The Truth about Great Headlines – What They Don’t Tell You
Have you ever wondered if ‘they’ aren’t telling you something? That you don’t have all the information? Well, never fear. This week’s guest post takes away the fourth wall when it comes to headline copywriting. Over to you Jacob!
Ladies and gentlemen; we are fighting a war.
A war for attention; for eyes on screens, for the precious minutes consumers have to spend each and every day. The audience’s time is the target, and the weapons are glitzy commercials, stylish billboards, ear-splitting radio ads, flashing banners and magnetic content.
As copywriters on the frontline, our standard-issue sidearm is the headline, without which our killer copy would be lost in a relentless bombardment of ‘me-too’ articles and ‘seen it before’ posts. As a result, we need to make sure that we’re locked and loaded by fully understanding how to use our weapon to its best effect – we need to know the truth about great headlines.
Sure, there are plenty of ‘how to’ articles out there, but they inevitably run through the same top 10 tips and then leave you on your own. Today, I’d like to go deeper than that. Much deeper. Here’s what they don’t tell you…
Warning! The Experts Make It All Up
Most headline writing guides will suggest that you write your headline first, and I totally agree with that.
What they don’t tell you, however, is that you should also be prepared to go out on a limb when crafting your headline. Take, for example, an article I recently wrote titled What Jack Kerouac Can Teach You About Business Blogging. When I wrote this headline, not only did I not have an article ready to go, I didn’t have a clue what (if anything) Jack Kerouac could teach us about business blogging!
Why would I put myself under this kind of pressure? Because, as a result, I forced myself not only to write a great headline, but to actually follow it up with a well-researched, well-written article. Once you’ve made a tantalising promise to your audience, you need to really flex your copywriting muscles to make sure you don’t let them down.
How to Stop Being Boring and Become Bold
As outlined above, being creative with your headlines can have a big-payoff, yet it’s also important to realize that your audience sees around about 5,000 advertising messages designed to grab their attention each day. Blandness will just get lost in the noise, so you have to be bold and dare to offer the audience something of real value.
By writing a bold headline, you’re forcing yourself to deliver on that value, meaning that the outcome is win-win – you’ll learn a lot more about the particular niche that you’re writing about, and your audience will get to read an article bursting with quality content.
This is what they don’t tell you – you can follow the headline templates, but if you’re not making bold statements then you’re not going to improve your own writing skills and experience.
Why You Shouldn’t Rely on Lists
List posts have been popular since Moses published the 10 Commandments, which is why the list-post is the golden crutch of copywriting. We lean against it whenever we’ve been sapped of creativity and need to finish an article right now.
It’s no secret that list posts work, but when it comes down to it, they often don’t push us very hard as copywriters, even if sprinkling them in every now and then just feels so right.
What they don’t tell you is that you’re not going to rise to the top of your profession by relying on list-posts – what you need are definitive guides, daring statements and rich content that is as unique as you can make it. Keep list-posts in your toolbox but don’t rely on them.
Here’s Why It’s Okay to Borrow
Great copywriters often keep a ‘swipe file’ of great examples of copywriting, be it in magazine form, ad copy or online articles. Although writing a great headline from scratch can feel fantastic, whether you know it or not chances are that someone else has written a headline using that exact same format.
What they don’t tell you is that great copywriters borrow from each other much more than they’d like to admit, and you shouldn’t be ashamed to look to others for inspiration. A handy technique is to repurpose a headline from a totally different niche.
For example, today I scanned Alltop for some random headlines, and found a great one in their ‘Diabetes’ section titled “Have You Noticed This About Your Diabetes?”. It doesn’t take a genius to see how this could be replaced with something from virtually any niche, and suddenly it becomes “Have You Noticed This About Your New Car?”, or “Have You Noticed This While Shopping Online?”.
Let your imagination run wild…
A Shocking Method to Predict the Future
So now we know that the industry’s big guns say swipe files are a great way to find inspiration, and sometimes you can just go out on a limb and make something up, but here’s what they don’t tell you; you can predict the future.
Easy – by creating a spread-sheet where you collect your headline ideas separated into various niches. By collecting these headlines long before they’re needed, if you’re suddenly assigned a writing gig for, say, a tech blog or a lifestyle mag, you’re way ahead of the game. Instead of spending half the day pulling your hair out and trying to decide which headline to use, send the client a list of 5 of your best headlines and you’ll be ready to start writing in no time.
Why You Should Let the Audience Write Headlines for You
Every headline-writing guide tells you to tailor the headline to your audience, but what they don’t tell you is that sometimes you can actually let the audience write the headlines for you.
By using tools like Google’s Keyword Tool, you can research a particular topic, target it geographically and find out what people are actually searching for. For example, using the keyword ‘windows 8’, I can see that in Australia over 700 people a month are searching for the term ‘How Do I Use Windows 8’, and 500 are searching for ‘Using Windows 8’. With that valuable information, it doesn’t take me very long to come up with “The Ultimate Guide to Using Windows 8”. Now all I have to do is write the article…
What are your favourite headline writing techniques?
Have you used any of the techniques above, or do you think I’ve got it all completely wrong? Let us know in the comments section, we’d love to hear your opinion!