The Art Of The Headline – Writing One That Gets Read

The Art Of The Headline – Writing One That Gets Read

I’ve been hunting for good blogs to add to my RSS and came across copyblogger. They’re doing a great series of lessons on copywriting, and this one about writing an eyecatching headline is SPOT ON. I’ve cross-posted to share the intellectual wealth.

Lesson #2: Man’s Head Explodes
in Barber’s Chair

image of barber's chair

Today we’re going to jump into the second pillar of Internet Marketing for Smart People, which is copywriting. More specifically, direct response copywriting, which is used by direct marketers to trigger very specific responses from readers.

The first thing you should know is that copywriting and content are two different critters. Related, but different. We’ll talk lots more about that as we go forward.

One thing they do have in common, though, is that they both need fantastic headlines.

The headline for this lesson is from Dean Reick’s “Direct Creative Blog.” You can read the article here:

21 Great Headlines from Trashy Tabloids

Most of us glance at the tabloids when we’re in line at the supermarket and figure they’re written for (and by) morons.

But the truth is, smart copywriters study them, because cheesy tabloids are masters of the #1 copywriting skill: the art of the headline.

Take a look at these three Copyblogger lessons on precisely how you can adapt an existing successful headline (like one on a tabloid or a popular magazine) for your own content.

This is also a great technique if you’re a bit stumped for a post topic. Mentally translating a tabloid headline to your own topic can spur all kinds of creative ideas.

If your headline fails, you might as well go home

If your headline is boring, or wimpy, or doesn’t capture anyone’s attention, the game is over.

Your headline has one job, and one job only:

The job of the headline is to get the first line of your copy read.

(“Your copy” in this case might be a blog post, a sales letter, a landing page, or even a lesson in a free e-course.)

If the headline does that job, it worked.

If it doesn’t do that job, it failed.

Great headlines can also do tricky things like make people want to Digg, Stumble, re-Tweet, or otherwise share your work.

What headlines don’t do, and don’t need to do, is to “sell” anything. They don’t have to deliver your biggest promise, or communicate a customer benefit, or some of the other stuff you may have read about.

(I’m not saying it’s bad to put a promise or a benefit into a headline. But you do it because it works to get the first line of copy read.)

And because headlines do fail sometimes (happens to the best of us!), here’s a Copyblogger lesson on one that didn’t do well for us . . . and how we tweaked it to work better:

One Big Way to Avoid a Headline Fail

Why you want to write great headlines

More people will read your headline than anything else you write.

They read it in your Twitter stream, they see it fly by in their RSS reader, and it shows up in their email in-box.

Mastering headlines doesn’t automatically make you a great copywriter, but it is a skill you’ll need if you want to effectively market anything.

If you haven’t yet read the 11-part Copyblogger series on “How to Write Magnetic Headlines,” here’s the complete list for you:

  1. Why You Should Always Write Your Headline First
  2. The Cheater’s Guide to Writing Great Headlines
  3. Do Key Words in Post Titles Really Matter?
  4. How to Write a Killer “How To” Post That Gets Attention
  5. 7 Reasons Why List Posts Will Always Work
  6. Why Some People Almost Always Write Great Post Titles
  7. 10 Sure-Fire Headline Formulas That Work
  8. 9 Proven Headline Formulas That Sell Like Crazy
  9. 7 More Sure-Fire Headline Templates That Work
  10. Warning: Use These 5 Surefire Headline Templates at Your Own Risk
  11. The Art of Writing Great Twitter Headlines

What else gets read?

The other places you want to have great, compelling content are your first paragraph, your image captions, any P.S. you might have, and your subheads.

(Subheads are the second-level headlines you see in a post like this one that break up the copy, like “What else gets read?” above.)

Those are the most-read elements of any kind of copy, whether you’re sending out a 28-page paper sales letter or a Twitter Tweet.

The same skills that will make you a great headline writer will also serve you well when you’re putting these elements together.

For more ideas on subheads, check out The Deceptively Simple Steps to Persuasive Writing that Works

Content vs. copywriting

Remember at the beginning of this article, I mentioned that content and copy are two different critters?

The main purpose of copy is to persuade. The main purpose of content is to create trust, familiarity, and warm fuzzy feelings in your audience. A smart 21st-century strategy uses both.

Used together, direct response copywriting and social media-style content are much more powerful than either one used independently.

Leave a Reply