April 3, 2006

4 Functions of the Headline

Posted in web notes at 11:57 am by Jon Symons

The 4 functions of a headline [or AdWord heading] are:

  1. To grab the readers attention.
  2. To pre-screen or select your readers.
  3. Deliver a complete message.
  4. Draw a reader into the story.

A headline should grab the readers attention.

As mentioned in yesterday's aricle [ What's in it for me? ] a headline's best tools for getting attention are to appeal to the reader's self-interest or to give news. A web reader is always, either consciously or subconsciously, searching for something. If you present a headline that is aligned with that quest and you will have the attention of the reader.

News is also effective, as it has the promise of seeing something exciting and new. News headlines use words like: new, discover, announcing, first, just released, or introducing.

The biggest attention getter is, and you'll see it constantly used in AdWords, is "Free". It is also the most dangerous because it raises the reader's expectations and if you don't deliver they may hate you, they certainly won't trust you, and we kind of all know in the back of our mind that there is no such thing a somethng for nothing [a separate article I think].

A headline should pre-screen or select your readers.

The headline needs to be specific enough to screen your viewers. It needs to tell the reader if the article is for them. Looking at a recent headline of mine "The Buying Process". It is actually a story about the how the buying process can be related to a website, so the headline should have had at least some indication of the fact that the story related to websites. Remember to review your headlines out of their page context; as they may be seen in RSS readers, search engine results and others.

A headline should deliver a complete message

If you realize that many more people will read your headlines than will read the complete article, the headline can be used to deliver a complete message. Here's a headline from Google News: "Rogers buys Call-Net". You can get the whole story from the headline. This type of headline can be effective for branding if you include the site or company name.

A headline should draw a reader into the story.

The ways to draw someone a story usually involve humor, intrigue or the desire to find out more: curiosity. This can be done by asking a question or by making a promise of useful information.

The very effective: "Top 10 Tips for Getting Rich" style headlines make a promise of practical, easy to use information. If you aren't feeling rich it's difficult to not click a headline like this.

Here's another from today's news: "Bye-bye Tony Blair?". Even though I have no particular interest in Tony Blair, the question headline is so effective I find myself wanting to read the story.

So to summarize there is a lot that can be accomplished with a headline, whether it is in an AdWords ad or a regular story headline that may be seen in a search engine result. In the realm of the hyperlink the effectiveness of your headlines can make a big difference in your earnings.

The next story in this series will probably be the last on headlines. In it I will go down one more level of detail and explore the types of effective headlines.

Headlines follow ups:

Search Google for Writing Effective Story Headlines.

Here is a good resource for headlines. And this story "How to Write Effective Headlines"

Samples: "10 Reasons to Never Visit a Florida all Inclusive Resort" or "How to Save a Bundle on Your Automobile Financing"

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