out your bank account
- How to begin _____
- 12 innovations in _____ design
- Always test and measure the effectiveness of your headlines. Try two at a time and compare which generates the best results.
As always, you will need to test and measure the strength of your headlines. Try to test at least two “hot buttons” in different media to determine where your target audience’s reaction is the strongest.
You can leverage off of the information gathered from testing and measuring your powerful offer as well. For example, if the offer geared to safety and security concerns was a roaring success, headlines that tap into those motivators will also be successful.
You can apply these headline writing techniques to all your marketing materials, as well as your copywriting.
In our fast-paced society, nearly everyone has become a skimmer instead of a reader. Strong, well-written headlines are the only way you can lure a browser into reading your message – so use them on every piece of marketing material you have.