Reading time: 6 – 10 minutes
There is a lot of ballyhoo about the importance of headlines in copywriting. If you are just getting started it is easy to take this stuff out of context.
The importance of the headline IS paramount in several different formats of copy – in situations where the headline MUST grab the readers attention an effective headline is the difference between success and failure for the ad.
One of my pet peeves is super-long headlines that try to cram a detailed description of what the product is or does into the headline itself. This is usually not a good thing, but of course in the hands of a skilled copywriter a long headline can work well indeed.
Most writers doing online marketing these days cranking-out verbose headlines are not particularly skilled however – their headlines are like the desperate guy trying to get a date from every girl who walks by; rattling off a meandering list of benefits hoping she’ll hear one she likes and stop and talk to the guy.
Does that sound like a good way to get a date?
No. It doesn’t
It’s fairly easy to find examples of this kind of headline writing in copy ebook authors and software designers have written for their own products. Because these folks are often making products that fit a narrow niche, they feel they need to sell the product in the headline.
Part of the selling DOES happen in any headline. How much of the selling depends on the state-of-awareness of the reader.
Example: “Bananas! .59 lb.”
Since we are completely aware of what bananas are the headline’s objective is to get our attention with a bargain price. There is nothing to explain of the benefits of the product because it is already so thoroughly familiar to us.
This is not, by the way, the sort of headline you, as a direct marketer, should want to find yourself in the position of writing – because it’s tough to make money when you have to scream “LOW PRICE!” to get attention.
A much better situation is when your headline can announce some new benefit to your product – either because your product itself is new and innovative, or because you are very clever and have found a way to reframe your old product in a new way – which can result in a real advertising victory by reviving a dead product and re-introducing it with a marketing twist.
In most cases when selling stuff online with salesletters we are dealing with the harsh realities of free-market commerce: that we have competition breathing down out necks – and their products are similar to ours and also they are willing to sell them cheaper – and maybe their stuff is even better in some ways.
Thus it is a good idea to try to find a way to select the battleground yourself – “positioning” your product in your headline in some way that makes it appear better in some way than other products in the niche.
For example: “Miracle Pill Melts Away Unwanted Pounds!”
This is not inventive these days because it’s an old headline. The idea contained here in the headline is that the pill magically just makes pounds disappear. That’s an exciting claim! If you are the first and only merchant to claim your diet-pill does such a thing you can profit enormously with such a promise… effortless weight-loss is one of the top 3 best direct marketing claims you could possibly make to sell your product – though there is the additional problem now that many advertisers have made similar announcements and consumers are skeptical because of past disappointments.
Hope does spring eternal however; the basic human needs driving the desire to lose weight are so powerful many people will never give up buying and trying new ways to shed unwanted pounds.
You should try, when writing your headline, to make the broadest specific claim you can in the headline, or imply it there, so you capture interest from the most people. Don’t try to tell everything in your headline or even the top of the letter. The sale happens at the bottom, in the order-form area – and only happens when you’ve guided your prospect through a series of agreements in the body-copy.
“yes, I have that problem”
“yes, I have not found a solution yet”
“yes, this problem is causing me pain”
“yes, if I saw a real solution I would be very interested”
This seems very abstract here and maybe even corny.
Try applying this to a software product that is supposed to bring traffic to your website:
Headline: Amazing Software Magnetizes Your Website
(This is a curiosity headline… because I make a claim that is mysterious and hopefully intriguing, but I don’t try to explain how in the headline. Many of the writers today would have a bloated headline which tries to explain everything in one mouthful.)
An less-effective headline that tells too much, and tries to sell would be something like:
“Who Else Wants This Automated Software Driving Frenzied Flood of Traffic To Their Website, Credit Cards In Hand and Desperate To Buy?”
(This is a silly headline, yet it’s not too far-off the sort of thing I see a lot of writers putting out. There are a number of reasons it’s bad: it’s hypey and cliched in addition to being too verbose. I see a lot of headlines like this one, and longer – if you read them aloud you’ll instantly hear how off-target they are.)
After the headline we might ask a question or imply one like: “Don’t you hate it when you put tons of work into making a website and you struggle to get the volume of traffic you need to make any real money?”
Then we go on and say: “Getting enough good traffic is a common problem. I had it myself when I was just starting out. I tried a lot of so-called solutions for getting more traffic, but they didn’t bring me the results I wanted. Each method I tried either drained my bank account, was too much work for just a trickle of traffic, or just unreliable.”
(By the way, I just used “the rule of 3″ – because when stating problems it just seems more credible if you state them in groups of 3. There is a rhythm and rhyme to it.)
I am not going to write the whole letter here, but do you see how I already get you agreeing, in your mind, that getting traffic cheaply enough, and without working too hard, can be a bit of a problem? Most people who try internet marketing have these problems so it’s a safe bet if you are selling a traffic-generating product these problems fit the bill.
I started out writing about headlines – and I’ve digressed into body copy, because I want you to understand how the headline is an important PART of the selling process, but it is not where the process really gets going. If you are trying to sell in your headline, you are probably struggling to write good copy. You CAN state benefits in the headline, but when you try too hard to close the sale you’ll just turn readers off. Instead use the headline and the introductory copy to draw your reader in and guide him or her, through a series of “Yes” agreements to a point, at the end, where ordering your product seems like a sensible thing to do… and the main objections then will be not whether the argument is valid, but whether the reader believes you and whether your product’s perceived value exceeds the price you ask for it.
Loren Woirhaye prefers to play gypsy music on guitar or accordion – but when he isn’t doing that he writes direct-response copy, consults with clients to help them make money with their websites, coaches people who want to fire their employers and blogs about success, life, his personal foibles, and online marketing at http://malibumentor.com
The post author, Loren Woirhaye writes sales copy and creates marketing systems for business clients who want to slash customer acquisition costs and position their businesses For 20%-30% sales growth in the next 12-18 months. He writes regularly about marketing and life at his Entrepreneur Blog.