Are you harnessing the power of your headlines to keep customers reading?

Did you know that while eight out of ten people will read headline copy, only two out of ten will read the rest?David Ogilvy quote about the importance of a strong headline in copywriting

I remember my jaw hitting the ground when I first read this figure early in my copywriting career. I realised then just how crucial a good headline is. It needs to grab attention and get people reading, or your subsequent words – no matter how well crafted – won’t get a chance to do their job.

I once read that you should spend half your time writing a piece of persuasive content on the headline, drafting and redrafting until you hit upon the right combination of words.

So, what makes a compelling headline? And what can you do to harness its power to ensure your blog is read or your services sell? Here are five tips to help you craft attention-grabbing headlines.


1.       Focus on the reader

As with any copy you write, never lose sight of your customer. Your headline has to grab their attention. Remember, when people read sales and marketing copy, their overriding question is, “What’s in it for me?” Your headline should tell people why they need to read on at a glance by promising the reward of a problem solved, a simpler life, or a mistake avoided.

2.       Make your headline intriguing and believable

Headlines have impact when they carry the promise of a better life or a hitherto unknown answer. People love the idea of being let in on a secret, which is why they respond to intrigue. They also respond to knowing that others have experienced a product or service before them and benefitted from that decision.

A word of warning – don’t make promises you can’t keep (unless you’re being very obviously tongue in cheek). If your headline promises more than you can deliver, people will pretty soon cotton on and you risk losing their valuable trust.

3.       Create a strong, actionable emotion

Identify your customers fear and offer a solutionBy understanding your ideal customer, it’s easier to think your way into their mind set. What feelings do they have that your product or service could help them with? Are they scared about making a mistake or missing out on something? Do they want people to look up to them or do they aspire to be like someone in the public eye? Perhaps they want to make a change in their life but they want support while they do it? A powerful headline taps into those feelings and prompts the reader to act on them.

4.       Think about including an offer or proposed transaction

Considering that you only have one chance to make a first impression and grab attention with your headline, many businesses understandably favour the direct headline approach. This means stating your selling proposition directly – ‘Shrinking violet body wraps – lose inches while our 30% discount saves you pounds. Ends Friday!’  The strength of this approach is that it lays out what you’re selling from the outset. Even if people don’t read further than the headline, they know exactly what it is they’re missing out on by not reading.

5.       Convey the benefits

Benefits not features – I know I keep coming back to this but it’s important. Your copy, especially your headline, should always focus on the benefits of what you’re talking about, not a dry list of features.

One of the most famous headlines ever written was by ‘The father of advertising’, David Ogilvy, for Rolls Royce. He is said to have rewritten it 104 times before he was happy with the result but, as you can see, it certainly focuses on benefits, not features:

At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock.

In this headline, Ogilvy didn’t once mention the engine, the manufacturing process, the technology, any of the nuts and bolts specs of the car. Instead, he focused on the peace and quiet in the car, even at great speed. This is a headline that promises status, speed and a unique driving experience. No wonder it’s a headline that has endured for decades.

My final word of advice for now is to keep your headlines simple and remember their purpose to hook the reader’s attention. Although there are no cast iron guarantees, a great headline gives you a much great chance of your copy being read. Just make sure the main body copy keeps up the high standards you’ve set with your headline. If you’re not sure how, remember that a copywriter can help you achieve this.

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As ever, I’d love to hear your comments, thoughts and questions about this blog.

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