Headless Body in Topless Bar
I am pretty sure you are reading this blog post because you saw the title and thought to yourself…WHAT????? And that’s the point. Great headlines make a reader stop and pay attention. That is exactly what this headline did when it appeared in the NY Post in 1983.
Listening to an article about the author, Vincent Musetto, it occurred to me the medium has changed (there is no paper involved today) but the challenge is the same. As a writer, your job is to make potential readers stop and pay attention to what you have to say. In a digital world you need them to shift from scanning to reading. You do that with great headlines.
So whether you are writing titles for blog posts, subject lines for email newsletters or text snippets for social media posts, you need to choose your words with care. There are no hard-and-fast rules for the perfect headline but here are a few of my favorite traffic stopping headlines from the Roundpeg blog and the strategy I used to create them.
Surprise or shock
Vincent’s headline certainly fell into this category. The title was so outrageous, you just knew the story would be as well. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) there aren’t many dead bodies floating around the world of internet marketing. You can however, still create a bit of interest using unlikely metaphors.
Cocaine Marketing : It Takes More to Get High. This one surprised and even shocked a few people. Were we seriously talking about selling drugs?
Lead with action
Want a title which commands attention? Start the title with a verb. It is implied that you are speaking directly to the reader, calling them to action.
Look at me when I talk to you . This headline was effective because I led with a verb, but also because I was echoing a familiar phrase. As you read the headline you can almost hear your mother or teacher’ s voice telling you to look up and pay attention.
Negative phrases stand out
Every day, hundreds (maybe thousands) of blogs are written with titles which include the words improve, common mistakes or tips for success. They all sound nice, helpful and boring. Readers skip these nice, helpful articles to check out the “bad” ones.
Why People Hate Your Website. The word “hate” stops readers in their tracks. No one wants to be hated, so they had to come and find out what the article and white paper were about.
Keep them short
One of the casualties of the digital age is the attention span of your reader. They just won’t hang around for the punch line of a long headline. Compounding the problem is the fact that most email clients and search engines will truncate the long titles.
There aren’t many places to use great headlines like this one by advertising master David Ogilvy.
“At 60 Miles Per Hour The Loudest Noise In The New Rolls Royce Comes From The Electric Clock“
In one line, Ogilvy managed to connect the company name to a clear buyer benefit – Rolls Royce = Quiet Ride. Unfortunately, today the average reader will only see the first half, they won’t get the payoff.
The perfect headline
There is no one rule for great headlines. The trick is to mix it up, surprise and intrigue your readers. And most important, deliver great content to back up the promise made by your headline.
More on the subject of headlines
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A concise guide to the art of the headline.
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