In an earlier post, I said that a headline is “an ad for your ad.” Now, keep in mind in this digital age, that a “headline” doesn’t necessarily have to be a traditional headline for an advertisement or a news story, the way most people think of a headline.
This could be a blog post title (like the one above) or a web page or online article title–even a Facebook status update with a link to a content source like an article, video or audio file, or a Twitter tweet with a URL (although Facebook and Twitter users must tread very lightly here because being artificially “salesy” or too commercial-sounding turns a lot of people off–regardless of what you have to say).
The main thing is that your “headline” is the attention grabber. And as attention grabber, it better have these two qualities: it better be PERSUASIVE enough to get your reader’s attention, and it better be REWARDING enough to show your reader some kind of benefit for reading (or listening or watching).
That’s why, as a copywriter writing an ad for you (let’s say), it’s always my “aim in life”–as Victor Schwab puts it in his book, How to Write a Good Advertisement–to try to make it harder for people to pass up your advertisement than to read it!
And the best way to do that, I’ve found, is to craft a headline that has this two-part goal in mind: to persuade and to reward.
So, what kinds of “rewards” should a headline promise?
Well, generally they should promise one of two things, one positive, one negative.
They should either promise to show the reader how to gain, save or accomplish something desirable (positive); or else show how to avoid, eliminate or reduce risk of something undesirable (negative).
Now, to be specific as to what makes a good headline, let’s be, well, specific.
Remember, your reader is not interested in YOU and how great you are and how great your company is and how great your product or service is and so forth and so on. (That’s why “claim-and-boast” headlines don’t work.) Your reader wants to know IMMEDIATELY, right here, right now, what you can do for HIM (or her)–how your product or service or idea can help solve HIS problem, alleviate HIS pain, give HIM what he wants, or take away (or avoid) what HE doesn’t want. (And that’s why consumer-benefit headlines DO work.)
We’re dealing with human nature here, folks, so the best thing to do is to work WITH it, not against it!
So, what kinds of things do most people want to “gain” or somehow acquire an increase of?
Mental, physical, financial, social improvement and success, emotional, spiritual well-being, satisfaction, security, just to name a few.
And what kinds of things do most people want to avoid, reduce or eliminate or somehow see a decrease of in their daily lives?
Risks (of all kinds), worries, losses, mistakes, embarrassment, drudgery; fear of poverty (and of course, poverty itself), sickness, accidents, discomfort, boredom; loss of business, social prestige or advancement.
If your headline is written in such a way as to promise any one or combination of these things, in a compelling, convincing and intriguing way, believe me, you will find a ready AUDIENCE within your market, that’s willing to LISTEN to what you have to say.
Bottom line: your headline should STOP your reader right where he’s sitting, or standing (hopefully not driving)–on the screen or on the page–long enough to make him or her say, Tell me MORE