We’ve all been there. You have a piece of content that’s absolutely brilliant, yet you’re still unsure of how to write the perfect headline. Should it be funny or serious? Can you be playful, or do you instead have to adhere to a set professional protocol? Should you go long, or do you want to cut to the chase? Before you become completely overwhelmed, stop to think about why headlines are so important for your content and how you intend to inspire people to stop and read instead of continuing to scroll on by!
“The headline is the ad for the ad. It has to grab someone’s attention and get them to read the next line. After they do, they’ll be more likely to continue and be in a position to take the desired call to action,” said Lewis Goldstein who runs Blue Wind Marketing, a full-service marketing and advertising agency.
3 tips that will improve your headline writing
1. Don’t strain yourself.
A wise person once said “Overthinking a headline is the death of a headline.” Okay, nobody actually ever said that, but it should definitely be a thing.
Thomas J. Madden, CEO of TransMedia Group, said “I’ve been designing engaging bell-ringer headlines throughout my eclectic career. What’s my secret sauce? Keep ‘em brief, crispy, different and if possible, funny or cute without straining too hard.”
That could mean cutting out any excess words and going for the quick laugh, nod or moment of self-recognition. But like everything else you work on, make sure to be sensitive to the way a sentence might read once you cut out the filler. How many of us have groaned reading an edited sentence or slogan that ended up being offensive instead of adorable? If you’re struggling to gain attention, try appealing to people’s natural sense of curiosity.
“Curiosity is one of the most effective ways to get someone’s attention. People are naturally curious.” But be careful when you do, since to mangle the classic idiom, the road to hell is paved with clickbait.
Madden shared one he wrote for a client he describes as someone who builds and designs the world’s most beautiful pool tables.
Aye Aye, Captain Dan, eight ball in starboard pocket on first pool table aboard Winterfest Boat Parade
2. Cast a wide net.
Goldstein, who’s worked with brands such as Bentley, Rolls-Royce and Lamborghini, shared a key tip to keep in mind when crafting your headline: “People respond to a desire or a pain point. Every person has a different buying strategy. In order to appeal to the widest range of people, it’s important to use different hooks.”
To that end, Goldstein offers a few strategies:
A headline can be a statement or a question. It all depends on what you are looking to accomplish. Test to see what performs better. You’ll never know until you see how the market responds.
3. Pay attention to the visuals.
I work as a copywriter for many ad agencies on top-secret launches, which means that while I might have the bare-bones sketch of a new product launch, I’m not the first with access to the branding or visuals. When you’re working on a highly visual campaign, bear in mind that your headline is acting almost as an assistant to the main course.
In fact, in almost exclusively visual mediums, you should actually tailor your content to be the backup singer and not the opening act.
As Goldstein shared:
Given how visual YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram are, the creative is more important than the headline. That doesn’t mean to overlook having a strong headline, but what elements to prioritize for that marketing channel.
Some memorable headlines and ads to inspire you:
- Air Asia had this brilliant headline: “Cheap enough to say, Phuket, I’ll go.”
- When Apple updated its processor in 1999 they shared this gem: “Absolute Power Corrupts. Enjoy.” It’s fine to wink at your audience and let them know you know they’re in on the joke.
- One of the most famous tabloid headlines of all time was in the New York Post in 1996 “Headless Body In Topless Bar.” Was it cheesy? Sure it was. But nearly 25 years later everyone remembers exactly where they read it.
- Corvette once ran an ad with the tagline, “They don’t write songs about Volvos.” No, they most certainly do not.
- One of Buzzfeed’s most-shared stories had this headline: “Cute girl, dead squirrel.” C’mon. You know you’re curious enough to click.
- A story on how to write great headlines on Inc.com used the most clickable phrase known to headline writers everywhere: “Will make you.” The headline? “This new data will make you rethink how you write headlines.”