As an expert SEO copywriter, I ask: “If headlines are so critical to attracting reader interest, why aren’t they given more attention”? The name of my website is Content Optimization Expert and indeed I’m skilled in both English web content and content optimization. I focus on this word ‘optimization’ because it’s the key to so many things: we all want to optimize our messages and our communications so that we can make the maximum impression in the minimum time. One important area to make this happen is in your headlines.
“Listen, I’ve something special for you!” If somebody stood next to you and said that, you’d listen, wouldn’t you? Headlines work the same way. The best example is to pick up any daily newspaper. The whole business of journalism is built around headlines, because people ‘scan’ before they read.
Consider the places where headlines dominate: each of your website pages, the beginning of your brochure, the ‘subject’ line of your email – even the opening statement of any letter.
The value of subheads
These are subsidiary headlines that make it easier for the reader to find areas of interest. It helps in the first scanning of the text. Subheads should be arranged so that they can tell a story – and they should have individual appeal as headlines too.
A recent eye-tracking study reported that shorter paragraphs get read over the longer ones. In fact, short paragraphs get TWICE as many overall eye fixations as longer ones. Having a subhead at the beginning of this paragraph makes reading even easier.
Example of headline-subhead use
Let’s say you have an ‘About Us’ web page for Wilcox Rubber Grommets. Instead of just using the headline About Wilcox you can start with this as a subhead (write ‘About Wilcox’ in the top left hand corner of the page) and instead write Quality Rubber Grommets for over 50 years as your main headline. That’s an interesting claim. The web page will already say ‘Wilcox’ (probably the company logo appearing on each page) somewhere so you don’t need to use it in the headline. Instead you’re making a claim that has some interest!
Now what about the subheads?
Dedicated to quality (some history about the place = 50+ words)
Wide grommet range (discuss professionalism in stocking a large range = 50+ words)
Engineering excellence (team of people in company, special skills = 50+ words)
Special orders (indicate flexibility for embracing unusual projects = 50+ words)
I’ve made all this up, but you can follow the pattern. The expert SEO Copywriter must imagine this kind of ‘messaging sequence’ as he or she is putting the copy together. The headline and the subheads must all work together to present a summary of the whole company story. That creates an interesting Company Profile.
The four functions of headlines
When I teach Marketing Writing I place headlines into one of four main categories. Examples:
I. Get attention
Why swelter through another hot summer? (GE air conditioners)
II. Select the audience
We’re looking for people to write children’s books (Institute of Children’s Literature)
III. Deliver a complete message
You can make big money in Real Estate right now (Century 21)
IV. Drawing the reader in
(Arouse curiosity with humor, intrigue or mystery. Ask a question or make a provocative statement. Promise a reward, news or useful information).
A $15 alternative to costly plastic surgery (facial lotion)
Make a habit of noting down clever headlines and the product that they are promoting. Two headlines that have stuck in my memory for years are:
How would you like a good crunch in the mouth? (snack bar)
Be nice to your date. Belt her. (road safety)