A common mistake many make when writing headlines (or really any sort of advertising/marketing copy) is to make them cute or catchy.
Avoid gimmicks. According to successful freelance copywriter and professor of the online San Francisco School of Copywriting, Amy Posner, ‘cute’ is forgettable and it does not deliver the results you need.
The most important thing to remember when writing copy – and we will explore this concept at length in a future piece – is that it is not about being original, creative, or funny. It is about sales and achieving a return on your investment (ROI). Losing money for your client or your business is no laughing matter so stay focused on your objective.
Keeping in mind the following questions when writing headlines will help to focus and guide your writing.
1) Who am I writing to? Always write your headlines – and all of your copy for that matter – as if you are addressing it to only one person. Visualize that person. What does he need? What are his problems, desires, and challenges and how are you going to help him meet those needs? You are not writing to everyone. You are writing to a target audience. According to Robert Bly, author of the Copywriter’s Handbook, selecting an audience is your first step.
2) What problems are you solving?
3) What are the key benefits and features of this product or service?
4) What action do I want the reader to take? Be specific.
It is also very important to make sure your headline draws the reader into the body copy, especially if the product you are marketing is not something that can be quickly explained in a brief headline.
Some people strongly advocate writing your headline before writing the rest of the piece. Others write the rest of the piece and write the headline afterward. Still, other copywriters advise it is best to come up with a few possible headlines, write the body copy, and then go back to the headline. Personally, I think the second or the third approach works best for me. No doubt passionate arguments can be made for all three options. It is really up to the individual copywriter to discover what works best for him or her.
According to Posner, headlines should be specific and intriguing, but never tell the whole story. Rather, a headline should build anticipation and lead up to the big idea. This brings to mind one of my favorite quotes written by Voltaire: “The secret of being a bore is to tell everything.” If Voltaire were a copywriter, he no doubt would have added the phrase “in the headline” to that quote. We copywriters and marketers are not in the business of boring people! We are storytellers of the highest order. We inspire people to care about whatever it is we are writing about.
Headlines must capture attention and interest. They must engage readers and draw them into the body copy. The purpose of the body copy is to prove and support your headline.
In the next post, we will examine several types of headlines.