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"How To Write Powerful Headlines"

Updated on December 4, 2013
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"Yes, Virginia! A Headline IS That Important"

When it comes to writing a headline, copywriting gurus agree: The headline is THE most important part of your copy... period!

The headline MUST capture the reader's attention... or else.

Or else, what?

Online, your prospective customer or client will click you off and move on. Offline, your magazine will be passed over, or your article will never be read.

“We pick out what we wish to read by headlines” -Claude Hopkins

I don't understand why beginning copywriters struggle with this headline writing fact. A rational look at the quotation reveals much wisdom, but its relevance is too often blown off... especially by new copywriters.

Much like a specialist on a football team; a field goal kicker or a punt return man, several copywriters have found their niche in writing headlines.

These pros specialize in writing butt-kicking headlines; period. The top copywriters of the day know who they are and hire them for ALL of their headline writing. Most of these specialists charge about $100/headline.

If that sounds expensive, think again. The big-name copywriters know how much time goes in to building a great headline. Saving 8 hours is worth $100 to these top-gun copywriters, but they also pay for the peace of mind of knowing they get the very best, eye-catching collection of copy that will persuade a reader to continue reading.

If the cream of the copywriting crop spend money and time on a headline, it follows that you should do the same. Yes, Virginia, it is that important.

1. Offer Something Right Away

Make your offer known right off the bat. For example, "Get Your Free CD" or "Your First Free Visit". Everyone responds to the word 'FREE', so use it occasionally in your headline writing. When people start reading online copy their interest quickly goes to "what's in it for me if I continue reading?"

Your headline should let readers know what 'that' is immediately.

Give them something they need in exchange for what you are about to present and make it immediately clear with your headline.

2. Make It Urgent

People are generally prone to take action if they know they're running against time. Create a sense of urgency with your headline by telling your readers your offer only stands up to a certain date or that you are fast running out of stock. You can also make it a do-or-die offer; "Let this opportunity slip and it's gone forever".

WARNING: Be careful when writing this type of headline because it's filled with 'brand-breaking' hazards. In other words, make sure you withdraw your offer at the stated time. If you're going to extend the deadline, you better have a good explanation because your credibility is at stake.

3. Keep It Simple and Powerful

An online headline should be simple... maybe simplistic is a better word here. Studies show your copy should be written for readers at a 6th. grade level.

Don't use long and difficult words. If no one understands them... well, you know the rest.

Use "power" words. These words inspire action and quickly paint vivid images.

"Make Your Business Live Longer" as a copy headline can be improved, for instance, if you replace passive-sounding words with forceful ones. "Power Your Business To Survival" has greater impact than the previous headline. What do you think?

4. Keep It Short

Another requirement for good online headline writing is brevity. As a rule, online readers scan what they read and consequently, they will be able to understand a five word headline more quickly than one containing ten.

For a good headline, try to lessen the use of participles, prepositions, passive verbs, and other words that don't add to your headline's meaning.

"Keep It Short" is a breakable rule, however. In the 1950's, one of the greatest headlines ever written hit newspapers and magazines across America and it still stands as a Top 10 contender. The headline read:

"They Laughed When I Sat Down at the Piano... But When I Started to Play". The graphics perfectly reflected the copy. This ad literally jumped off the page and although I was 6 or maybe 7 years old when this ad was hot, I can still vividly picture the copy and the graphics to this day! Do you remember it?

5. Don't Be a Comedian

Funny and witty headlines can be effective, but trying to be Jay Leno could backfire on you. I loved Leno's "funny headline" bit, but don't use your one-liner unless you have tested it on a lot of people. If they all "got it", then you have a possible winner.

However, just one person missing the funny business should make you take another look.

If there's no way to make a headline funny or clever then don't go there. For the most part, leave 'clever' to the TV commercials. If you manage to get your message across then you've done your job.

HOT TIP

 When using large numbers, choose exact figures like "677,954" instead of "close to 680,000". The difference adds credibility to your fact finding.

6. Use Numbers

Numbers are easier to read and they look impressive.

Instead of: "Tips for Better Gardening", substantially improve it by simply adding a digit. "6 Tips for Better Gardening" lead readers to your sub-headline.

Why?

The number reveals a bit more information on the article the reader is about to view.

Another effective use of numbers can emphasize a point. For example: "Does your website live on Google's page 5,238?"; or, "Last year, the IRS Took $637,489,210 from Taxpayers Who Didn't Use Steroid's Tax Software".

When using large numbers, choose exact figures like "677,954" instead of "close to 680,000". The difference adds credibility to your fact finding.

Review and Revise

You may think you have built a perfect headline upon typing the last word, but give it an hour or two, read it again, then you can view it more objectively.

The copywriting experts (and very few exist), write over a hundred headlines before they decide on THE one.

Remember the quotation that opened this hub:

“We pick out what we wish to read by headlines” by Claude Hopkins.

Internalize those words and most importantly, believe their truth and you will soon be writing a great headline every time.

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    • copywriter31 profile imageAUTHOR

      James Ranka 

      7 years ago from Port Neches

      Thanks for the compliment, BlueDinosaur. Coming from a pro like yourself, the 'pat on the back' means all the more! I will definitely read your hub. If non-industry folks knew how much work and time went into writing a great headline, disbelief would most likely be the shared reaction.

    • BlueDinosaur profile image

      BlueDinosaur 

      7 years ago from Denver, CO

      I'm an ad copywriter myself, and these are excellent tips. Including your offer in a headline is always a great way to go, as is expressing urgency and keeping it simple (I always emphasize trying to express the one key idea that will get people to read more, and doing it in 8 words or less). I wrote a hub about headlines, too, so check it out if you get a chance. Great hub.

    • mse profile image

      mse 

      8 years ago from texas

      great tips

    • Singular Investor profile image

      Singular Investor 

      8 years ago from Oxford

      Hi CW - thanks for the useful tips - thumbs up !

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