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"Write That Red Hot Headline"

Updated on December 11, 2013

The Most Important Part of Your Article - The Headline!

Copywriting gurus agree: The headline is the most critical part of your copy.

The headline must INSTANTLY capture the reader's attention, or the online buyer will click you off, and move on. Offline, your magazine article will be passed by, or your item will never be read.

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

A rational look at the quote reveals much sense, 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, some copywriters have found their niche in writing headlines.

These pros specialize in writing butt-kicking headlines; period. The top copywriters of the time know who they are and engage 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 strong 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 ultra best, eye-catching collection of copy that will induce a reader to continue reading.

If the cream of the copywriting crop spends money and time on a headline, it follows that you should do the same.

1. Offer Something Right Away

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

The headline should reveal, as in this case, the free offer immediately.

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

2. Make It Urgent

People are generally inclined 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 ends on a specific date; or that you are rapidly 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 headline because it's filled with 'brand-breaking' hazards. In other words, make sure you cancel your offer at the stated time. If you're going to extend the deadline, you better have a plausible reason because your credibility is at stake.

3. Don't Be a Comedian

Funny and witty headlines can be helpful, 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 viable 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 cunning 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.

4. Keep It Simple and Powerful

An online headline should be simplistic. Studies show your copy should be written for readers at 6th. grade levels.

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

Use "power" words. These words prompt action and immediately paint vivid images.

This headline; "Make Your Business Live Longer", can be improved. Change passive-sounding words with dynamic ones. "Power Your Business To Survival" has a greater impact than the previous headline. What do you think?

5. Keep It Short

Another essential for good online headline writing is brevity. As a rule, online readers scan what they see and hence, they will be able to get a five word headline more quickly than one containing ten.

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

"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 fully reflected the copy. This ad literally jumped off the page. Though I was 6 or maybe 7 years old when this ad was in vogue, I am able, to this day, vividly see the copy and graphics! Do you remember it?

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", significantly 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 an unrivalled headline upon typing the last word, but give it an hour or two, read it again, then you can see it more objectively.

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

Remember the quote that opened this hub:

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

Internalize those words and most importantly, accept their validity and you will soon be writing a powerful headline every time.

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