With literally billions (some estimate over a trillion) web pages out there, hundreds of thousands of magazines and over 100 million books that have been published, there’s clearly no shortage of information to take in from any number of devices on which we read.
So, for people who do some form of writing or editing for a living, how do you make sure that your piece of writing actually gets…read? While there may not be just a single correct answer, one thing many pros believe is this: The headline can be the most important part of your entire article.
This isn’t to say that the actual meat of the article isn’t important. It absolutely is important in keeping the attention of the reader and delivering a quality message. Statistics say eight out of 10 readers will read the headline of an article, while only two out of 10 will go on to read the actual article itself. So the headline has the very important job of actually grabbing a reader’s attention and drawing them in to the content.
Let’s take a lesson from one of the world’s most famous thriller writers, Stephen King. He says that he spends weeks, months, even years on the first line of his books. He asserts, “An opening line should invite the reader to begin the story. It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this.”
While the vast majority of us don’t have the luxury of spending such an exorbitant amount of time on one line (in this case, the headline), below are some approaches to get your creative headline-writing juices flowing.
1. Know who you’re writing for
While seemingly simple, this tip suggests that writers should keep in mind their core audience when composing a headline; those individuals who are truly interested in the topic of the article. This is not to say that others outside of the core audience will not read the article, but the 80/20 rule certainly applies in writing, as well.
2. Pose a question
The job of the headline is to pique the interest of the reader so that they will keep reading well beyond it. One way to do this is to pose a question. Take the following examples:
iPhone doesn’t offer users much more than Android
Does the iPhone offer more than Android?
The first example gets straight to the point, but it tells readers everything they need to know in the headline — thus, they don’t need to read further. While the second example creates curiosity and offers a glimpse of what’s to come in the article, without giving it all away.
3. Use lists
This approach is based on setting the stage for easy and quick reading. Whether you’re listing the top five secrets, tips, or whatever, lists are effective because they are very specific and quantify the reader’s ROI without giving away the article.
Hot Cars of 2013
The Top 5 Hottest Cars of 2013
The former is a bit lackluster while the latter packs more of a punch by giving the impression that the article will make for easy, skimmable reading particularly attractive for busy readers.
Every reader’s preference is different, and there’s no one-size-fits-all way to write an effective headline. But next time you find yourself stuck, play around with some different approaches and see what works for you.
If you’re still in need of ideas, one of our (other) favorite sources for great headline writing ideas is www.copyblogger.com.
What tips do you have for headline writing? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.