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Five Tips for Writing Eyeball-Grabbing Headlines

If you made it this far, the headline for this story has caught your attention. Hot headlines are a hit with readers because they stick out, grab attention and urge them to read the rest of the story.

We're all experiencing information overload and have made it a habit to skim pages. According to David Ogilvy, a successful advertising writer, "Five times as many people read the headlines as read the body copy." Sounds like we need to treat those headlines like trying to get our foot in the door.

It doesn't matter if you're writing a sales letter, Web page content, email, or an article. Pulling together a handful of powerful words and putting them ahead of the content is more likely to grab eyeballs than just going right into the story, letter, or content.

Despite our success with newsletters, we continue to learn how to add more punch when writing headlines. Here are the tips we have learned and try to apply:

  1. "What does the reader get from this?" The answer to your question can be the baseline for the headline. From there, modify it to ensure it has easily understood and expressive words. This addresses the "What's in it for me?" question. You can almost never go wrong with headlines that convey reader benefit.
  2. Keep It Short and Simple (KISS). It continues to hold true even with headlines. If it is too long, the reader isn't going to be able to swallow it with one gulp and will move on before figuring it out.
    Try summarizing the content in 10 words or less and make it your benchmark. Play with it until you come up with something snappy without being unbelievable. Another way to go about it is to treat headlines like a billboard. Speeding cars make it easy to overlook the billboard's message, so it better be short and simple.
  3. Be diverse. Often, I find that many headlines from a source sound repetitive since they repeatedly use the same type words and phrases. If you're out of ideas, use a thesaurus to help you find new words. Another option is to search for keywords in the content and use them.
  4. Believable. When I see a headline that sounds "too good to be true," it immediately looks and feels like "spam" and it's trashed or skipped over.
  5. Emotional. Headlines that make a reader excited, scared, or curious produce better results because they prompt action. Write in the first or second person with present tense verbs to make such headlines urge people to take instant action.

If you have the luxury of conducting a headline test and getting a report of results, then send out your content to half of your test audience with one headline and the other half with the other headline. Review the report to see how many actually read the story for each headline and compare.

Another option is to have your colleagues review several headlines and pick which works better.

Work smarter not harder when writing headlines and make a whizbang first impression. Expend as much energy in the headline as you do writing the rest of the content. If that doesn't happen, then few will read beyond the headline. Here are some typical words to help you get rolling:

Advice... Facts... Last Minute... Save... Amazing... Finally... Secrets... Announcing... Free... Luxury... Security... At Last... Growth... New... Show Me... Bargains... Hate... Obsession... Breakthrough... Here... Only... Share... How Much... Protect... The Truth Of... Discover... How To... Rewards... Yes... Do You... How Would... Sale... You... # Tips... # Ways... Don't Buy... Don't Spend...

There is no rule that says headlines have to be dull, flat, or full of technical jargon to ensure professionalism. Go have a ball writing headlines.

Posted December 30, 2001 09:44 AM :: Tags: :: Category: Writing


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