What You Need To Know About Web Headlines

by Joe Pelissier on November 11, 2010

HeadlinesHere’s a sad fact.  You may spend hours crafting a piece of articulate web copy but, unless the headline attracts attention, your labours are likely to go unnoticed.

The copywriter, David Ogilvy, referred to headlines as the ‘price tag’. The marketing expert, Dan Kennedy, likes to think of them as ‘bait’. All I know is that getting good at writing them is an essential part of web copywriting.

Your headline is your title. And, contrary to what most people think, headlines don’t belong exclusively to the press, advertising or those trying to market snake-oil potions.

Headlines are a powerful communication tool whatever your line of business.

On the web, all information and knowledge is fighting a fierce battle to be read.  And often, the only way to get read is with a headline that grabs your readers’ attention and propels them to read what follows.

Why are Headlines SO Important?

There are hundreds of reasons but, from a web writing point of view, headlines

  1. Capture Attention – 78% of the time readers scan text looking for key words or phrases that resonate with what is already going on in their mind.  You want to capture their attention as early as possible.
  2. Enhance Scanning – you already know that readers scan, so work with this in mind. Give sub-headings the same consideration as main headings. When readers are drawn in by your main headline, they will naturally scan the sub-headings.
  3. Reduce Wasteful Reading Time – web pages are about speed; about giving the most amount of information in the least amount of time. Good headings and sub-headings save your readers time because they can quickly decide if they want what you offer.

Help! How Do I Write Great Headlines?

Relax.  You want to write effective headlines.

Headlines that try to be witty and clever often don’t work that well. That’s because the ‘cleverness’ is usually linked to the text in the copy which the reader hasn’t had a chance to read.

Headlines are also formulaic. Bob Bly in his book, The Copywriters Handbook, gives 8 basic headline types and up to 38 different headline categories.

The lesson here is to swipe and deploy‘.  Creating a compelling headline out of thin air is hard.

A far better approach is to take headlines that are proven to work and edit them to suit your own purpose.

‘How to get 17,00 blooms from a Single Plant’

This is the ‘How to’ approach linked to the ‘numbers and statistics’ category.

Help me again. I don’t have the Time to study Headlines

Of course you don’t. But, at this stage,  I just want you to give them more of your undivided attention. You’ll soon start to see the benefits…

And here are 5 useful headline tips:

  1. Always make sure your keyword is in your headlines
  2. Write them as long as they need to be – selling your wonderful content is almost impossible with only a couple of words
  3. Put the first letter in caps.  Yes, this is a filthy American habit that we Europeans hate but it is proven to attract readership. You can make an exception with sub-headings…
  4. Make them specific and useful – it removes the pressure of trying to win a copywriting award
  5. Write lots – often the first few you come up with are rubbish.

Do I write my headline before or after I have written the web page content?

Good question. It’s up to you.

Some writers like to come up with the headline first and then base what they write on it. They believe that if the headline is right, everything else will fall into place.

Most writers tend to write the piece, get a feel for it and then come up with the headline. I do a mixture of both.

Here’s my favourite headline:

“At 60 Miles an Hour, the Loudest Noise in This New Rolls-Royce Comes from the Electric Clock”

(now read my tips again…)

It was written by David Ogilvy in 1958 and is estimated to have helped bump sales by 40%. But even Ogilvy was a thief.  Apparently he ‘swiped’ the text from a 1933 car advertisment.

Related Posts

If you found this helpful, you will want to read other posts in the Web Copywriting Category.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Robert Wilde December 6, 2013 at 7:06 pm

Love all the tips since I am a neophyte in the online writing world. Most important lesson learned from the article is that 50% of spend only 8 seconds searching for something that interests them. So I better spend time on making my headlines meaningful, interesting and pregnant with good SEO keywords to reach out to a broader audience. Headlines are like a good sentence: no wasted words.

Love the concept of headlines as price tags..if the price is right you got my attention.

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