Question - Why have newspapers used headlines for hundreds of years? Answer - because they help sell newspapers. Naturally headlines are tools that are designed to build interest.
Look at this headline from the AP today:
Terrorists 'invited to dinner' died in airstrike
Now, imagine the headline said something like:
Conditions under which airstrike conducted
Blaaah! Yuck - uninteresting. I probably wouldn't click unless i was already interested in reading a story on the airstrike in Pakistan.
Headlines work the same way in advertising, be it print, direct mail, email, web, television, radio whatever. Of course in radio and TV there's no real analog for the headline. As a rule of thumb we'll say that in radio and TV the headline equates to the first three seconds of the spot.
How may TV spots do you see every day with a weak opening? A lot. Of course these ads get more people to go to the fridge for a snack then they do to pay attention.
So the job of the headlines to get you interested in the rest of the piece - whether it's a magazine article, or a web ad. If you can't get people to give up their time and attention on your ad, then you're not going to sell them anything.
"The headline is the 'ticket on the meat.' Use it to flag down readers who are prospects for the kind of product you are advertising ."
David Ogilvy is one of the most influential ad men in history. His ads built empires. If you want to learn about good advertising - study Ogilvy.
So just how important is a good headline? Well I have spoken to several direct marketing people about this very subject. They test everything, and have told me that sometimes just changing a word or two in a headline can increase response rate 18 or 20 times. That has pretty powerful for us in the small business world.
Who wouldn't kill to increase the response rate to their advertising by just 10-25% let alone 1800-2000%?
So your next question is probably, "what makes a good headline?" The answer may be simple, but the execution can be difficult. Good headlines capture the reader's attention and make them want to pay attention to the rest of the ad.
There are tons of formulas out there for writing powerful and effective headlines. The problem with formulas is that they may work in some situations and not others. Headlines have to be considered in scope of the entire ad and with the target market. I believe that many people make the mistake of seeing a good headline and basically copying it inappropriately.
I might scratch my eyes out the next time I see a headline that reads, "Who else wants ...?" or "they all laughed when I ... but then I ...". This is just lazy copywriting, and there's a lot of it. The problem is that people get desensitized about the 100th time they read the same headline with a couple of words changed.
Another losing headline strategy is to use hyperbole to the point that it taints the rest of your ad. If your headline reads like SPAM mail - forget it! "You'll get $4,973,146 working just six hours a week." Yuck!
So what are some good things to keep in mind when writing a headline?
- You can use a headline to get attention from your target market: Attention left-handed golfers...
- You can put a compelling promise out front: End The Agony Of ...
- You can relay some compelling news: Our new ...
- You can begin to tell a compelling story: Last month I was nearly homeless and then...
There's a lot of argument about a good headline length. I don't see any evidence for a hard and fast rule. I have read great 3 word headlines and 100 word, multi-sentence headlines. If the headline does it's job well, who really cares?
Look at the opening lines of the letters you write, or your web site, or the subject line of your email. Does it make people want to read the rest of your message? If not, go back to work!
J D Moore - Marketing Comet