Writing a great headline means crafting an enticing invitation to a prospective reader. It’s not the whole story, nor is it an attempt to convince anyone to do anything other than to keep reading.
That being said, it seems you can’t move two pages on the web without tripping across a poorly-crafted headline. While many contain one or more necessary elements, other factors are often left out of the headline, diminishing the overall power and draw of this critical aspect of your copy.
Here are five common mistakes that people make when writing headlines, which also serve as checklist items for you to take into account when crafting your own.
1. No Reader Benefit
No communicated benefit for the reader, no readers. The expressed benefit does not have to be some over-the-top, unbelievably fantastic promise. It only needs to be relevant and worth the time investment required to keep reading.
How to avoid: Ask yourself “what’s in it for them?” If the headline doesn’t tell you, it’s missing a benefit.
2. Lack of Curiosity
Even if the headline contains a benefit, often it’s not presented in a compelling fashion. Piquing the curiosity of the prospective reader adds that little extra something that engages the reader’s imagination. Curiosity must be coupled with benefit, or you may simply manage to cause people to wonder what that was all about as they move on to something else.
How to avoid: Does your headline make you have to know what the promised answer is? Use questions, numbers, challenges and statements that compel the prospective reader to explore the beneficial content you’re offering.
3. Lack of Specificity
Headlines that lack specificity are short on clarity, and general statements and unsupported claims are often deemed untrustworthy. The power of specificity is one of the reasons that the “list” headline is a mainstay among copywriters and bloggers. The format itself forces you to provide specificity, which the reader in turn responds favorably to.
How to avoid: Use variations of the “list” headline, use words like “this,” “these,” “here is” and “here are” to refer specifically to your content, and also use hard numbers and exact percentages when appropriate.
4. Lack of Simplicity
Have you ever seen a headline that tries to say too much? It becomes a story instead of a teaser that leads you into the content, often while trying to communicate multiple concepts. In short, it loses the reader and fails miserably. Simplicity if one of the most important aspects of effective communication that resonates with readers, and this is especially true with headlines.
How to avoid: Stick to one concept, eliminate unnecessary words, and use familiar language.
5. No Sense of Urgency
Some headlines make you want to read the content, but you decide to put it off until later. And then you often never get around to reading it, right? Headlines that contain the above four elements should also create a sense of urgency and prompt the reader to act immediately, but there may be a way to restate the headline that works even better.
How to avoid: Check to see that items 1-4 above are truly present. If so, try reworking the headline to make it more compelling without stepping too far into hyperbole. If all else fails, examine the premise of the content itself. Is it really “need to know” information?
There are certainly other ways to sabotage a headline, and I’ve likely tried them all. But when you lack one of the above five cornerstone elements, your odds of a successful headline are immediately diminished.