Headline Tip #9: Make Dysfunction Function for You

by Wes Hanson on April 19, 2012

Obsessive compulsiveness is rational? Are you crazy?

Yes, and no. It’s only logical to fuss over your headlines and opening statements. Look at advertising legends like David Ogilvy and Gene Schwartz, who worked and reworked (and reworked) their headlines and copy openings, devoting at least half their writing time to just the first few words.

The purpose of each sentence, starting with the headline, is to get you to read the next. If you don’t read beyond the headline then all is for naught. So that headline had better be damn good. Then the opening paragraph (or intro) has to hold up.

Call it neurotic, but writers need to be read like actors need to be watched. Yet their self-absorption ironically finds its highest expression in deeply connecting with the needs of others.

Understand the value of the news your promoting. What is its importance or benefit to the reader? Understand your target audience. As in life, trying to appeal to everyone often means appealing to no one. Using the wrong approach or headline template makes you look oblivious to the reader’s concerns. Understand why a given headline works, so you’re not operating on auto-pilot (and turning people off with your blandness, irrelevance, laziness, or cynicism).

American Writers & Artists has an interesting approach to writing headlines, shared by CopyBlogger. Headlines (and subheads and bullet points too) should be Ultra specific, Useful, Unique, and Urgent. AWAI calls these the “Four U’s.”

U would do well to heed the advice, or employ someone who does.

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