Help with Headlines
Ran across a great column on the importance of headlines at BeTuitive. It's by Susan E. Fisher, editorial director for BeTuititve Marketing. I read her blog regularly. Kudos to Susan on a great lesson or refresher course for us all!
The full text of the column is shown below.
If the Headline Sucks, You’re History
By Susan E. Fisher
If you are like most ambitious writers – or you are the person who relies on their work – chances are you sweat, furrow your brow and stay up way-too-late fretting over the perfect copy.
Many a caffeine-driven writer worries; they wonder how to best button-hole important sources, ask probing questions, capture local color and structure an article into pithy, compelling prose.
Yet, there’s something that is far too often overlooked in the quest for Pulitzer Prize perfection: If the headline fails to capture readers’ interest, the story will go unread.
The same is true of digital marketing copy. If your “headline” is not persuasive, your message will fail to help you forge closer relationships and attract the interest of potential clients. A “headline” can be that line of words above an article, or the introductory words that label a Web page. A “headline” can also be the subject line in an email message.
A headline acts as the bridge over the gap between the creation of a good story and the reading of it. It must offer the essence of a story, boiled down to fit into a limited space. The headline’s job has always been critical in print publications. It is arguably more critical in the message-crowded world of electronic customer communications.
So, how do we make each headline into something that demands, screams or sweetly whispers “Read me” ?
Try three strategies:
Take a sweeping view of the copy, picking out key words. Weave the key words together in a meaningful way.
Read the article, close your eyes and write. Craft a single sentence summarizing the article. Use the main points of the sentence as the foundation for the headline.
Identify the so-called "Five Ws and the H" of journalism. Write the headline by including the "who" and the "what" of the story in the first line; the "how" and “why” in the second line. Decide to include the “when” and “where” if it is critical to the story’s meaning. Increasingly, the "why" has become an important element to emphasize. As we become inundated with information, a headline that clearly indicates how the viewer may benefit by reading an article is often the most successful.
Here are a few more words to the wise:
Keep it short and sweet, baby.
Omit unnecessary words.
Avoid repeating words. Avoid repeating words. (Unless, that is, you are doing it for special effect.)
Use a style that’s appropriate for the story (Be funny for a funny story. Be serious for a serious story)
Make it simple.
Make the words sing.
Include a subject and a verb.
Pick action verbs.
Make it clever.
Appeal to the emotions.
Perfecting the art of headline writing isn’t for everyone. If you aren't a masterful copywriter, tap a professional for the job. Your company’s words only take on value when you get your message in front of readers.
For fun, visit The Poynter Institute's amusing “Headline of the Day” http://www.poynter.org/headline_of_the_day/.
Click here to view this column at the BeTuitive site.