How To Craft The Perfect Headline For Any Audience — 1 of 3
*In this post series I’ll be flipping time tested copy writing methods into usable frameworks for content marketers, bloggers, and freelance writers.
Headlines make up a mere 10% or less of an entire article, blog post, etc. However, they are the most important part when attracting a reader. If the headline doesn’t do its job, your content efforts will prove to be fruitless and clients will be displeased.
For this reason, I researched the best way to go about crafting a headline. This method can be applied to any advertisements, write ups, or content you plan to put out in the future. Think of it as a framework to use every time you need to write a headline with the highest potential of engagement.
I hope this can help content marketers and freelance writers who are constantly writing about varying topics.
Understanding the reader
When deciding what you want to say in a headline, many things can run through your head.
“Should I just sum up the article?” “Should I make a crazy promise?”
And many more sporadic thoughts. The only thing that you should be thinking about is the force that drives the target readers. The forces that cause readers to investigate a headline are far greater than you, your fabulous writing ability, your topic, and your offer.
There are 2 types of forces that drive a person to act on a headline. First, permanent forces, think of the desire to be healthy. As trends, fashion, and even our environment changes, the majority of people will still have the desire to be healthy. Therefore, it is permanent.
Second, fluctuating forces, think about what people want in headphones. One year it is all about how much bass, another year the hot trend is the style. You can see how the market’s desire is changing around the same topic.
How to act on mass desire
In order to channel the desire of a market, you must find what is the most prominent desire that can be applied to the topic. I.e what do they care about most and how does it apply to the topic. When you have found the most prominent desire, that is what you must act on. Nothing else. Your headline can only act on one at a time. For example, if you’re writing about cars and the desire of the market is horse power, definitely, don’t include the luxurious features.
Your headline’s goal should be to activate a single desire the readers are looking to satisfy in that very moment.
Writing for a desire
You want to acknowledge the chosen desire directly in your headline. If you don’t acknowledge it directly, offer the reader a way to satisfy that desire in a single statement.
Before putting pen to paper, you’ll want to understand how much the reader knows about the topic. There are 3 levels to this.
- They know the topic. In this case, the headline should start with the topic. “SEO tips for the small coffee shop owners.”
- The reader is unaware of the topic but aware of the desire. Here, the headline should start with the desire. “Rank your small coffee shop on the front page of Google”
- The reader is unaware of a desire and unaware of the topic but has a general concern for a problem. Here, the headline needs to start with the problem and move into a specific need. “Get more customers in your coffee shop using internet search engines.”
More than just a topic
There are two parts to every topic. First, there is the actual topic itself, “security cameras for coffee shop owners”. Second, there is the function of the topic, aka, the possibilities behind it or what it does, “keeping your coffee shop safe at night.” The reader will be consuming the actual topic itself, but the function is what they will be drawn to. Think of a function as a result of the topic.
The topic itself will work much less often than the function. In fact, you should rarely use the topic itself because you’ll be doing yourself a disservice. The ultimate solution is a combination of the two. You can use the topic itself to reinforce the function. Write out a fearful headline about keeping your coffee shop safe, then back it up by talking about the security provided by the latest cameras.
Some people would consider this, “sell the dream, then sell the product.”
What is the function
Brainstorming, when done right, is a fantastic practice to squeeze every possible function out of a topic. Here is a practice to get it right. List the number of different functions from a topic. Group the functions together with the desire that satisfies them. Then use the match that will give your headline the most power at a particular time.
Let’s try the topic of a coffee shop ranking on Google and list some functions that can be attached to a desire.
- Get more customers
- Gain more brand exposure
- Bring in better employee applications
- Attract local press
- Bring in more revenue
By listing out the functions you’ll be able to fully understand how the topic can be perceived by the reader. From there you can have a better understanding of what will work best when attracting the readers.
The headline itself
The definition of your market and the selection of the function most likely to enthrall that market forms the core idea of your headline. Think of the market and the topic as two separate islands. Your headlines will bridge that gap. If the bridge appears solid, the market will always be willing to cross.
When it comes time to begin crafting a headline, answer these 3 questions:
- What is the desire that creates this market (the potential reader’s desire)?
- How much do the potential readers know about the topic which satisfies the desire?
- How many other outlets have been present to them before yours (have they been served functions of the same topic by other outlets)?
Keep in mind, your headline has only one job. Stop the prospective reader and compel her to read the first sentence of or engage with the content.
As the Writer
When you are creating marketing content you must take yourself out of the employee perspective. (If you’re a freelancer, great start, you’re not in the employee perspective) Instead, place yourself in the perspective of a third-party marketing company that is creating content for a client’s products or services. That way you can take the framework of creating headlines for content and apply it to your entire strategy, piece by piece.
As a writer, always remember this about headlines,
Your headline has only one job, to stop the reader and compel her to read the first sentence or engage with the content.
In the next post on crafting the perfect headline, we’ll explore reader emotions and how to channel them to produce even stronger headlines. There is a preview in this prior post.