Headline, title, lead, opener – however you refer to it, the headline is the first impression your audience gets.
Whether read in a print piece or heard on radio or TV, the headline can spell the difference between success or failure: Is that first impression exciting and attention-grabbing? Does the headline offer useful information or news or promise readers they will gain something? Does the headline motivate the reader to keep reading, or make the listener continue to pay attention to what follows?
Whatever type of piece you are writing, the headline has to deliver, if it’s going to beat the competition and win people’s attention.
The secret that powers every successful headline is simple. The winners answer the most important question people ask themselves every time they read or hear a headline: What’s in it for me?
If a headline makes you interested in knowing more, it’s done its job, which is to:
- Grab your attention.
- Appeal to your self-interest.
- Deliver the main message.
- Persuade you to continue reading or listening.
Here are four sure-fire tips for writing headlines that get the job done.
This type of headline directly states what will follow. It clearly summarizes the message in the piece without using wordplay, hidden meanings, cleverness, or oblique references.
Select an important benefit that appeals to your readers’ self-interest, and then craft a statement that is bold, direct and perhaps even a little dramatic. For example:
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Keep it short. Keep it simple. The “direct” headline gets right to the point.
“How To” Headline
This one has been called “pure magic” in its ability to draw attention and compel people to continue reading or listening.
The “how to” headline dangles an irresistible promise before the reader: Listen to me. Pay attention to me. I can help you solve a problem. I can answer your question. I can help you learn something you want to know. For example:
How to Easily Save $300 a Month
How to Get More Sleep
How to Communicate Well
The “how to” says you are not alone. It relieves stress. It brings hope. This headline assures readers that others share their concern or have the same problem and, best of all, promises: You can fix it, solve it, learn it, overcome it—and here’s how.
When you use the “question” headline, remember to focus on your audience. It’s all about their self-interest, so address your question to them. What fires up their curiosity? What fears or needs can your headline appeal to? For example:
What Won’t the Neighbors Tell You?
Which Foods Can Keep You Looking Young?
Is Your Air-Conditioner Costing You More Than It Should?
The “reason-why” headline is useful when you want to list the features of your product or service. It is also a good hook for pieces that offer advice or something to learn. For example:
Three Reasons Why You Should Get a College Degree
Six Ways of Chic Dressing on a Tight Budget
Five Steps to Looking Better and Living Longer
These headline types are tested and proven—just look around and see what draws your attention. Ask your family, friends and colleagues. Ask businesspeople. Ask other writers. Do some research on what makes a headline effective.
Your challenge, as a writer, is to create headlines and titles that compel people to focus their attention on what you have to say and stay glued to every word.
Now it’s your turn: What sorts of headlines appeal to you? Writers, which headlines have worked well for you? Do you have any analytical insights into headline effectiveness? Please share your thoughts in the comments – thanks! Elizabeth Lexleigh LexPower The Writer Ideas