David Ogilvy, the Father of Advertising wisely instructed, “On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar”
So what does it take to write a headline that will keep readers engaged? Here are 5 steps that are sure to grab the attention of your reader and improve the memorability of your headline.
1. Incorporate a List
In general, people are drawn to lists and numbers. It quantifies a generally confusing or overwhelming topic into a comprehensible and manageable number. Readers feel as though you are going to bring completion to whatever knowledge they are trying to gain.
While the internet offers a vast amount of material, people often feel overwhelmed about the abundance of information. Google searching “How to Lose Weight” lands about 102,000,000 results. That is really overwhelming for someone who just wants to know how to lose weight. In addition to that, each result is going to offer different advice. There are countless ways to lose weight. Something along the lines of Top 10 Tips to Successfully Lose Weight suddenly eliminates the intimidation of hundred-million results and reduces what this reader needs to know down to a list of 10 tips. Your reader is instantly calmed, and in a positive frame of mind as he or she proceeds to read your article.
2. Make the reader invest
Having the word you in your headline instantly invests the reader. They feel almost a sense of obligation to read on. By saying, What Your Room Décor Says About You, the reader wants to know what you know about them and what they can learn about themselves.
If people like one thing more than anything, it’s talking about themselves. If your headline can promise people to learn something about themselves, you have automatically given people another reason to talk about themselves. People like insight on their personality or character (given it is positive).
3. Put in an attention grabbing word
By using hyperbole you are conveying a level of ultimate importance. Some words that fall into this category are: best, worst, incredible, terrifying, most and least. For example, “5 Worst First Date Stories”, I am sure that whatever this article or post has to say, they are not the absolute worst examples from all of history; but adding that word really gave the headline an added punch that will make the reader feel drawn to continue.
Context appropriate words are usually specific to your target audience, or the context in which they are reading your headline. Some words that fall into this category are: simple, quick, real, and proven. Someone just flipping through a magazine might appreciate to hear the word quick, as opposed to someone looking for something authoritative, they would like to hear the word proven. By adding these context appropriate words, you are telling the reader that you are offering what they are looking for.
4. Use alliteration and assonance
It is important to make sure that your headline is pleasing to hear and easy to say. The best way to go about this is making use of alliteration, and assonance. For example, the words Tips and Tricks are often used together. Why? The “T” sound in the beginning of both words sound nice together (alliteration), and the “I” vowel inside the words have the same sound as well (assonance) which makes the expression easier to say. Tips and Tops have the alliteration but lacks the assonance; it is much harder to say. Tips and Mit have the assonance but not the alliteration; it is easy to say but is a little more harsh to the ear. Having these literary devices not only makes your headline easier to say and hear, but extremely more memorable.
5. Be aware of the meter and diction
This one is a little less cut and dry. If you have written a headline and it doesn’t sound quite right, try mapping out the meter. You may have a sequence of too many stressed or unstressed syllables in a row. When this happens, the phrase is a lot harder to say. For example,
– / – / – / –
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This is a classic example of iambic meter with a soft (or feminine) ending. Iambic meter is supposed to be the meter closest to natural speech. So it almost always flows nice.
This next example doesn’t follow a strict meter, and sounds a little awkward as a result.
/ / – – / – – / – / –
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While it is not necessary that your headline follow a strict meter, if you are struggling with the sound of it, putting your headline into a meter will almost guarantee a nice flow.
While you certainly don’t need to incorporate all of these (that actually might be a real challenge), having one or a few of these key components can help make your headline have the emphasis and power it needs to convince the reader to continue. After all, our headline How to Write a Catchy Headline: 5 Simple Steps sure kept you reading!