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The secret to writing headlines that sell

Eight out of 10 people will only read your ad, online or direct marketing headline. So if you want to improve your conversion rates, you need one that really grabs them.

The most important 5-9 words you’ll ever write 

Headlines need to grab your target market’s attention, and make them want to know more. And time-strapped readers filter very aggressively so your headline has to be immediately attractive. There’s a tried and tested way to get them to read on. You have to spell out the benefits of what you’re offering in order to appeal to their self interest. That’s because benefit based headlines consistently get better results over those that merely pique curiosity.

The importance of headlines in the digital age

In the digital age there’s an even more important reason to employ a killer headline, and that’s helping your reader to find you in the first place. Subscribers to news feeds, Digg and Delicious as well as the readers of webpages which link to your blog, will only see your headline. So it has to be strong enough to make them want to click through to read on.

Start with the headline

It’s best to start with your headline as it will help to focus the rest of what you write. Your reader wants to know what’s in it for them, and a headline is a ‘promise’ that you make to the reader, which you have to fulfil in the body copy. Obviously, you’re going to find it hard to do that if you haven’t made the promise first. If you find your headline hard to write, it can be a sign that you’re not clear on who you’re targeting and what the benefits of what you’re offering actually are. That’s why it’s a good idea to let writing the headline ‘focus’ what you want to say. You can always come back to refine it when you’ve finished the main body copy.

Use well chosen keywords

In the web-based world, keywords in your headlines are absolutely crucial to getting a high search engine ranking for your page. But the most popular ones don’t work as well as niche phrases. That’s because niche phrases have less competition and help you to write headlines that target your market more specifically and effectively. And they help you to balance the need to load your pages with keywords, while also writing for humans. Because if your page doesn’t read well when the client gets there, it’s unlikely to pull in sales.

Great headline formulas

1. Keep it simple.
These headlines get straight to the point, make an offer and are highly effective e.g. ‘X Widgets now 50% off!’

2. Tell them the benefit.
Benefit headlines outperform all others because the reader always wants to know why they should buy or even bother reading on.

3. Tell them ‘how to’.
This is another way to state the benefit rather than simply being a description of what the product or service does. People want to know how to make their lives easier.

4. Offer useful information.
Life is complicated, and the reader is looking for rules or guiding principles to make it simpler e.g. The secret of looking refreshed in the morning however late you were up last night’.

5. Announce news
E.g. ‘Introducing the latest way to gain muscle − from MuscleMan.’ Readers like to be in on something new. It doesn’t even have to be new information, just new to the reader.

6. Issue a command.
Similar to the simple direct headline but more dictatorial in tone e.g. ‘Stop wasting time scrubbing floors. Use the new steam mop from JZW.’

7. Ask a question that engages them.
Again this has to relate to the benefit. The classic one is ‘Are you happy with your wash?’. The reader can’t help answering in their own mind and it draws them in.

Write more than one headline

A professional copywriter will write anything from five to fifty headlines for an important piece. Then they’ll come back and tweak them in order to find the most effective one. But you’re finding it hard to come up with ideas, Oxygen can do it for you. Just give us a call on 0845 2606 255.

Steve Lodge :Steve trained as a NCTJ journalist and is an experienced copywriter. He has over 15 years in agency, and started Oxygen in 2002.