What exactly does it take to write a great headline? Well, to start off with, I’d say about 99 rejected headlines and 1 winner. Headline writing is an art, and, like all art, benefits from practice and different perspectives.
First of all let’s get something out of the way. Whether or not you like the final headline doesn’t actually matter. You are not your target market. The only people who need to approve of your headline are your audience. Not you, not your favorite aunt, not your best friend who’s really good at giving advice.
On a good day I might give your flyer or sales piece about 5 seconds of my attention. Either grab me with your headline, or risk not grabbing me at all.
The first step in crafting a headline that works is to brainstorm using my three Don’ts:
- Don’t stop to think
- Don’t rule out anything
- Don’t worry about grammar (at least not at this stage)
Here’s an example of a brainstorming session that just took me seven minutes.
The flyer is for a reusable shopping bag which can be recycled. The existing headline is
WHAT ARE GO GREEN BAGS?
Which begs the answer: I don’t know and I don’t especially care. Not the best headline to get me to read more.
So I’m looking for a headline which is catchier, and which will tell me a little more about the product.
- Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.
- The New Era Of Shopping Bags Has Arrived
- Go Green With Shopping Bags
- Save The Earth – Get Green Get With It
- Be Fantastic – Lose Plastic
- Shopping Bags – Now Stronger and Better For The Environment
- The Perfect Solution For Tearing Plastic Bags
- Walking Commercial On a Shopping Bag
- Safe Shopping – Even For Kids
- Help the Environment With a Go Green Shopping Bag
- Help the Environment and Help Yourself
- It’s In the Bag
- Green Bag It
- We Won’t Nag If You Use a Green Bag
- Get the Environment Clean – Use Green
- We’re Keen To Use Green
- The Green Scene
- Help Save the Environment – Be Seen with Green
- Vent Your Spleen. Go Green.
- Walk the Talk – Be Seen with Green
Some of these potential headlines were inspired by wording in the rest of the flyer. Some were compiled with the aid of a rhyming dictionary, and some were the inspiration of our teenage daughter. They are nowhere near final versions, and nor are they supposed to be. But they’re a good start.
Get a Second Opinion
When you look over your possible headlines, you’ll find that a few of them seem more attractive to you than others on the list. But that’s just your opinion. And you don’t matter.
Now take the list, and without commenting on it, ask three or four friends, neighbors, or people in the street which headlines they think are better. And then see if they can tell you why.
Go Back to the Drawing Board
You should now have a short list of headlines with potential. Work on each one to refine it and come up with four or five versions.
Get Another Second Opinion
Now ask your friends, neighbors and your entire local football team (or anyone else you happen to come across) what they think of your revised headlines.
Rinse and Repeat
Go through the refining and feedback loop until you come up with at least one headline (preferably three or four) which gets you the response you’re looking for.
Generally, you’ll know you’re on the right track when someone says “I want to know more,” or “that sounds interesting,” or “what a great idea.”
By the time you finish, you’ll probably have found your 99 rejects and that one golden headline which really does stop those eyeballs in their tracks.