How to write better headlines

Given that headlines are the entry point to the rest of your copy, here is a challenge for you.  Get up a little earlier tomorrow morning and write 10 headlines. Then do the same thing for the next 21 working days. This could be for a website page, a blog entry, a social media item, an advert, an email subject line or any other sales or marketing item which includes a headline.

When you write, do not try to edit your copy (words). Just write. If you find that you write more than 10 headlines, that’s fine, however ensure that you are writing at least 10 and no fewer during each writing session.

During my copywriting training workshops and talks we always discuss headlines. Focus your attention on the first 2 or 3 words as these are the most important. The reason being that the eye reads in ‘chunks’ and the reader will process the first words of your headline.  They may already be making a decision with regards to whether they will continue reading. It is a bit like your smile when you meet someone – it is the first thing that they see and they may well smile back at you.

It is OK to write long headlines, in that the reader will usually read the whole sentence. Check out advertisements and count the number of words that they put in their headlines. Sometimes it is only a few words, sometimes the headline is much longer.

Headlines are a big subject and, because I don’t get out much, I have been studying them for over 30 years. An effective headline can work wonders, by the way and entice the reader to continue reading – just like you are now.

Having written 10 headlines, go and do something else. After at least an hour has passed, come back and look at them. Sometimes, the best one jumps out at you. If you work in a team ask your colleagues to vote on your headline ideas: you will be surprised with the results, I am sure.

I know that you are busy. You may be a business owner or marketing professional. I am sure that your ToDo list never ends. Even if you are lucky enough to be able to outsource your copywriting, I still think that it is important that you contribute ideas (including headlines).

I have found that little and often beats big and infrequent, when it comes to writing and this is true for headline writing.

As you know, Google likes content including headlines (wrapped in H1 tags within the html).  Writing headlines will give you ideas for website pages and blog entries. You can also experiment with split A/B tests to see which headlines work the best.

I realise that writing words for websites can be a big challenge, which is why I offer this service and provide training in this area.

So, will you take me up on my challenge and write 10 headlines tomorrow?

Here are 26 ways to write better headlines.

For support and ideas, either comment on this blog or engage with me via The Marketing Compass website where we have a Copywriting Group.

Website navigation bar tips

Imagine that you are looking for a specific product or service that you market. Now take a look at your website. Does your navigation make it easy to find the relevant item? Is it easy to understand? Is everything in the right order?

Here is a simple navigation bar:

Home
About
Services (or Products)
Blog
Contact

Notice that there are only 5 options.

in general terms, fewer is better.

An upper limit would be 9 items.

Use drop downs to reveal other options.

Ensure that the menu works well on smartphones and other mobile devices.

If the customer hasn’t visited your site before, they will be looking for something. If they can’t find it quickly, they will disappear.

Visitors will spend a few seconds looking for what they’re after. If it is buried or difficult to find, you’re making them work too hard and they will go elsewhere.

My first book was about writing words for websites. During the research for this book, I looked at hundreds of website navigation bars.

By the way, there is a trend away from navigation bars altogether. Here an example: www.marketingrobot.co.uk

Website development

You have 1 second to convince customers to stay on your website

Imagine that you are seeing your website homepage for the very first time.

The website has  1 second to convince you to ‘stick around town’.

Two types of people visit your site: strangers and friends. Strangers include people who are looking to buy and friends include customers and people that know you.

They are busy. They are on a mission. They want an answer to their question or a way to solve their problem and they want it now.

Online, first impressions count.  The customer’s heart will either sing or sink as they look at your site.

How many customers are you losing, by not passing the ‘1 second homepage’ test?

Website development

Write from the customer’s perspective

During my copywriting training workshops, we have been discussing ‘becoming the customer’ during the writing process.

Before you begin a new campaign, write a Brief. This should include the campaign objectives, specific goals, the target market and the benefits of the product / service that you are marketing.

Then imagine what it would be like to be the customer that you are communicating with. How can your product / service help them? Do they know that they have problem that you can solve? What sort of benefits and proof are they looking for?

Perspective taking is different from empathy. It is the ability to see the world from someone else’s point of view.

Being able to write ‘with the customer in mind’ can make a considerable difference to the quality and effectiveness of your web pages, blogs, newsletters, videos and PPC advertisements.

Google Analytics and deciding what to blog about

Have you ever been stuck when it comes to deciding the next blog topic for your website? If you blog frequently, coming up with new topics can be a challenge.

Here is an idea for you. Log into https://analytics.google.com and click on Behaviour / All pages. [I am assuming that you have Google Analytics installed within your website; if you don’t, you may be using a different stats package that should reveal the information that we are looking for].

This will show you a list of the most popular pages on your website. The first result will probably show a forward slash / ….this is your homepage, so you can ignore this.

The first thing to do is to change the date range in the URHC (Upper Right Hand Corner) of the page, to at least a year’s worth of data. Experiment with this and see what happens to the list if you look more recently: is something new on your site attracting attention? You can also extend the date range: are some pages / blog entries of continual interest?

Once you have ascertained the most popular URLs within you site, think about the blogs that you could write. Could you reword a blog title and write about the subject from a different angle? Could you combine two topics into one? What has changed since the original blog or page was published?

You may well find that your most popular blog entries contain ‘long body copy’ (i.e. a lot of words). For example, this post on brand strategy is one of my most popular posts during the last decade:

Brand strategy

Here are some of my other blogs which may help:

How to generate ideas for content marketing / blogs …part 1

How to generate new ideas for content marketing / blogs part 2

Writing for the Web tips and ideas

The Marketing Compass logoHow many websites do you visit, during a normal working day? How long do you spend looking at each site? Website visitors go foraging. Information foraging is an art which people learn when they use search engines. Some may say that they are lazy. Darwin would have said: “Why waste additional energy if you don’t have to?”

Clear thinking leads to clear writing

Are you clear about:
►  Your subject matter?
►  Who you are writing for?
►  Your objectives?

In a world where many of us have become content publishers, effective webcopy writing skills are in great demand. Here are some tips and ideas for you, based on on my experience so far…

Become your reader

When you are writing webcopy, focus on the reader. Write as if you were writing for one person. Use the word ‘You’ as much as possible.

Use ‘You’ four times as often as you use ‘I’ and ‘We’.

When people read your webcopy, it will come across as more personal and engaging.

Structure your content

You have one second, so make it count.

Website visitors are busy, just like you are. They have limited time and will only give you a moment or two to convince them to continue reading.

10 years ago, I used to tell my seminar audiences that they had four seconds. Five years ago, it was two seconds. Today, you only have one second to get the readers’ attention.

What goes through their mind, both consciously and sub consciously, within a second?

“Does the design look professional?” “Is this going to be hard work to read?” “What does the headline say? Does it look interesting? Is this a solution to my problem? Is it worth reading the first sentence of the text?” “Can I easily find what I want?” “How do I contact them to find out more?”

Signpost your content

Use clear signposting. What does this page offer the reader? Begin by arresting the reader’s attention. Then keep hold of it. Start by telling them what’s in it for them.

Give reasons to read

It is a good idea to use summary paragraphs. These act as ‘advertisements’ for the next section of text.

Give them the big picture

Give the reader the big picture for what lies ahead.

Think about the home pages that you visit. Some of them are hard to understand, aren’t they?

Extracted from Webcopy Writing by Nigel Temple

Copywriting training for digital marketing communication

Can you write a blog in 15 minutes?

The Marketing Compass logoThe answer is that yes, you can if you follow these principles:

* Capture blog ideas as they come to you
* You can do this via your smartphone or by using a (paper!) notebook
* If you work in a team, ensure that your colleagues continually feed you blog ideas
* If you can’t already touch type, learn to do so
* Set yourself a time limit to write a blog…
* …for example, I gave myself 15 minutes for this blog and it was finished within 14 minutes
* Write blogs early in the morning, before you get stuck into emails…
* …which means that you may have to get up 15 minutes earlier
* You don’t have to include an image within all of your blog entries
* If your blogs need to be cleared, have a pipeline of blogs
* A lot of time is wasted going over the writing and trying for perfection: you don’t have time for this
* Having said this, always allow at least five minutes for proofreading
* Although it is true that Google likes long form blog posts of over 1,000 words, short blog entries are fine

We are finding that members of The Marketing Compass who blog the most, receive the most sales leads (click on the logo to find out more).

See also:

How to generate ideas for content marketing / blogs …part 1

Copywriting training for digital marketing communication

How to write a perfect customer case study

The Marketing Compass logoCustomers love case studies. They describe how a real person is using your products / services. They are equally useful in B2B and B2C marketing.

A case study is a story with a beginning, a middle and an end. It should be written in an engaging, informative way.

A key component is a testimonial statement. This can be included within the “What benefits are they receiving?” section.

Customer case study structure

1.  What was the customer’s situation?
2.  What specific needs did they have?
3.  What were they using before?
4.  Why did they decide to change?
5.  What were the customer’s objectives?
6.  How did they find you?
7.  Why did they decide to buy from you?
8.  What were their first impressions?
9.  What benefits are they receiving?
10.  What are their plans for the future?

I have written case studies from 400 words to 4000 words.

Write a descriptive headline and use sub heads to break the story up. It is fine to use bullet points. Include as much hard data as possible, including exact numbers.

Include as many direct quotes from the customer as possible, as this will make the story feel more authentic.

Include at least one photograph. It should show the smiling customer, whilst they are using your product or service. In addition, if you can film them, so much the better.

Ideally, you should have at least one case study for each market segment that you serve.

Clear the case study with the customer and then publish it as a blog within your website. Share the blog via social media and consider printing it.

Click here to read about Nigel’s copywriting training services.

Website homepage first impressions

During my internet marketing workshops and talks, I used to say that you had 4 seconds to convince a website visitor to stay on your website. Today, that number has reduced to 1 second.

Internet users typically visit dozens and sometimes hundreds of websites in a single day. If they haven’t visited your site before, they will be looking for something. If they can’t find it quickly, they will simply visit a different website.

Two types of people visit your site: strangers and friends. The latter includes customers, staff, suppliers, investors and other people who know your business. They tend to be more forgiving and will they will take their time to find what they want. On the other hand, strangers are first time visitors who have found you, for example, via search or a hyperlink. They are busy. They are on a mission. They want an answer to their question and they want it right now.

Imagine for a moment that you are one of these people and that you are looking for a product or service that you provide. Now take a look at your website. Can you find this product or service quickly? Is it contained within the main navigation bar? Is it mentioned within your homepage? Is there a search bar towards the top of the screen?

The first second on your site is all about first impressions. Does the page look professional? Is there anything that could put the visitor off? Does the page work properly on a smartphone? Assuming that you pass this test, the visitor will spend a few seconds looking for what they are after. If it is buried or difficult to find, you are making them work too hard and they are very likely to go elsewhere.

How many customers are you losing, by not passing the ‘1 second homepage’ test?

Associated blogs:

How many words should you write for your homepage?

38 ways to promote your website

Where do my website visitors come from?

Website review service

What to look for in a website copywriter

If you are looking for some help with your website words, you may be wondering what to look for in a website copywriter. Here is a checklist for you:

  1. Is the writer happy to invest time in understanding you and your business?
  2. Do they understand marketing and specifically, digital marketing?
  3. When you contact them, do they listen or talk? If they talk a lot, they’re not learning about you, are they?
  4. Do they have a wide vocabularly? This is important as they will need to find ‘just the right words’ to describe your business.
  5. Does their website contain a lot of words? Sparse copy within a copywriters’ website is a warning signal.
  6. Do they blog? Regular blogging is a sign of someone who loves to write.
  7. Is their writing easy to read? Does it give you a good feeling, as you read it?
  8. Are they keeping up to date with internet marketing and changes in technology?
  9. Do they have a sales background? This will come in handy when they are selling your products / services.
  10. Do they offer unlimited editing, within each project?
  11. Do they react quickly when you contact them?
  12. Are they comfortable talking to business owners / senior management?
  13. Can they get started as soon as you are ready?
  14. Do they have a significant following within the social media?

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