Jun 12 2011
By Daniel Casciato
One way you can increase your clientele is to offer valuable content in the form of a e-newsletter or blog. While you may have some robust content, if you can’t get your audience to click on that email, read those blog posts, or take action on your ad, your work would be all for naught.
Today’s readers skim and often decide within a matter of seconds whether they are going to invest the time to delve into your content. That’s why it’s so critical to craft a great headline. Below are some tips from my LinkedIn network on how to write compelling headlines that will increase the chances that your next article, newsletter or blog post is read.
Learn from the masters
Clark Olver with the Eaton Marketing Group says that David Ogilvy’s advice on the subject of headlines is still solid. “His ability to connect with the target audience one-on-one was grounded in research, objectivity and a visceral understanding of what motivates people.”
Some resources that Olver recommends to learn more include:
Cathy Goodwin, PhD recommends getting your hands on a copy of “Words That Sell” by Richard Bayan as well as a copy of Maria Veloso’s book on copywriting.
“There are lots of tips and standard, proven headlines,” she says.
Some other advice by Goodwin includes:
- Write 50 headlines for important projects—your best will come somewhere between 15 and 30, or later.
- Make sure your headline captures the emotion of your target market. You don’t have to go overboard but you should appeal to fear, frustration or some other negative emotion. Your prospect should feel, “They get it!”
- Skip the cutesy, self-conscious headlines. Tell it straight.
- Copywriters differ on effectiveness of long versus short headlines; you need to test for your market.
Avoid cliches or obvious euphemism’s—people want quality, not cutesy, according to Jesse Osmun.
“Keep the headline short and concise,” he says. “‘Taxes Go Up for Local School District,’ is a better headline than, ‘Taxes to Increase Dramatically for Residents of Whoville School District.’”
He adds to make sure to use action verbs—verbs that describe where the article is leading.
Clever is nice but more important is being direct so that readers know what you are talking about and—online—so do search engines, notes Sharon Bailly of TWP Marketing & Technical Communications.
“The first three or four words should sum up the topic so avoid putting a number there,” she says.
For example, she says that “Get More Customers: 4 Ways to Increase Your Customer Appeal” is a better title than “4 Ways to Get More Customers.”
“Writers should think about how readers will search for their information and what question they want answered such as how can I get more customers?” she adds.
Grab a thesaurus
John Zadikian says to never start a header or the story with “It’s Official.”
“Summarize the gist of the story/first two paragraphs with eye-catching copy, and keep your online/hard copy thesaurus handy to punch up your words,” he says. “In today’s too-fast society, boring copy is unread copy.”
Use the vivid imagery and attention grabbing power of metaphors, says Anne Miller, sales specialist and author of “Metaphorically Selling.” For example, she says that a negative article on Apple some time ago in the media used the hyeadline: “Apple—Rotten At the Core?”
“Tie the headline to the industry—autos: Out of Gas, Hitting on All Cylinders; oil—Down to the Last Drop, XYZ Hits a Gusher; entertainment—Lights Out for XYZ Media Company, SRO at XYZ,” she says.
Offer practical advice
People like practical advice, says Kay Paumier with Communications Plus, such as “Seven Ways to Lose Weight Now.”
“They like ‘tricks of the trade,’” she says. “Sometimes focusing on the opposite of the desired result works—’How to Assure No One Reads Your Headline.’ They also like the word ‘secrets,’ even though everyone knows it isn’t a secret.”
While Sarah Skerik, vice president of social media at PR Newswire, believes that writing that perfect headline (or email subject line) is an important factor in getting exposure for your message, she stresses that there are other factors to consider as well.
“Incorporating the right keywords can help boost the visibility of your message – and related web pages – in search engines,” she says. “A short, sweet, compelling headline can inspire social sharing – which delivers another layer of visibility for your message.”
She recommends the following tips:
- Incorporate your most important keyword within the first 65 characters of the headline – search engines only index 65 characters.
- Write in active voice
- Using a subhead is a great way to offer additional detail to your short, punchy headline
- Don’t be coy. Tell your readers what the story/blog post/email is about
You can read more of her tips here.
William Dobbs of Collective Cloud Consulting in Tucson, AZ agrees that keywords are a crucial element.
“With all on-line marketing do consider choosing and using keywords used by your clients, prospects, competitors or contractors,” Dobbs says. “Your keywords will often point the way toward new marketing ideas and techniques. Also, it will point toward where your clients’ product knowledge is lacking or needs to be enhanced to meet a previous clients’ newer needs. This will allow you to determine what marketing tactics could be the best.”
Be vague and interesting
For Hernan Charry (website coming soon—www.bizideaguy.com), being creative, witty, or direct gets great results. However, the problem with each of these is that many people will decide, based on the headline, that the information contained within is not for them.
“The solution is V&I—vague and interesting,” he says. “Of course, being interesting depends on your audience.”
Some examples he offers:
- How LinkedIn Power Users Close Sales Without Ever Leaving Their Laptop
- The Copywriting Tip That Will Change The Way You Read Headlines
- 5 Reasons To Never Use Your Job Title Again
“When you read these headlines, what questions did you ask yourself? o you see, the point is not to be completely vague here,” he says. “The point is to be vague enough that people ask themselves the question you’d like them to ask. If you can get them asking a question of themselves, they’ll open the email or read the article to find the answer.”
Then he adds, “It probably goes without saying, make sure your content delivers the answer or you will appear to be a charlatan!”
Assess the strength of your headline
Finally, Laurie Lynard recommends using the Advanced Marketing Institute’s website when creating a headline.
“It assesses and scores its emotional appeal,” she says. “It’s really kind of fun to challenge yourself to get a higher score by changing words in your headlines.”
Daniel Casciato is a full-time freelance copywriter and journalist. In addition to ghostwriting, he writes health, legal, real estate, and technology-related articles for trade magazines and online publications. For more information, visit www.danielcasciato.com.