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The Rules of Engagement: Without a Great Headline, You’re Screwed!

February 09, 2016

The famous “begin at the beginning” quote from Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” doesn’t only apply to magical worlds that exist in our imaginations. It is wonderful advice for just about any task you may encounter, and this includes creating engaging content.

The headline (or title) is the most critical aspect of every piece of content you produce, because if it doesn’t do its job, the rest is irrelevant. Insightful, thought-provoking, world-changing pieces of content are completely useless if no one reads them, and if your headline falls flat, that is exactly what will happen.

Why Your Headline Is So Important

Direct marketers have known the incredible power of headlines for more than 100 years, and they’ve been strategically used to sell everything from cars to vacuum cleaners to encyclopedias. Today, with attention spans shrinking by the second, headlines may be even more important.

For any website, blog post, ad or article, the headline or title has one primary goal and that is to get you to read the first line of content. If it fails in this task, you’re gone and the remainder of that well-crafted piece is left to collect digital dust. 

Your headline must grab the reader’s attention enough to get him to continue into the main body of the website, post, article or ad. It is the first thing the reader sees, and in the case of poorly written headlines, the only thing he sees.

Who Are You Talking To?

The first thing you should consider when you sit down to create a headline for your piece of content is who is supposed to be reading it. Some people call this your target audience, buyer persona or prospect, but you can just think of it as that person who will ultimately use your services or purchase your products.

It is wise to create a checklist of the qualities of this person to help guide you. Go as deep as possible and include information such as gender, age, job title, hobbies, etc. Once you know who you are addressing, it becomes a lot easier to produce an engaging headline

Proven Headline Formulas

It is crucial to leave your own ego behind when creating an engaging headline. Despite what you may believe, no one cares about how wonderful your company is; they want to know how this content will help them. It’s the same reason you are reading this post right now. You want to know how a great headline will improve your content, and that’s it.

There are many tried and tested headline formulas that have worked over a wide range of platforms, and here are a few that typically get great results:

  • The “How-to” headline – if you are aligned with your target’s needs and desires, creating a how-to headline offers information they are interested in, and will get them to engage and continue reading.

  • The Benefit-Driven headline – there is an old adage in the copywriting world that states people buy for emotional reasons (benefits) and back up their decision with logic (features). If you create a benefit-driven headline “Remove Back Pain in Just 5 Minutes Per Day” you will tap into that emotional aspect and have a more engaging headline.

  • The Audience Roundup headline – if you have done your due diligence and know who you are talking to, specifying that group in your headline can have impressive results. “Attention Back Pain Sufferers!” or “Got Back Pain?” will help you attract the exact demographic you want.

  • The News Story headline – if you make it newsworthy, people will take notice and want to continue reading. “New Formula Promises 50% Greater Returns on Your Content”

  • Ask a Question – question headlines work well because the people reading them will usually answer the question in their mind, thus engaging with the headline. Just be careful not to ask questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no, because that may be the end of the engagement. “Do You Make These Mistakes with Your Content?” is better than “Is Your Content Good Enough?” 

You can also combine elements of different headline formulas to create even more powerful and engaging headlines for your content. When in doubt, try to incorporate as many of the “4 U’s” as possible into your headlines. The 4 U’s refer to (Unique, Ultra-Specific, Urgent and Useful)

If You Stray…It’s All Over

And keep in mind, the great content and crappy headline concept also works in reverse. Once you reel them in with a great headline, make sure you have equally engaging content throughout the piece, and stay on topic! Many content ventures have crashed and burned because the body of the content strayed from what was promised in the headline.

Creating kick-ass headlines takes some practice, but you can get there if you keep these principles in mind. If you’re more into focussing on what you do best and leaving the content writing to the experts, feel free to give us a call anytime.

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