The dos and don’ts of writing headlines
In my last blog, I focused on the importance of headlines and why they should never be underestimated.
Headlines are the most important part of your copy. Regardless of whether you’re writing a news article, social media update, eshot or newsletter, strong headlines encourage people to read on. According to advertising giant, David Ogilvy, ‘On average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy…’
Like most things in life, you’ve got to be prepared to invest time in working on your headlines. Here are some of my dos and don’ts for writing headlines:
DO: Understand the reader
How can you write headlines that grab people’s attention if you don’t know who you’re writing for? Before you start typing, you need to understand the reader by asking:
- Who is the target persona?
- What are their challenges?
- How does what I’m writing about help them overcome their challenge? (It’s crucial to always think ‘benefit’, scroll down for more details about being benefit-centric
- What’s the overall relevance of what I’m writing about to the reader?
- What type of words will most resonate with them?
If you want the best results, then you need to spend time doing your research. No matter how busy you might be, don’t go into it blindly. If you do, you might as well not write your headline at all.
DON’T: Be too generic
There’s nothing worse than receiving an email with a subject line that goes something along the lines of, ‘read this,’ ‘we miss you,’ ‘save money.’
Is ‘this’ relevant to me? Why am I missed, (I’ve not been away recently), and yes it would be great to save some money, but what on and how?
See how these lines are just plain old generic? Yes, they might be relevant to everybody, but the thing is, they’re so all-encompassing that they mean nothing to me plus, there’s no indication of where they’re from. If your headlines mean nothing to your reader, then they’re most probably going to turn the page, click away or scroll to the next post.
However, if they were more specific and said something like ‘Save £10 on your next meal at Café Bistro or ‘Read this to learn more about Art Den’s new exhibition’ then, I’m more likely to continue reading.
DO: Think benefit
Ideally, everything you write should be benefit-led. Taking this approach makes it clear to people what’s in it for them.
A lot of people tend to make the mistake of focusing on features rather than the key benefits of their product or service in both their headlines and body copy.
For instance, one-click financial reporting is a feature while being able to access information immediately is the benefit. Here’s another example – open all day, every day is the feature, the benefit is the fact people have the convenience of going there whenever they want to. See what I mean?
DON’T: Use puns
There’s a time and place for puns and headlines aren’t one of them. While you may be tempted to inject some humour into your news piece, blog article or email, with a pun, you run the risk of coming across as cheesy.
Yes, there are certain instances when puns do work, but only on rare occasions in my experience, such as light-hearted news stories and photo captions. As a general rule, (particularly if you’re writing B2B copy), it’s best to leave them for the tabloids.
DO: Ask a question
Questions are one of the most effective ways of instantly getting people’s attention.
However, you can’t just ask any old question. It needs to be something that’s relevant to the reader or that they would like to see answered. If you’ve taken the time to get into the mindset of your target persona, then you should have no problem in establishing the types of questions that are most likely to strike a chord with them.
DON’T: Waffle on
People are busy, they’re constantly bombarded with different messages and they don’t have time to read sentences that go on forever and a day.
As with all aspects of writing, it’s important to use Plain English and keep your headlines concise. Ideally, they should be around five words and definitely no longer than a sentence. Shorter, snappier headlines also translate better on social media, especially if you’re incorporating them within part of a post and want to stay within the character count.
I hope you’ve found this whistle stop tour of what you should and shouldn’t be doing when writing headlines useful. If you’d like more pointers on writing strong headlines or any other type of content or have any questions, get in touch by completing the contact form or emailing me at email@example.com.
At the start of this post I referenced personas – discover what they are and why they’re important when it comes to content writing by reading, ‘What are personas (and do they really matter?)’