Writing Headlines for Copy

Copywriting is an essential part of the marketing process. There is a lot of competition out there for freelance copywriters, so how do you make yourself a cut above the rest? Well, there are several things you need to know about writing good copy that will encourage clients to buy into your products or services. But before they even start reading your text, you need to get them interested in the ad.

This article will explore several factors that are important to consider when copywriting, particularly when it comes to catching customers’ eyes and encouraging them to read on. It’s vital to know how to do this. Think about how many ads you see in a day, even just in one magazine issue. People nowadays are bombarded with information in the form of articles, with advertorials and marketing slotted in between. This constant flow of information can easily make your ad fade into the background, but not if you know how to grab the audience’s attention.

The first impression

Even a strong advert won’t perform well if it has a weak first impression. The audience filters out all the information they are seeing by selecting which parts to read and which parts aren’t important. How do they do this? By looking at the visuals and the headlines, or whichever bit stands out most depending on the medium.

In a magazine, for example, the headline and visuals matter most; on a website, it’s the homepage; in an e-mail, it’s the subject line. In essence, you need to be familiar with which marketing technique you are using, and how to best exploit this medium.

The body text is nothing without achieving a good first impression, because people simply won’t bother to read on.

The headline

On the subject of headlines, you need to know what makes a good one. A lot of copywriters opt for ‘cliché’ headlines, making use of puns and humor to catch attention. However, the reality of sales is that people want to be sure about the merchandise, not entertained by the salesperson.

This calls for headlines that promise the reader some kind of benefit. “How to” headlines or ones that ask questions are likely to engage readers. For example, in Marketingprofs.com used this headline time ago: Do You Know the Secret of World-Class Sales Organizations? It is great because readers are promised the reward of learning this secret if they read the article.

Functions of headlines

Headlines can be used to:

  • Get attention
  • Select the audience
  • Deliver a message
  • Draw the reader in

Stimulating, fun headlines are all well and good, but they’re useless if they’re irrelevant. Without a benefit, potential customers will avoid the ad and you’ll make no sales.

Headlines should also select the audience in some way. Obviously, certain products are marketed at a specific demographic, and this should come across in the headline. For example, selling Spanish courses in China does not require an ad that appeals to Spanish expats; even when they could be interested in the content, they are not going to hire the services!

Research has shown that four out of five readers skip the ad after reading the headline. For this reason, some authors say it can be useful to deliver the whole message right there in the headline. Try including the company name and selling promise in the headline; this might make you some sales without people even bothering to read the copy.

But the Internet is different. Most of search engines take into consideration the CTR = the proportion of people that click to visit your article when they see your headline. The most clicks you get, the best ranking you get. So for the Internet while having a promise is great, having all the information may be counterproductive.

Many products and, in particular, services, require a lot of information to be given before the reader is convinced. Therefore, the headline must get the reader’s interest so that he or she is willing to read on a little more. In this case, less is more – leave the reader wanting to know more, leave them a little curious. This way, they will be encouraged to read on.

Types of Headlines

If you know anything about marketing, you’ll know that staying ahead of the game requires originality and variation. That said, it also means sticking to things that work. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! Below are several different formulas identified by Bob Bly (by the way I highly recommend his books) for headlines that are proven to work.

Direct Headlines

These state things without any ambiguity. Direct headlines tell the reader exactly what they’re getting, straight to the point without any wordplay. Retailers usually use these to announce sales and offers.

Indirect Headlines

These make the point in a not-so-direct way. Remember talking about piquing interest? These are the headlines that raise curiosity and encourage the reader to find out more. Sometimes, they use things like double meaning that force the reader to engage with the body text in order to find out the real meaning.

News Headlines

Words like “new”, “introducing” and “discovery” deliver an announcement about the product. Readers know that the product is new or updated, and this obviously encourages sales. Consumers always want to get their hands on the latest stuff, which is why news headlines work.

How-to Headlines

So many ad headlines start with “how to”, and there’s a reason for that – it works. They offer a quick fix for whatever problem your demographic is facing, which is why this is the default formula for many marketers.

Question Headlines

Once again, question headlines incite curiosity in the reader, willing them to read on with the hidden promise of finding an answer to that question.

Command Headlines

These utilise Call to Action (CTA) phrases that are oh-so-useful for marketers. Imperatives can easily encourage readers to follow your command and, as a result, buy the product.

Reasons Why Headlines

These headlines include a number, such as “4 ways to,” “12 reasons why”, or something to that effect. They tell the audience exactly what they’re going to get in the copy, which can be an effective technique to get them to read on.

Testimonial Headlines

Nothing makes a sale like evidence that the product works. Putting the headline in quotation marks indicates that it is testimonial evidence backing up the product, which definitely gives the reader more incentive.

Switching between different types is enough variation in the copywriting world. That said, never be afraid to try other techniques if you’re comfortable enough to take a risk and see if it pays off.

Final Thoughts

Copywriting requires a good grasp of how to write hard-hitting headlines that work. As with any marketing technique, this requires a little trial and error as you grow as a copywriter. Try using the above formulas and keep in mind the function of headlines to make sure that your copy grabs attention from the get go.

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