Like a lot of kids, I took piano lessons when I was young. It started by learning the location of “C Major” and progressed to scales.
Scales are music fundamentals and are one of the first things you learn in music lessons. Many professional musicians recommend practicing them daily. They keep your fingers limber and improve your listening.
“Do you ask me how good a piano player you may become? Then tell me how much you practice the scales.” — Carl Czerny, Composer of Piano Exercises
So what do music scales have to do with headlines?
They’re both fundamentals.
Without a good headline, you won’t find people willing to read what you wrote.
A good headline entices the reader. It draws them in and offers an inherent answer to the unasked question of “What’s in it for me?”
Imagine the classic headline, “They laughed when I sat at the piano, but when I started to play…”
It’s intriguing, isn’t it? You want to know more.
That’s the goal of a headline.
You need intriguing ones on your social media posts, email subject lines, ad copy, or anything else you’ll write.
If the title is boring or shows no thought, such as “my latest blog post,” then you’re not going to entice many people to click through. This means fewer people will read what you wrote.
And attracting readers is a big part of writing for the Web.
If you’re new to copywriting, you might be unsure as to what makes a good headline.
Headline Writing Class
Several years ago, I joined AWAI’s Circle of Success, and one of our classes was on headline writing. We practiced the 4 U’sTM: Unique, Useful, Urgent, and Ultra Specific.
The goal? Get at least three of those into your headline.
You can see how a headline like “newest blog post” doesn’t hit the mark, does it? It’s neither useful, urgent, ultra-specific, or unique.
Yet, it’s the default for many people new to writing for the Web. Either they don’t think about it, or they’re excited. They’ve poured their energy into writing the blog post, and therefore, it’s interesting — to them.
It may be fascinating. But to get it read, it needs to have an intriguing headline.
When you’re writing copy, you have to think about your potential reader. What’s the benefit of their reading what you wrote? What’s going to be interesting enough to stop them in their busy day?
That’s the thinking you need to be a successful copywriter.
Get Specific with Your 10 Headlines a Day
As a web writer and content strategist, I often look for ways for my clients to stand out online.
To do this, I need to understand what matters to their customer and what they search for online. For example, let’s say I’m writing about marketing for a dog grooming software company. The audience is dog groomers who run one or more grooming businesses. These are small businesspeople who may not have a marketing person and may not even be that computer savvy.
One of my topics is how dog groomers can use Facebook to attract more customers. I can make my title or headline something like, “How Dog Groomers Can Use Facebook to Attract More Customers in as Little as 30 Minutes a Day.”
You can compare this to the 4 U’s. In that case, it’s Ultra-specific, Unique, Useful. If you’re a pet groomer who’s searching for this information at that moment, it’s Urgent.
It’s certainly more specific than Facebook for Small Business Owners. My article has a specific focus, so it makes sense to include that in the headline.
Plus, it’s easier to write an intriguing headline when you write to a specific audience because you know your intended reader.
What about you?
Give Yourself Permission to Practice
What are you writing and for whom?
It was tough when I first started writing 10 headlines a day because I didn’t have a niche. I struggled to understand what mattered to the audience. I was still learning.
Then, I decided to focus on current client projects. Writing web copy for an interior designer? I’d write at least 10 headlines per page. I did the same for the financial advisor and all the other small business owners I worked with when I started my business.
Over time, I got better. Now, I can knock out a decent headline in two or three tries. I have the 4 U’s in mind all the time, I know the audience I’m writing for, and I’ve learned a lot of simple headline structures.
Like piano scales, once you know the basics, you can put them together in an interesting way.
When it comes to improving your headlines, you want to know your audience. Your goal is to entice your intended reader with your headline. Make it good and juicy so they’ll want to click. The next goal is to make the copy interesting enough that they read it. Then, to sign up for something else (newsletter, e-book, etc.).
Accomplishing this will help you get hired again and again.
It all starts with writing 10 headlines a day. You can practice with current clients or choose a product you like. Remember to include at least three of these: Ultra-specific, Useful, Unique, and Urgent.