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How to write headlines

A great headline needs to do four keys things:

• Attract attention – you clearly need to get noticed – but you also to need to…
• Select the right audience – by telling the reader who should be interested. This way you get the right people reading – potential customers. Otherwise, you could just try shock tactics to get everyone reading – but you are unlikely to win their trust having attempted a “bait and switch”.
• Deliver a compelling sales message – and ideally encapsulate the whole story
• Drag the reader, kicking and screaming if necessary, into the body copy.

There’s a plague of these kinds of headlines on website articles.

These are some techniques that have been shown to work. There are many other around, but this may help you when you get stuck:

1) Tell it like is. Just say what needs to be said, simply and clearly:
• Half price booze
• 30% off print supplies
• Save money on accountancy fees

2) Make it newsy. Find a news angle for your headline
• Revealed: the truth behind poor dentures
• 70% of business pay too much for legal insurance, says survey
• Breakthrough in paper feed design, say researchers

3) Use the ‘How to’ promise. Using the ‘How to…’ headline should instantly highlight the main benefit:
• How to save money on your car insurance
• How to cut operation waiting times
• How to earn a living from home

4) Ask questions which go to the heart of the matter, such as:
• Are you ashamed of your English?
• Can’t get into your jeans?
• Do you want to be more confident?

5) Urge action. Be immediate and direct, by urging the reader to achieve their goal:
• Write for a living
• Be an astronaut
• Get the lifestyle you’ve dreamed of

6) Offer information. There’s a plague of these kinds of headlines on website articles. Nonetheless, the technique is still valuable:
• The ten secrets to killer copywriting
• Seven sure fire ways to get a pay rise
• The six instinctive techniques used by successful people
• Make yourself more effective in a week

7) Use testimonials, if you have them:
“I lost weight with the tapeworm diet”
“This is the best software I’ve ever used.”
“I saved £200 on my car insurance.”

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