This week we’ll examine a few tips and tactics for improving your headlines so that they will attract more notice.

Before I get into a few headline writing tips, I would like to share a little about the very first time that I learned how powerful changing just a few words in a headline can be.

It was with an early client who had a small retail store that was selling a popular children’s toy (which was based on characters in a TV show.)

I had been working with the client on all aspects of SEO, and during the first 6 month, I  was seeing some impressive traffic increases. When we started, they were getting less than 500 user sessions per day, but now after 6 months of consistent work, the visitor count was up to 44,000 user sessions. This was back around 1997 and being a new SEO, I was pretty thrilled with the report so I told the client about the latest traffic. Their reaction caught me a little by surprise.

“Frankly, they exclaimed – we are not too impressed!”

I said WHAT? Pardon me, but….  Common, just picture 44,000 visitors all lining up the street just coming to see you this month! They said, “The traffic is good, but we have not made one sale off of the Web site, so what good is it?”

After giving the matter some thought, we talked about making those visitors a special offer. We came up with an offer and I made just one change to the headline at about 10 PM on a Friday night. By first thing next day, multiple orders were coming in starting on that Saturday morning and from each day on, after that.

One little change to a headline and we had found the road to success! So what was the one change I made that started sales to begin happening? I’ll explain what I did at the end of this post.

This week we want to dig in with some suggestions to help you boost your writing creativity, when you are feeling stumped.

Tip 1. Begin to watch and take note of headline examples that you see in popular magazines.

One of the joys I had a while ago, was teaching SEO to a group of professional journalists and writers for a very well known publication. The reason this class was a joy to me, was because every participant in the room already knew the value of writing good content. They just wanted help to understand more about how the search engines work.

Every journalist in that room, literally had their own niche magazine that they wrote on a regular basis. What can you learn by watching for magazine examples of headlines?

Probably the most important thing, was that each of these writers, knew their target audience’s tastes. It really did not matter on whether the magazine was on antiques or on gardening, each headline was written for their specific audience. Remember to be aware of everything you read and you may even want to keep a journal so you can write down a particularly good approach that you see demonstrated.

Tip 2. Don’t just slap together one headline, but take the time to write down 5 or 6 different headlines.

The act of repeated re-writing your headline can take on a nearly therapeutic effect as you allow your mind the freedom to be flexible enough to write and re-write it over again. Sometimes your final idea for the best headline will manifest itself, after you have actually completed the article.

Tip 3. Remember to accent the benefits “what’s in it for you” right within the headline sometimes.

Tip 4. If you are feeling stuck, try restating the headline in a completely different format.

  • Re-write your headline as a question to the reader.
  • Re-write your headline using an important fact.
  • Re-write your headline so that is focused on nostalgia.
  • Re-write your headline to include a number or statistic.
  • Re-write your headline in a way that “paints a picture” in the readers mind.
  • Re-write the headline so that it addresses “the challenge.”
  • Re-write the headline so it focuses on “the solution.”

There are dozens upon dozens more formats if you allow your creative thinking the freedom of time to output.

Tip 5. Create your headline so that it has an element of surprise to it. Perhaps even in some cases, some shock value.

Naturally you want your headline to grab attention, but be careful that it is not too “over the top.” By that I mean that the reader should not be disappointed when they click through to the full article.

Tip 6. If you really feel stuck, then get out for a while and change your activity.

There really is some truth to the old expression of “I think I should sleep on it.” Give yourself the time that you need to keep your creativity charged.

One of the easiest ways to do that, is to simply do for a break, something fun. Get out for a change of scenery. Some of the greatest ideas I’ve had in the past, was when I’ve been out in a park or when you change pace and simply play a game.

Tip 7. Don’t forget to entertain some of the traditional headline writing formulas such as:

  • Using an If/Then statement.  This is particularly powerful if you think of it in terms of an opening line that states:”If (whatever the problem is) Then (here is the solution.)
  • Using a portion of the conversation within the body text as an attention grabbing headline. For example:  “Everyone laughed at me when I began to sketch this guy’s  portrait, but when they saw what I drew, the room was silent.”
  • You can sometimes use humor in a headline, so long as it is effective humor. However, you need to be careful with humor and remember that if there is any possible way to take the “wrong meaning” from it, then some reader probably will.
  • The special offer headline might be used. Obviously everyone likes to get a special deal or a discount etc.
  • You might use one of your client’s most powerful testimonials, as a headline.  For example:  “You guys are amazing! I attend different courses conducted
    by some of the top names in the Industry but this is the best course I have ever attended.”

Sean Cooney – Search Engine Academy Graduate Marketing Professional

  • The Press Release Style headline.  So your headline reads much the way a news story would read. For example:  “Click Fraud Climbs By 15% This Year”

Tip 8. Remember to include very positive elements into your headline.

Everyone wants to read content that lifts them up and provides them with useful information. But nobody ever responds to sour grapes.

As you may recall in last week’s post, the 3 areas that can most often impact emotional value, are headlines that include:

  • words that are appealing to the intellect
  • words that communicate with a feeling of empathy
  • words that appeal spiritually and encourage the reader

Okay, Back To That Toy Store Example:

In summary of the early example of that little toy store, I know some of you may be wondering what change I made on the Friday night that started a slew of sales beginning the very next day.

Actually, it was just one headline I added that was based on a special discount offer for new customers. It read:

“Special Alert – All New Customers Save 20% on any first order of a toy or toys over $100.”

It so happened that these little toys were quite expensive so a 20% discount added up to some nice savings.

It’s onto part 3 next week and creative tactics for writing fresh and useful body text.

Talk to you soon,
Best wishes,
John Alexander

Like the only REAL magic – the magic of knowledge!