Headlines: Read all about writing them

Often formulaic, frequently unimaginative, and sometimes just plain terrible, headlines are among the most underappreciated of marketing communications tools. Of all the words on your website, brochure, print ad, packaging, or sales letter, the headline is unquestionably the most important.

While there are times an arresting visual is enough to convey the desired message and leave the audience with the impression you want — in an image ad, for example — studies show that the majority of people only read headline copy. And just a fraction of those readers actually continue reading the body text.

So if your headline doesn’t sing, you’ve lost more than a reader. You’ve also lost your opportunity to turn that reader into a customer.

Advertising guru David Ogilvy believed a headline was always a necessity. “The wickedest sin of all is to run an advertisement with no headline,” he said. “Five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. It follows that, unless your headline sells your product, you have wasted 90 percent of your money.”

How do you make sure your headline lets readers know that your product is worth their time and money? Put your investment to the test with these five simple questions:

1. Does it stop the reader?

A good headline will keep readers from clicking away, turning the page, ignoring the brochure, or discarding the letter. It should make them hungry for more information and eager to read the body text.

2. Does it show the benefit?

The headline should always focus on the benefits to the consumer. Descriptions of product or service features belong in the body text.

3. Does it share the unique qualities?

How is your widget different? Is it faster, stronger, cheaper, just plain widget-ier? Let the reader know immediately with a clear, clever headline.

4. Does it sell the product?

Clever is effective only if it sells. A good headline should embody the power of persuasion — especially since it may be the only copy that many people will read.

5. Does it set the stage for the body text?

The headline and the body text must work together in a seamless manner, convincing readers that your product or service is worth their investment.

Writing a headline that sings as well as it sells isn’t easy. But with some hard work, creativity, and a few hundred rewrites, your marketing communications will have so many readers they’ll belong on the bestseller lists.