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Oct 9, 2007
Headlines sell.

Take a look at any magazine front cover and you will see a stack of headlines enticing you to read further. The evening news bulletin - you hear headlines at the top of the news before they go into content. Direct mail - the headline is the difference between reading and binning your letter. Email - the subject line will determine whether or not your mail gets opened.

Headlines are the one of the most important pieces of any communication ...

... And yet headlines are usually an afterthought for most writers ... something they throw together on the way out the door.

This is true if you are in business or in government - you need a great headline to get read.

Think of it this way - your headline is your declaration and reflection of your intent. If you are half-hearted with your intent - you will get half-hearted results. If you are 100% clear on your intent and reinforce this intent with every word you write - you will get brilliant results.

So - how do you get clear on your intent with your writing?

Know precisely why you are writing in the first place. Do you want to book appointments, create sales, generate subscriptions or just create awareness of your services?

If you are using a copywriter to help you write - be 100% honest about what is happening in your life/business at present. If you are honest that your cash-flow is struggling at present and you need to get an injection, or you are really happy and just want to keep the wheels turning over, then the writing you receive will meet that intent. If you try and fudge your briefing to your writer - you will get a disconnect between what you want and what you get (and of course the results).

Once you are clear on your intent spend at least 30% of your writing time on getting the most powerful headline possible.

There are whole books written on how to write a good headline. All of them start with research - work out what you are selling, who you are selling it to and why someone would want to buy it.

It is easy to work out what you are selling if you are selling widgets. But what about services? What services are you selling? It is really easy to get caught on listing the actual service you are selling such as book-keeping. Great - but what does that do for me? Take the next step and explain - what does that mean for me? Why is that a good thing?

Who are you selling to? Selling to everyone in the world is very big (and takes a heck of lot of energy to do). Go back through your sales and work out EXACTLY what sort of people have bought from you in the past - are they middle aged, white anglo-saxon males with traditional views, or are they less than 30 with a passion for danger? Get your ideal client clear in your mind.

Why should they buy your product/service or message? Brainstorm every reason someone would buy this product. Don't limit yourself. Write pages of reasons -including really obscure reasons. Then go back and ask "why this is important" against each reason.

Once you have a huge pile of data, you can start putting your headline together. If you are new to this headline thing - start collecting your own headline list of headlines that have worked in the past. Look at magazines, papers, Readers Digest or even search online for headlines lists.

By using a proven headline as a start for your model, you save time and energy. For example, go onto the net and you will see thousands of headlines starting "Who else wants to {followed by everything from earn a million while in your pyjamas through to pick up chicks within 10 minutes of entering a bar)." The basic headline structure works.

The challenge with using a template is you can become reliant and not truly reflect your research, demographics and reasons for buying. Use the template as a starter, but reflect your intent in the final words and you will get the most powerful results.

Is one headline better that another - YES! With everything you do, it pays to go back and tweak a word here, a comma there. Sometimes just the addition of the letter "s" in a word such as save to saves can make a massive difference in results. In many cases for my clients I will provide a few different headline options to test and measure (if the copy is more than a one-shot event).

The bottom line is to respect headlines for the importance they truly play in any writing. Spend the time up front, clarify your intent and reap the results.
About the Author
Ingrid Cliff is a Freelance Copywriter, Business Development and Human Resources Consultant to Small and Medium Businesses. Ingrid has just published Instant HR Policies and Procedures for Small and Medium Businesses www.heartharmony.com.au
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