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