Posted on March 17, 2000
by Tony L. CallahanAre you one of the millions of marketers out there who thinks that it is their sterling copy that induces a customer to buy the product? If so, have I got news for you. The results of my own research, conducted over the past thirty six months, involving scores of ads in hundreds of publications, indicates otherwise.
Utilizing the same body copy, effectively written headlines produced fifteen times more sales than poorly written headlines. Don't believe me? Then read what David Ogilvy, of Ogilvy and Mather advertising agency fame has to say about it:
"On the average, five times as many people read the headlines as read the body copy. It follows that, unless your headline sells your product, you have wasted 90 percent of your money."
Clearly all of us, professional copywriters, marketing gurus and home business people alike, need to become better at writing headlines. Unfortunately, there is a wealth of misinformation out there on this subject.
Let me begin by stating that I do not believe there are any "experts" in this field. I am not an expert, merely a student. I am writing this article because I believe that many of you out there may benefit from my experience in the school of hard knocks.
First, we need to define the true purpose of a headline. An effective headline will do many things at once. It will attract the readers attention, convey benefit by appealing to the readers self interest and it will set the expectation for what is to come. An effective headline will also serve as a filter, selecting the correct audience for the copy that follows.
So what are the characteristics of a good headline? First and foremost, an effective headline must be believable. Most people believe that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If your product really can make me: irresistibly attractive to the opposite sex, a millionaire in ten minutes, or cause my hair to return overnight, save those claims for the copy. In the headline, they will most likely scare your potential customer away before you have had the chance to explain why these miracles will occur.
Effective headlines are short. Politicians have learned this lesson very well, they refer to these short "headlines" as sound bites. They use them because peoples attention span is generally short, sound bites are memorable. A good headline is like a good sound bite, short and memorable. Two rules to make your headlines more memorable: 1) Never use more than fifteen words. 2) Use quotation marks. To shorten your headlines, eliminate adverbs and adjectives, save them for the ad copy where they can be justified. This will also help eliminate some of the sensationalism, making your headline more believable.
Effective headlines are easy to read. When typesetting your headlines don't use flowery fonts, reverse type, all caps or italics. Many people find these difficult to read and will skip them entirely. Again, you don't have to believe me, look at your local newspaper. Chance are good they utilize a simple, easy to read type style such as Times Roman.
Headlines that stir the emotions will make more sales. Emotions motivate people into action, the stronger the emotion, the more prompt the action. Therefore, headlines that make the reader curious, fearful, excited or protective will produce the best results. Use the first or second person in your headlines and make sure that all verbs are in the present tense. This will make you headlines more imperative, motivating more people to take immediate action.
Now that we have covered the presentation issues, we are ready to look at the details of the headline copy. I said earlier that the first purpose of a headline is to grab the readers attention. To accomplish this, use strong action words and phrases. Below I have listed just a few of the words and phrases I have found to be very effective at grabbing the readers attention.
Advice... Facts You... Last Minute... Save...
Amazing... Finally... Love... Secrets Of...
Announcing... Free... Luxury... Security...
At Last... Growth... New... Show Me...
Bargains... Hate... Obsession... Starter Kit...
Breakthrough... Here... Only... Share...
Boom... How Much... Protect... The Truth Of...
Discover... How To... Rewards... Yes...
Do You... How Would... Sale... You...
After grabbing your readers attention, you want to further entice them by spelling out, in a few words, what it is your product will do for them. To do this, you must know a little about your target audience. What are they interested in? What are their priorities? What makes them take action? Craft your headlines to use words and phrases that will pique your potential buyers interest. If you are targeting entrepreneurs, try phrases such as "Lower Your Taxes" or "Increase Profits". If your product happens to be diet aids, try "Lose 20 Pounds In 20 Days".
Be careful here. This is the point where headlines tend to get unbelievable. Make sure that your claims are truthful and that your copy supports their truthfulness.
Once you have a grasp of these basics, write as many headlines as you can think of. Write variations of the same headline until you have exhausted all the ideas you can come up with. This will be difficult at first, but it will become easier with practice.
After you have your list of headlines, test each one against the criteria set for a good headline. Is it truthful? Does it grab the readers attention? Does it convey a benefit that the reader will be interested in? If a potential headline does not meet these three criteria, rework it or eliminate it from your list. After you have a short list of headlines, test market them using a trusted family member, friend or associate. Eliminate those headlines that they feel don't make the grade.
Once you have your revised short list, try some test marketing. Use the free classifieds to see which headlines draw the most interest. Keep track of which ones make the most sales. After all, it is sales, not just traffic that you are after. After a few weeks, you should have a couple of real gems that you can start to seriously promote.
By following the steps I have outlined, you will not become a
headline writing guru overnight. Additionally, a good headline
will not sell an undesirable or overpriced product. However, if
you integrate these steps into your headline writing process,
practice and put forth the effort required, you will improve the
quality of your headlines. And there is no doubt that better
quality headlines will result in more drawing power and interest
in your product.
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