Headlines: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Recently, we completed a small project with strict headline requirements. We were instructed to incorporate 2-4 headlines per page, regardless of content. As our contact put it:

We work under the assumption that the audience wont read the content, so the headings need to be sharp and summarial. 

Much as we complied, this still got our goat. As a content creation company that believes that people will read if you package it right (write, heh), we were dismayed by the casual lack of faith. Does every piece of writing require a Cliff’s Notes?

We hope not. Last blog, we pointed out that headlines matter—and get read more often than their body copy counterparts. Today, we’re qualifying that with a heavy IF: headlines matter, and yet there are times when a copywriter might stringently avoid them. There are times that every copywriter should consider them a crutch and a disruption to the revved up engine of his content.

Sure. Great headlines and subheads lend structure, balance, and flow to longer pieces. Like rooms in a house, a reader can walk through quickly or linger on the details. Either way, they leave with a fair impression of who lives there.

But the moment you craft a headline for its own sake, you’re drifting away from nuance, momentum, and meaning. By assuming less of your audience, you deny them the opportunity to luxuriate in your words.

We know that in reality, not everyone is going to read every word. But we believe we can dramatically increase the likelihood by building in elements of delight, play, and fresh literature. So use headlines (responsibly, please).

A winsome wordsmith, Gregory M. Lewis loves nothing better than absorbing new information and crystallizing it into clear, captivating copy. Greg brings his incisive insight and easy-going approach to every project. In his free time, the Chicago native can be spotted at Nets games, art galleries, and local concerts in Brooklyn.

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