Master the Art of Headline Writing!
Have you ever read a headline that made you stop what you were doing to read it again? We all have—from billboards to email subject lines and beyond. Nothing captures our attention quite like a good headline. After all, that’s the point!
Writing a good headline is much easier said than done. Anyone can cobble together a few words and call it a headline, but that doesn’t mean people will stop to give it a second glance. Headline writing is an art and one that any good copywriter would do well to master. Headlines are a fundamental part of every piece of advertising content out there. Being able to write great headlines is what will distinguish you from other writers—and drive the success of the ad campaigns you work on!
Here’s a short guide to great headline writing, including some behind-the-scenes ideas you can use to re-think how you’re approaching headlines.
Shorter is better
Stay concise! The shorter your headline is, the faster someone can read and digest it. The rule of thumb about length differs depending on the medium, but shorter is generally better. Here are some examples of target headline length:
Consider that the average length of a word is five characters and you’re looking at anywhere from eight to 16 words to get your point across in a headline. That’s not a lot of real estate!
Instead of looking at short headlines as a bad thing, look at them as a challenge. How quickly can you make your case? How creative can you be in communicating a big idea in a few words? The name of the game is to do more with less. It might take you a while to master that mindset, but once you do, you’ll start spinning headlines that are short, sweet and to-the-point.
Master the three types of appeals
In the simplest sense of the word, a headline is an appeal. You’re trying to grab someone’s attention and get them to keep reading. You’re making an appeal to their sense of… what? Well, depending on your approach, it could be one of three different types of appeals: pathos, ethos or logos.
Create urgency when possible
Urgency is a big hook for headlines—particularly email subject lines and social media posts. Copywriters can leverage urgency to convey importance with their headline, improving the chances that a reader will take the next steps, whether that’s clicking, calling, buying or reading.
There are a few ways to add urgency. The simplest is to denote a timeframe: today, right now, immediately, without delay, etc. Without urgency, people can take as long as they want to consider something. Given urgency, they opt to act for fear of missing out.
Urgency also comes from punctuation. A well-placed exclamation point can emphasize a statement and make it more important. Paired with an action word, it’s a recipe for urgency. A well-placed period can also separate parts of a headline to add emphasis and urgency to the former or latter half.
Here are two examples of the same headline, one urgent and one not:
Active voice is your friend when it comes to headlines. Not only does active voice offer a more succinct sentence formulation, it’s assertive. Active voice tells your audience what to do and doesn’t leave any room for interpretation. “Here’s What Experts Say About Manuka Honey” is a lot more assertive than “See What the Experts are Saying About Manuka Honey.” Subtle differences have big impacts.
Shock, intrigue and humor are your friends
Remember that headline that made you stop and re-read it? Why did it have that effect? Chances are, it either shocked you, intrigued you or made you laugh. These emotions are some of the most impulse that we have, which makes it wise to channel them into headline writing (where appropriate). Used correctly, these strategies have showstopping potential. Here are some examples:
Like all forms of professional development, great headline writing is the product of practice. The more headlines you write, the more confident you’ll become and the more attention-grabbing they’ll be. As an exercise, try writing 10 different headlines for the same piece of content, framing it 10 different ways. For beginners, it may seem impossible; however, as your skills develop, you’ll find yourself doing this out of habit!
Remember, headlines are what draw people in and convince them to pay attention. There’s no place for weak headlines in the world of marketing. Focus on learning how to write great ones and you’ll strengthen your copywriting capabilities overall.