Estimated reading time: 15 minute(s)
Your website copy’s headlines and headers wield incredible power.
As the tip of the spear, headlines pierce your readers’ attention and create that critical opening for you to exert leverage.
As helpful signposts, headers guide darting eyes across the clear, navigable terrain of your web content.
Too often, though, they’re misused, abused, or ignored, even by professional copywriters. Here’s how to get the most of your headlines and headers.
What’s the difference between a headline and header?
Glad you asked. Let’s dive in:
What’s a headline?
Headlines are the de facto title of your piece. Your headline is the first thing your reader sees—and it may be the last if it’s not up to snuff.
Examples include the title of this blog post, the name of a page on your website, or the title on a white paper or brochure. For the purposes of this post, let’s stick to web content.
Why are headlines important?
It’s often repeated among copywriting circles that 4 out of 5 people will read your headline, but only 1 out of 5 will read the body copy.
As David Ogilvy put it, “when you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.” (And he wasn’t even around for the heyday of online copywriting—the advice is timeless.)
What’s a header?
Headers signal different sections of your piece. Hint: you see that bold text directly above these words? That’s a header.
Think of headers as mini-headlines. Examples include the ones peppered throughout this post and the section titles preceding blurbs on a web page.
Why are headers important?
Headers make it easy for readers to find what they need quickly. Let’s face it: not everyone is going to read every word you write—that’s especially true with website copy, where readers’ attention spans plummet and distractions tempt them at every turn.
They can skim aimlessly or you can choose to funnel them in the right direction. Say you already knew what headlines and headers are and why they’re important: you could confidently skip past the preceding sections and get right into the meat of this post—as we will now without further ado.
5 Secrets for Snappy, Actionable Headers
Much ink has been spilled on the art of the headline—and with good reason. But today we’re going to focus on the unappreciated (and admittedly less sexy) art of headers.
Well-crafted headers can make all the difference in the world, particularly when it comes to website copywriting.
Headers break up unwieldy blocks of text, hook the reader in to dive deeper, and convey your most important points in seconds.
Here are five tips to get more out of your headers.
1. Command Your Reader
Most powerful headers come in the command form—you’re inviting readers to do something. Action-oriented, impactful, and vivacious, these headers are typically short and sweet.
Examples might include “Connect Your Team ” or “Grow Your Business.” (Easter egg: every header in this section follows the command form.)
You don’t have to always use the command form; if you’re spelling out feature-sets, you can use concise highlights (“Insightful Analytics”) or benefits (“Elegant Design”). Whatever you choose, it’s important to keep the headers parallel—try not to mix and match styles.
2. Let Them Skim
Whether you like it or not, readers love to skim—especially online. If they can’t tell at a glance what you’re page is all about, they’ll bounce out in no time.
Imagine your readers are drunk, sleepy, and distracted: if they saw your headers for five seconds, would they know what your entire piece is about? If not, you may have trouble engaging most readers.
Headers mainly serve as signposts—they allow readers to find info most relevant to them faster. It’s not just good copywriting: it’s good user experience design.
3. Reap the Benefits
Your headers should play out the benefits of your offering as much as possible, rather than the features. (Read more about features vs. benefits here.)
Don’t just talk about what your product or service does—spell out the impact for your users. What’s in it for them?
Of course, there’s some middle ground. For some feature-based commands, like “Connect Your Team,” the benefits are obvious enough. After all, if you played out every benefit to its logical conclusion, almost all headers would be either “Make More Money” or “Feel Better.”
4. Get More Precise with Compound Headers
You can add more detail to a header with a compound construction: connect a benefit-based command form (“Get More Precise”) and a feature-based way to do that (“with Compound Headers”).
These can certainly be a bit clunky and not quite as catchy, but they work well for more technical and complex offerings; e.g., “Take Better Pictures with Auto-Stabilizing Technology.”
5. Inspire Wonder
Short, simple, and somewhat mysterious headers are the corollary of detail-oriented compound headers.
Aspirational and high-minded, this type of header needs used with care. If it takes too long to parse your meaning, they can leave readers confused and frustrated.
You might titillate some skimmers to look deeper—but you may also turn off readers who find it too fluffy. Worst of all, inspirational headers can easily sound corny and cliché.
You might use this technique for a hip boutique—not an industrial B2B company. If the audience is right, though, they can work wonders for establishing a brand, tone, and ambiance.
When it comes to website copywriting, headers are never as simple as they seem. While we hope these tips can help, don’t hesitate to reach out to the experts. Get in touch with MarketSmiths’ copywriters by completing the contact form below.