Five Dos and Don'ts for Profit-Boosting Headlines

"Of course you want the 'absolutely must read' reaction don't you?"

by Michael Cooney

The headline is the most important part of your ad. If your prospective customer isnít strongly motivated to learn more based on your headline, your ad won't be read. Also, everything else youíve prepared for your audience is wasted. That's true whether itís a print ad, direct mail piece, radio spot, or TV commercial.

Here, then, are five profit-building guidelines to keep in mind when composing your headlines.

Donít be "cute"

This is the most common mistake by far, popping up constantly in all media. For some incomprehensible reason, many copywriters seem to think that the headlineís purpose is to show off their genius-level double entendres, or their stunning humor and wit.

First, cute headlines lack the focus required for profitable advertising. Next, where English is a second language for many, double entendres and many kinds of humor are simply not understood. Why automatically eliminate 20 or 30 percent of your potential sales?

Do remember the purpose of your headline

The sole purpose of your headline is to motivate the reader or hearer to want to read or hear more. Thatí's it. If it doesnít succeed at that, the entire ad or commercial is wasted.

The headline is the ad for the ad. When you read a newspaper, how do you decide which articles are of interest to you? You scan the headlines. If a certain headline causes you to think "Thereís something I want to learn more about!" then you read further.  

If your headline mini-ad doesn't stop prospective customers in their tracks, they will never even see or hear your great sales pitch and offer. Instead, they will go on to the next page in the magazine or newspaper, or "click you" with their remote to change channels.

Don't let them get away with that! Focus like a laser beam on what it will take to make prospects stop and say "Really? I want to learn more!" To help you with that focus, hereís the next "Do."

Do offer a strong benefit

The single best focus for your headline is to identify the biggest benefit you can offer. Then, experiment with a dozen different ways of expressing it so you can present it in the most compelling manner. Itís not just what you say, but how you say it.

Outside it's 99 in the shade as I write this. I just had some ice cream, so I'll use that for an example. If you sell quality ice cream, you could have a headline that says "Great ice cream for sale." Or you might say instead "Gourmet-quality ice cream in twelve of the most intense, mouth-watering all-natural flavors youíve ever experienced!"

Now, since your target audience is those who like ice cream, the first headline may get some of them to read more. But the second headline will grab a far higher percentage of ice-cream lovers, and pique their imagination and interest so they absolutely must read more. Of course you want the "absolutely must read" reaction, don't you? Which brings us to the next pointÖ.

Do use long headlines when appropriate

Quite a few "experts" will tell you that short headlines are better than long; that the public wonít read long headlines and that a short "powerful" headline will bring more response. Don't believe them. Your customers will read long headlines -- they just wonít read boring ones.

In the ice cream scenario above, the second example was a rather long headline. But those who love ice cream will stop right there and insist on learning more.

I've written headlines for print ads far longer than the one above, and with dramatic results. The point here is once you have someone's attention, you'd better make it count. Long headlines can radically boost response.

Don't try to attract everyone

If you try to be all things to all people, you're going to get hit where it hurts -- right in the wallet. Those who write "cute" headlines, for example, are trying to appeal to everyone. But when readers go further and learn that your offering is of no interest to them, they'll drop out immediately. And resent you for wasting their time. Worse, that vague headline will fail to attract many of your most likely customers, so they will never even learn about your offering

Follow this last rule religiously. Focus your headline only on your very best prospects -- forget everyone else.

Use these guidelines to write tightly-focused, benefit-rich headlines, and soon you'll see your response rate jump.