7 Tips for Writing Headlines That Work

I think we can all agree that writing headlines is, by far, the most difficult part of publishing. After all, there is a lot of pressure to come up with headlines that are attention grabbing, yet short and to the point.

After all, as the great David Ogilvy, ‘Father of Advertising’ once said: “On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy.  When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.”  I’ve been using this as a guideline for my print ad layouts – and making sure that the headline alone is able to communicate the gist of what the rest of the copy is about.

On the average, five times as many

I do a lot of writing in my current role – not just for websites and blogs but also for print.  While online content consumption is usually very different from traditional mediums, the one challenge they do have in common is the short attention span of their readers.  I once heard someone talk about a ‘trifecta’ formula to writing perfect headlines – how every headline has to contain three points of value that the audience would find useful.  But the more I think about it, the more I wonder – do we really have time to convey 3 facts in 1 headline?

Nowadays, my formula consists of one topic in a catchy phrase, supported by a slightly longer sub-headline.  This formula has served me well for print headlines and even email banners.  Blogs and other pieces that rely on a single headline are harder and take more time to come up with.  I must admit – headlines are definitely not my forte!  Here are a few additional guidelines I have been using to help with the process:

  1. 50/50 Rule – I have read of a 50/50 rule which claims you should spend at least half of your time (and effort) developing and refining your headline
  2. Start with the Value – be clear on the benefits you want to convey and build a headline around what you want your audience to remember
  3. Use Sub Headlines – people tend to consume information in chunks so use sub headlines to bring my detail and structure (especially true for longer pieces)
  4. Be Specific – and avoid vague terms and blanket statements. This allows you to get right to the point without filler and other unnecessary words
  5. Be Compelling – this goes without saying! If you are in marketing, creating compelling content is at the foundation of what you do. It shows how well you know your audience and how much you can relate to them (or vice versa)
  6. Provide Urgency – when you have a compelling headline, you can urge your audience to take action. Communicate if the content is time sensitive (like a sale that is ending soon or an upcoming event)
  7. Edit, Edit and Then, Edit Some More – I often write headlines first before developing the content and use it as a guideline to what the content should talk about. Sometimes, it’s beneficial to go back and make sure the headline is still relevant, effective etc.

Hopefully with a bit more patience and practice, this process will become a much easier one in the future! Do you have any tips for writing strong and compelling headlines?  Share your best practices with me in the comments!

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