Why Headlines Matter & 3 Secrets to Master Them

If you’re reading this, it means two things: first, our headline worked; second, you’re in the minority. Even the most captivating headline (i.e., blog title, subject line, website heading, etc.) probably isn’t going to convert over 50% of readers. That harsh reality demands that you do things differently.

David Ogilvy, father of modern advertising and real-life Don Draper, understood the overlooked value of the headline:

“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.”

In today’s digital landscape, with our deluge of cat pictures, viral videos, and other fun distractions, the problem’s only gotten worse: the competition for your readers’ attention has never been higher.

Why Our Instincts Are Wrong

When you write, it’s easy to imagine the ocean of your adoring readers peering over your shoulder, oohing and ahhing at every well-chosen word, weighing each one with glowing admiration and wide-eyed attention.

In reality, people are lazy. And self-interested. And busy. And again, really lazy. No matter how well you write, most people are going to skim your content: that’s why it’s so essential to pack your headlines with intrigue and value.

How Headlines Help the Reader

Your content shouldn’t just be fun or informative, it should be easy to read. Good headlines (and sub-headlines) are a huge part of that: they draw the reader in, tell them where we’re going, and corral them back on track when they start to stray.

If you write like most people, you either come up with your headline first thing or as an afterthought before publishing. Hate to break it to you, but you’re doing it completely wrong.

How to Write Better Headlines

See that sub-headline? It’s clear and direct, telling the skimming reader exactly what value they’re going to get when they dig deeper.

Spend More Time on Them
As the Ogilvy quote above demonstrates, not all words are created equally: headlines demand a disproportionate amount of your attention and time. Many copywriters actually spend half of their time on the headline alone.

Assume the Worst of Your Reader
Imagine that your potential readers are in the middle of a five-alarm fire. They’re busy, stressed, and totally concerned with themselves. Now think: in the midst of a distracting disaster, what headline would compel them to stop, drop, and read?

Follow the 4 U’s
A common formula for killer copywriting, the 4 U’s suggest that your headlines should be urgent, unique, useful, and ultra-specific. Hitting three out of four is fine, but the best headlines deliver on all fronts.

In a perfect world, everyone would read every word your write. Bad news: the world ain’t perfect. Good news: now you know how to beat the odds.

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