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Writing Headlines – “What’s In it for Me?”

by SMD 


Writing Headlines for Web Content & AdWords

This is a continuation of the web writing series. See part 1 here: Keyword Placement. In this segment, I am sharing some of my research and ideas about writing headlines. As I went through this process I realized that the same ideas hold true for writing an AdWords ad so I have broadened the scope of this segment to include those concepts as well.

Web headlines are often seen out of context, such as in search engine results, bookmark text, a link text or in RSS readers. Check out Google News to realize the importance of a headline that is out of context. Therefore, they must be more of a summary of the complete story. The headline should be an ultra-short abstract of the full story.

Basic guidelines for writing headlines:

  • Put important words at the beginning.
  • Don’t tease to try and entice users to click [web users have been tricked too often - they will resent you].
  • Ask: Will the headline make sense if it is seen completely out of context?
  • Think of headlines as your story’s first impression with the reader.

The Headline needs to answer the viewer’s question: “What’s in it for me?”

Headlines that pull in visitors, for AdWords or search results or just page navigation [to get someone to continue reading your story] all answer that question. The best headlines appeal to the reader’s self-interest or give news that the reader will value.

Here are two examples taken from the AdWords that I saw on a Google search for the term ‘Money‘.

1. “$1000 a day from home”
2. “money at home”

Number 1 clearly answers the question, “What’s in it for me?”
Number 2 is confusing and ineffective. It is a classic example of a headline that doesn’t make sense out of context. It could be about keeping your money in a safe in your basement or earning money renovating your kitchen or ???

The key to writing good headlines is to understand what your reader is looking for and then communicate clearly how your story fills that need.

It the next installment I’ll explain in detail the 4 functions of the headline.

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