Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Write it Right! 9 Tips to Creating Great Headlines

Headline writing is often excruciatingly difficult. That's why headline writers are respected more than any one else and paid more than anyone else in a newsroom. [No, wait! That's wrong. Let's start again.]

Headline writing is often excruciatingly difficult. [I got that part right].

No one notices if the headline works, ie if it synopsizes the story that follows and does so in a clever and succinct fashion. But when a headline fails, then everybody knows. Headline writers may toil away in anonymity, but they fail publically. [That about sums it up.]

Headlines are to articles and emails what teasers are to envelopes: The most challenging part of the entire package to write.

Whether appearing in print or email, headlines should entice people to read the material that follows. Here are a few hints to make that most important piece of writing work for you, and help you avoid the danger of public humiliation:

1. Keep it short. No more than 50 characters. We're all in a rush these days.

2. Keep it pertinent to the material that follows. Misleading people makes for angry (or disappointed) readers. No one likes to feel tricked.

3. Humor is great if you're up to the task, but humor isn't easy and can be misinterpreted.

4. Allow yourself time to write-and rewrite. It can take as long to get the subject line right as it took the write the rest of the material.

5. Personalize, if possible. Research shows that personalized subject lines increase open rates by up to 64%. Personalized copy within the email further increases readership.

6. Selling something? Set a deadline. Creating a sense of urgency or exclusivity works. 

7. Don't end up in a spam filter. Avoid FREE!!, Save $, Lowest Prices, URGENT!, or for that matter avoid !!!, $$$ or other spam-attracting shorthand. You know 'em when you see 'em. Don't ask for trouble.

8. Test. Not sure exactly what will work? Test! You may not have this luxury, but it's the perfect application for an A/B split test.

So what's a bad headline? How about Dewey Wins! Oops! Nuf' said about this famously wrong headline from 1948. This brings us to hint #9:

9. Be accurate. Check your facts before your launch. Don't jump the gun. Proof your work. And have a friend proof it, too. Two sets of eyes are always better than one. 

[But this article just did. I hope it was useful.]

Marketing Take-Away
  1. Writing a great headline is hard work. Don't let anyone tell you anything else.
  2. Be willing to write and rewrite to get what you need.
  3. Test (ever heard that before?)

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