How to Write Headlines That Stop Them in Their Tracks

The last column discussed creating at least two offers to use as lead generation tools for your business, and testing and measuring each one to evaluate which is more effective.

Just like your lead generating offer, your headline has one job. It doesn’t need to close sales, or win copywriting awards, it just needs to grab and hold your reader’s attention long enough to keep them reading.

The rest of your copy only matters if you can get your readers to read it!

Headlines are used to grab and hold attention in all marketing materials. Most readers take only a few seconds to decide if they want to spend any time reading what you have to say, whether in an email, website, sales letter or direct mail postcard. Just like you, your audience is bombarded by information every minute of the day, so if you haven’t convinced them to care in a few seconds or less, they’ve already moved on.

Every headline should:

Grab the reader’s attention
Be something the reader cares about
Offer your reader something
Trigger emotional reactions
Create curiosity

When you’re writing, put yourself in the mindset of your audience. People are pressed for time, so your headline has to offer something to them that is going to solve their problem, make their life easier or give them information that they know they need.

For example, if I were to write a headline like this—Give me three hours of your time and I’ll show you how to double your annual income by creating a passive income stream—I’m probably targeting overworked, overwhelmed, underpaid professionals who are struggling to provide for their families. I’ve tapped into their emotional motivators and caught their attention.

There are a few categories of basic human needs that encompass most purchase motivations. When you are aware of these, you will be able to incorporate them into your writing and appeal to your target market’s emotions.

By identifying your target market’s needs, wants, and desires, you’ll be able to identify the words and phrases that will effectively trigger emotional reactions, which will motivate them to take action.

Using the list of basic human needs below, identify which apply to your target market and create a list of words that will trigger the emotions related to these needs, wants and desires.

– Personal, financial and emotional security for self and family
– Convenience and time management
– Freedom from worry, including peace of mind, comfort
– Self-improvement, including spiritual, intellectual, physical
– Acceptance and recognition from others, including self-esteem, achievement, attention, respect, companionship
– Basic needs, including food, shelter, clothing, love, personal maintenance

When you begin writing your headlines, you will discover that certain word combinations are also very powerful. You can combine your list of emotional trigger words with these power words in all of your copywriting.

According to a Yale University study, the most powerful words in the English language are: love, money, health, discovery, proven, save, safety, you, easy, results, new and guaranteed (with some of the other top words including: breakthrough, profits, incredible, shocking, ultimate, free, master, revealed, scientific, powerful, suddenly, miracle, magic, introducing, amazing, remarkable, compare and bargain).

Here’s how you can write effective headlines for your business in a few easy steps.

1. Identify the persons you are trying to target.

You need a clear understanding of whom you’re writing for and what their motivators are (as a previous column covered). The more specific you can be with your market, the easier time you will have identifying and reaching their emotional “hot buttons.”

2. Identify what you are trying to communicate.

Once you know to whom you’re speaking, clearly define what message you need to communicate to them. Be specific, and even write it down in plain language before you start drafting your headlines.

Do you have a solution to their problem?
Do you offer a new product or service that they need?
Can you provide the information they’re looking for?
Do you have a better option for them?

3. Identify the motivators or “hot buttons” that will elicit an emotional response from your audience.

Take the list you drafted above, and highlight or write down the words that will pique your target market’s interest.

If you’re selling vacuum cleaners to young mothers, you’re going to want to identify words that would appeal to her desire to keep her home germ-free for toddlers, and make her cleaning efforts easier and less time-consuming.

Try to paint a picture for your audience. Carefully select descriptive words they will relate to, strong power words like the ones listed above. For example, phrases like “challenging outdoor experiences” would appeal to physically fit readers, but not to those who don’t like to exercise.

4. Choose a type of headline that will work best based on the emotional motivators you have identified.

ipod songs in your pocket

Direct Headlines clearly and simply state the offer or message, without any attempt at humor or cleverness: Pure Silk Scarves – 40% This Weekend Only; Brand-new Security System Just $99 Per Month.

Indirect Headlines are subtle, and often use curiosity to pique a reader’s interest before providing an explanation in the body copy. Clever puns, figures of speech and double meanings are often used: The key to weight-loss success lies in your backyard.

News Headlines mimic a headline you would read in the newspaper and are a great option for a new product announcement or industry scoop. These work best when you actually have news, and can stay focused on benefits, not features: Newco launches the ultimate time saver for new moms.

Question Headlines ask the reader something they can closely relate to or would need to continue reading to discover the answer. Questions are easy to read, and can immediately tap into your reader’s emotions: Are you tired of worrying about your children’s education fund? Do you know what’s in your fruits and vegetables?

How-to Headlines indicate that the rest of the copy or the offer itself will describe a step-by-step process of interest or use to the reader. These two words create headlines that work wonders: How to find a job in a recession; How to start a profitable internet business from scratch.

Command Headlines are similar to direct headlines, but always start with a strong verb or command for action. It usually focuses on the most important benefit you offer your reader. Triple your energy in just three days. Stop wasting money when you travel.

Reasons Why or Ways to Headlines precede lists of tips, suggestions, product benefits or even mistakes of interest to your target audience. Keep the list to a reasonable length or you’ll run the risk of losing your reader: Eight ways to save money around the house; 25 mistakes you could be making at the grocery store.

Testimonial Headlines use other people’s opinions and expertise to persuade a reader to keep reading and begin to build trust. Quotation marks are used to indicate that the words are a testimonial, not the words of your business, and they can increase readership by almost 30 percent. “ToneYou Bootcamp completely changed the way I look at my body” – Miley Cirrus. “I never thought I’d get out of debt before I discovered Money Saver!” – Grace LePage

5. Draft at least 10 different headlines, and pick your best three to test and measure.

Don’t stress about the length of your headline. Use the number of words you need to get your point across, without writing a paragraph. Remember that your headline needs to do one thing: get the reader to keep reading.

Don’t be afraid to draft pages of headlines or sift through the pages of a thesaurus before you get yours just right. Sometimes you’re only a word or two away from transforming a boring headline into a really effective one.

Headline Templates

How to become the smartest _____ in _____
How to end ______
How I improved my _____
How to develop _____
Seven ways to add to your _____ without cleaning out your bank account
How to begin _____
12 innovations in _____ design
How to enjoy _____
Introducing the four key rules for _____
How I _____
Six things to check when buying a new _____
How to conquer _____
Complete these three simple steps for a _____
How to start_____
Five hints to make your _____ rise above the rest
How to have______
How to become _____
Announcing eight powerful answers to your “what _____ to buy” dilemma
Which _____ do the experts use?
Powerful ways to update your _____ for free
How to keep _____
The four components that make up a successful _____
How to improve your _____
Six essential questions to ask before you buy a _____
How to get ______
Three clever ways to impress _____ without breaking the bank
The six warning signs you don’t want to miss in _____
How to get the most out of ______
Nine tips from the _____ experts
How to avoid _____
How to stay ahead of business _____ trends in _____
How to get rid of _____
Five proven advantages that _____ enjoys over the competition
How you can _____
Finally! The latest _____ secrets revealed!
Learn how _____ has improved since you bought your last _____

6. Always test and measure the effectiveness of your headlines.

As always, you will need to test and measure the strength of your headlines. Try to test at least two “hot buttons” in different media to determine where your target audience’s reaction is the strongest.

You can also leverage off of the information gathered from testing and measuring your powerful offer. For example, if the offer geared to safety and security concerns was a roaring success, headlines that tap into those motivators will also be successful.

You can apply these headline-writing techniques to all your marketing materials, as well as your copywriting.

In our fast-paced society, nearly everyone has become a skimmer instead of a reader. Strong, well-written headlines are the only way you can lure a browser into reading your message; use them on every piece of marketing material you have.


About the Author

Robert Ritch is a successful entrepreneur and business consultant, and has helped numerous small businesses increase their profits by assisting them in planning the steps they need to take and the order they need to take them, and in identifying and reaching their target market. Contact Robert at ceo@robertritch.com or at robertritch.com.

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