First impressions are important. If your attire and demeanor help present a positive first impression in a job interview, then your headline is the first impression in your ad copy. Effective headlines have always been the foundation for successful ads, but now more than ever, in a world of digitalized media, effective headlines are vital. Our audience now has a shorter average attention span than a goldfish (2.8 to 8 seconds) and we only have that short window of time to convince them to read further or even better, share our story with their social media networks.
How does this company benefit me?
People want to know—as soon as possible—what’s in it for them. If your headline can quickly tell them the benefit of your product or service, they will read on. Don’t focus on features, share real benefits. If you don’t capture their attention, you’re doomed.
Here are some examples:
Meh: Helpful business software available online
Better: How to grow your business using this inexpensive tool
Meh: Looking for America’s best fertilizer?
Better: Your neighbors will want to know your gardening secret
Meh: Friendly business consultants are standing by
Better: Are you losing sales by making these common mistakes?
Meh: Oregon’s favorite recipes make families happy!
Better: Create a nutritious family meal in under 20 minutes
What are the common traits of better headlines? First off, you’ll notice brevity, benefits, and frequent use of the words, “you” or “your” (the most important words in marketing).
Be specific with your message, too. I knew a dealer who kept using the phrase, “Oregon’s #1 ______ Dealer!” But what does that mean to the car buyer? Is there a clear benefit or is it just a meaningless cliché?
Speaking of car ads, we often see copywriters trying to come up with clever, sexy headlines. Look at the samples below. On the left you have, “August just got hotter.” We get it. Hot car. Sexy. Of course my first thought is, “Do I really want to think about heat in August? Do I really need another reminder of hotness?! The admittedly unsexy headline on the right does something interesting, though. It puts you in the car. And it states a price that might convince you to buy a BMW when you didn’t even know you could afford one (always read the fine print, by the way). Now, if you can write an engaging headline that's also sexy, that's a home run, of course.
Michael Pranikoff, global director of emerging media at PR Newswire, says, “If your content is a gift, then your headline is the wrapping.”
Pranikoff’s formula for good headlines: include a number or a trigger within the first 20 characters, a keyword, an adjective, and a promise. His example? “How to write headlines that are better than bacon-covered-bacon.”
Whatever method you choose, just make sure your headline is the best it can be. It takes time, but it's worth it.