I realize this might be the 18,342nd article you’ve read about writing kick-butt headlines, but hey… it never helps to get another perspective, right? (also, I was kinda pressed for content this week, so cut me some slack, man)
Writing content for Creatively Corporate has made creating headlines a regular exercise for me. So I’ve paid attention to the tricks I use to make it an easier process. Here are the five I’ve found most valuable to me, and hopefully they are to you.
It might intuitive to think that being too literal stunts our ability to be creative and grab attention. But there’s great benefit to the reader to let them know what they’re about to read. I’ve written many times on the busy schedules of today’s audience and the enormous amount of content being thrown at them, so to be cryptic when previewing the gist of your article, blog, or email can cause them to move on quickly.
Your creativity doesn’t mean a thing if you lose readers from the start. So let them know what they’re about to read. You’ll notice that the headlines for most of my blog posts explain the purpose of my posts. It’s not because I am or intend to be a boring writer, but because I want to serve you with valuable content and want to let you know right away why it’s valuable.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Hey! Jon! You might be devastatingly handsome, but you JUST said to be specific instead of clever!” Just because you should be specific doesn’t mean you can’t be imaginative at the same time. You should stretch your creative muscle in your headline whenever the opportunity presents itself.
For instance, instead of just writing, “6 Ways To Obedience Train Your Dog,” maybe try something like, “Doggone Right! Here Are 6 Ways To Train an Obedient Pooch!” OK. I kinda pulled that one out of my… ahem… but I want to get you in the habit of thinking of ways to punch up your headlines.
Even internal communications can benefit from an attention-grabbing headline. Let’s say you’re announcing the return of a former executive to you company. Instead of, “John Smith Returns to ACME as CFO,” think of something more engaging like, “Hey… We Know That Guy! John Smith Returns As ACME CFO.”
Use Unique Adjectives
Like a quarterback who has his favorite go-to receiver, communicators have preferred words they use often (football reference… Super Bowl coming up… see what I did there?). Of course, one of the best ways to grow is to step outside our comfort zone and find other descriptive words. If you’re using “Great” or “New” too often, try “Innovative” or “Imaginative.” The thesaurus can be a writer’s best friend… so get friendly with yours.
Ask A Question
This is particularly effective if you’re trying to hit a “pain point” – pose a question that drives toward a problem that your target audience is trying to solve. For marketers, this is easier if you’ve done your research and have a profile of your ideal customer. “Ready to Get Serious About Losing Weight?” or “What Are Your Weight-Loss Goals for 2016? We’ll Help You Reach Them” are examples of headlines you might see from a health and fitness company.
It works for internal communicators, as well. During open enrollment, for instance, you might try something like, “Have You Chosen Your Plan Yet? There Are Only 3 Days Left to Enroll!” If there is required training employees must complete, a question posed to them is a good reminder: “Your XYZ Compliance Training is Due February 15. Have You Completed Yours?”
Communicators sometimes put a lot of pressure on themselves because they feel the need to convey the entire gist of the article or blog in the headline. That’s why it’s important to remember that subheadlines can take up some of the slack.
As a simple example, “Only One Week Left To Complete Your XYZ Training” says a lot about the purpose of your communication, but a subheadline like, “Go Online and Finish Yours In Just a Few Minutes” reinforces the idea that the training is mandatory, but easily completed online.
The subheadline doesn’t have to be just above the body content. As you can tell, I’m a big believer in using subheadlines to make the content more scannable for the reader. In my headline, you know that I’m writing about writing headlines, but the subheadlines not only reinforce this, they give you an easy way to know which parts you might actually want to read and which you might want to skip (which is none, right?).
How are you at writing headlines? What are some tricks that you use? Let me know in the Comment section below.
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