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5 Tips: How to Write an Effective Headline

Writing headlines can be tricky, but if you equip yourself and use these 5 tips, writing headlines will be a breeze!

5 Tips: Writing an Effective Headline
I must admit, I love writing headlines. I find there’s a sense of excitement when coming up with a single phrase of words to capture your audience’s attention. So I thought I could give you 5 tips on writing effective headlines, to captivate your audience.

In Contemporary Advertising, Arens, F. Willams defines a headline as “words in the leading position in the advertisement”. Knowing this, when we create a headline we must consider the target audience and how we’re going to capture their attention and engage them into the advertisement. Engagement means taking action, because you want your audience to respond to the ad by either buying, selling, contacting or creating awareness for what your advertising.  In other words, make the headline relevant to the audience needs and reel ‘em in.

Here are five simple tips to help you write a perfect headline:

1. Keep it Short, Simple, and Direct

You don’t want to lose the audiences’ attention because of lengthy copy. Use the KISS method; Keep It Simple, Stupid (I love KISS). We talked about KISS in a previous blog, The Importance of Wayfinding – Part 2  where its important to keep information tsimple and clutterless. Using the KISS method reminds you not complicate, by keeping the message simple.

By keeping it simple and relevant, your audience will go past the headline because you’ve intrigued them to learn more and read on. There are different types of headlines and tips for writing billboards, newspaper, online banners and magazine ads but the main objective for each of these headlines is to attract and engage. We will be writing more blogs regarding headlines and touching base on each type, but we’re saving it for another day. Remember too, you’ll have lots of clutter to compete with in the advertising world, so by keeping it short, simple and direct you’ll ensure your ad stands out, grabbing the audience’s’ attention!

2. Four Keywords

When creating a headline keep these four simple key words in mind; attract, engage, explain and lead. You’ll want to grab the audiences’ attention, engage them to explain and/or sell the benefits of the product/service  so they follow through with action. This action could be asking them to engage with the advertisement by reading the body copy, visit the website, or social media channels, like Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest.

3. Use What, Why, How, or When

Using what, why, how or when are keywords that make the headline relevant to the audiences needs, acting as a key to a cipher or code. They’re attention grabbers because people want to learn more, and the headline is relevant to their needs. At an RGD presentation a few years ago, the presenter Tim Robertson talked the Wild & Crazy Internet Marketing for Designers. He spoke about relevancy to the audience and explained how an ebook (that cost only dollar to purchase) sold over a million copies because it was relevant to people’s needs. The books was about squirrels and the title was “How to get get rid of squirrels?”. It was the title and the headline that attracted so many users to download this ebook for only a dollar. That’s how powerful of the words what, why, how or when really are.

4. Make a List of Words and Use a Thesaurus

Make a word list that describes your product or service. Then take that word list and get your handy-dandy thesaurus out and start looking up synonyms and develop another word list. Now that you have your two lists start compiling phrases together, and play around with them to develop your engaging headline.

5. Collaborate

Collaboration never hurts. Run your ideas by your co-workers, colleagues, or even a friend. Sometimes  collaboration can provide you with insight to the perfect word you’ve been searching for, within seconds. Everyone has a different vocabulary and so collaboration allows you to tap into someone elses noggin’ and pull their local resources of words!

Here are some great headlines:

1. Volkswagen – Think Small

2. Old Spice – Smell like a Man

3. Cancer Patients Aid Association – Cancer Cures Smoking

4. Dove – Real Beauty

5. Buckleys – It Tastes Awful. And it Works.

The key to writing headlines is easy – have fun with it, and use these simple tips that we discussed.

You can start by keep it short, simple, and direct, while making use of the four key words – attract, engage, explain and lead. Then use what, why, how, or when, and make a word list and don’t be shy to use a thesaurus. The last step is to embrace collaboration to help brainstorm your ideas onto a newer level. Using these 5 tips will get you off to the races to write a zinger of a headline.

Tell us about some of your favorite headlines. Or tell us some tips for writing the perfect headline. Be sure to leave us your comments in the section below.

Sources
Arens, F. Willams (2002)Contemporary Advertising.  (8th Ed). NY: McGraw-Hill/Irwinl

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