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Writer's Tips

3 Tips For Writing Better Headlines
by Bruce Carlson

Copyright © 2005 by Bruce Carlson

The single most important element of your website's copy is the headline. Take away practically everything else and you can still manage a sale (if the headline's good enough and you have a strong enough call to action). But take away the headline and your chances for any success are about zero.

Why is this?

Simply put, your headline is the magnet for your copy. It's the “door” through which people enter your world of persuasion. Make it appealing enough and theyll step through the door. Fail to make it appealing and they'll walk on by.

If you want to pull in customers, you need to be able to write good headlines. And in order to write good headlines, you need to understand a few fundamental principles of the craft. Here are 3 quick tips for writing better headlines for your website. Take these to heart and you'll find writing headlines a lot less painful.

1. Understand the true purpose of a headline

First off, you need to have a clear understanding of what your headline is doing there. From all the confusion I see on websites, it's safe to say that many people don't understand the purpose of having a headline up there in the first place.

So what is the purpose of a headline?

Your headline's basic purpose is to get the reader interested enough to continue reading.

Not to make the sale. Not to be clever or artistic. Not to offer a riddle for them to solve.

It's just to get them into your copy so they'll read the next thing after your headline!

Think of your headline as the first step in a journey. Taking a journey is a pretty major thing. People don't do it lightly. They have to genuinely believe they'll get something worthwhile out of reading your copy before they'll take the plunge.

Readers come in all shapes and sizes, since they're people plain and simple, after all. But in general, readers of your copy have certain basic characteristics. A big one for your website copy's purposes is the “skimmer” mentality.

Most people are “skimmers”. I'm sure you skim a lot yourself. I know I do regularly. Very few of us are willing to sit down and read every word in every ad or newspaper story or magazine article just for the fun of it. So we glance at the headline quickly and decide in a split second whether or not we're going to continue reading. If it's compelling enough and clear enough, we'll read more.

Assume that every person who comes to your website will only skim your headline. Even if your reader is the most perfect prospect you could possibly find for your product or service, they'll most likely still skim read your headline.

So you need to work out specific strategies and tactics for getting these skimmers' attention.

2. Get their attention and target a strong emotion

There are three standard ways to get attention with your headline. These have been proven by copywriters for many decades now.

In their order of effectiveness they are:

1. Go after your prospect's self-interest
2. Offer your prospect news
3. Try to arouse your prospect's curiosity

Appealing to your prospect's self-interest is the most effective single method you can use to get their attention. Offer the reader something they want and can get from you -- a direct benefit. Here are two simple, generic examples of self-interest direct benefit headlines:

Add Another $1,000 A Month To Your Income

Want To Impress And Delight Your Friends And Family?

When appealing to your reader's self-interest, you must target a strong emotion. The first example above targets people's desire for more money. Most regular folks would certainly like to have another thousand dollars a month coming in. The second example targets people's sense of pride. Practically everybody wants to feel more important and look good in the eyes of their friends and family.

Your product or service has a strong emotional appeal built into it (if you haven't found it yet you'll need to do so right away). And there may even be more than one emotion involved. If so, then use the one which is the strongest and most positive for your headline.

Fear is an example of a negative emotion. Sure, you can sell using fear in a headline, but it's a dicey way to do business and can backfire on you. You could alienate your reader. Better to bring the fear angle in later in your copy in a “quieter” way, if you have to use it.

I once fell for a product because of a fear-mongering headline and fear-laden copy. And to this day I hold a grudge against that marketer. He'll never get any of my business again.

Remember to keep your target market's wants and desires in the front of your mind at all times. Find specific problems they have and need solutions for and use that knowledge to make your headline more targeted.

3. Combine methods and/or bring in your product or service to be even more specific

If you can combine two or even all three of these attention-getting methods in your headline, then so much the better. Using our headline examples from above, we could combine them like this:

Amazing New Report Reveals Simple Method For Adding $1,000 A Month To Your Income

Famous Conjurer's New Book Shows How You Can Easily Learn Memory Tricks That Will Impress And Delight Your Friends

These two headlines bring in news and even a bit of curiosity. And they're much more specific and targeted because they refer to the actual product being offered. That's a good thing.

But you don't need to combine attention-getting methods to make your headline more specific. By just adding your product or service you'll do a lot. Going back to our original headline examples, we can use only the self-interest angle (which, remember, is the most effective attention-getting method) and still make things much more specific.

Like this:

Add Another $1,000 A Month To Your Income With My Proven Trading Service

Impress And Delight Your Friends With These Simple Memory Tricks Anybody Can Learn

With your own product or service it should be fairly easy to follow this same route and craft a workable headline. But spend some time on it. The great copywriter Ted Nicholas says he spends 90% of his copywriting time on the headline. And you should do the same!

Remember, a decent headline not only grabs your reader, it also makes your job easier when writing the rest of your copy. The copy will flow smoothly out of that good headline, because the “table has been set”, so to speak.

So go to it and write that good headline. You'll be amazed at the difference it makes for you.

About the Author
Veteran educator and freelance writer Bruce Carlson would like to help you improve your online copywriting. Sign up for his highly informative Dynamic Copywriter newsletter at: