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.

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

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

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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How many words should you write for your homepage?

At 9:00am this morning I had a scheduled telephone conversation to review a website. I noticed that there was hardly any text on the first page. “How many words should you have on your homepage?” I asked.

The business person that I was talking to said that she wasn’t sure. “Is there a specific number?” she said.

“About 300 words for your website homepage would be helpful,” I said. “This is a good target for blog entries and the same number works for homepages. You can of course write much longer blogs (or homepages), i.e. in excess of 1,000 words.”

“By having a few hundred words on your homepage, you are serving up more material for the search engine spiders to read. Include a few anchor text links*, just like I have done within my homepage: www.nigeltemple.com

There are some exceptions, i.e. if the design precludes using much text. In this case, I imagine that other strategies are being used to find customers (i.e. advertising).

* Anchor text links are text links which jump to a destination page or blog entry within your own website. If you use Wikipedia – you will see a lot of anchor text links.

PS I offer copywriting training as well as website writing services.

How to write website words

Writing the copy (words) for your website can be quite challenging. You need to be clear on your marketing strategy, market segments, points of differentiation, key messages etc before you start to write.

Here is a website writing checklist

  1. Decide on the purpose of your website
  2. Choose the market segments that you will be communicating with (i.e by looking at your marketing plan)
  3. Decide on the geographical footprint (local, regional, national, multi-country, global?)
  4. Write a list of all of the products / services that you sell
  5. Ask your customers what they would like to see, within your website
  6. Gather testimonial statements together and, ideally, get some new ones
  7. Think carefully about the main navigation bar, i.e. Home  About  Services  Blog  Contact (etc)
  8. Seven navigation bar items is fine; nine is the upper limit
  9. Ensure that you are well supplied with coffee, tea and biscuits
  10. Select the keywords and keyword phrases that you will be using
  11. Write the draft copy for the homepage quickly and set this to one side
  12. Now write the copy for the main ‘nav bar’ pages
  13. Refer back to the homepage copy (it will probably need changing)
  14. Write a batch of blogs for the new website
  15. Take a short holiday
  16. Incorporate calls to action throughout the webcopy
  17. Edit the words
  18. Edit them again
  19. Get someone else to read through it all
  20. Proof-read the webcopy
  21. Upload it to your website
  22. Use anchor text links to join everything up
  23. Lie down in a darkened room: you deserve it
  24. Study your website stats to see what people are actually reading
  25. Use this information + customer feedback to improve your webcopy
  26. Take a much longer holiday than you did at step 15

Alternatively…

Are you launching a new website or looking to revitalise your current site? I offer a website writing service with a difference. It combines over three decades of copywriting experience with my marketing consultancy knowledge (3000+ clients). If you would like to spend a day or two writing your website words with me, by all means get in touch. By the way, I never take holidays.

Are the website words holding you up?

Effective website words = the difference between success and failure.

If you are creating a new website, are the words holding you up?

The website developer has created a professional looking design.

They are tapping their fingers, waiting for you to send them the words.

However, you are busy, running your business / doing your job.

Perhaps you have tried doing the writing, only to find that it is somewhat time consuming.

Your webcopy (website words) must get attention, tell a story, answer questions and transmit an emotional message.

In addition, the webcopy should communicate benefits and generate sales enquiries / sales.

The words must be easy to read and they must get the message across.

If you could use some help, either email me or call me on +44(0)1628 773128.

Website words: some tips
*  You have 1 second to get their attention….
*  …therefore, the headline is vital
*  And so is the 1st sentence
*  Write short words
*  Write short sentences
*  Write short paragraphs
*  Use bullet point list (like this one)
*  Use anchor text links
*  Always check your facts
*  Don’t trust spell checking software
*  Pay particular attention to subheads
*  Read the words out loud
*  Keep editing until the padding has gone

Nigel is often asked to provide website writing services – click here to find out more.

If you want to learn more about writing, visit:  www.copywritingtraining.pro

If you would like to talk to a professional webcopywriter and get some feedback, either email me or call me on +44(0)1628 773128.

How many words should you write for Google?

Google logoProbably a lot more than you might think. Google likes deep content from subject experts. For a long time, I have told my clients and marketing seminar audiences, that “the more you write, the more you sell.” When someone asks me, for example: “How many words should I write within a blog?” my standard answer used to be 300 words. However, this number is now edging up. As you read the following, please remember that I am only the messenger (as you might not like the message).

If you really want to get noticed by Google, write extended blog posts of more than 1000 words. Some sources say that circa 1,500 words is a good target to aim for as this word count takes about 5 minutes to read. (If you are wondering how many words there are in this post, the answer is just over 1000). Google prefers a high word count, as long body copy means that the piece contains more expertise and more keywords. After all, if you are writing about a subject in reasonable depth, 1000+ words enables you to argue your case in more depth than 300 words does. However, you have to provide insights. Which means that you must know what you are talking about. Which in turn means that if you pay $5 for someone on the other side of the world to write your blog posts, Google will probably notice. Bear in mind that the Google algorithm is now smart enough to figure out whether you actually know your subject and what you are writing about (kind of scary, really, isn’t it?)

This is one of the reasons why I don’t outsource any of my writing and why I don’t advise that my clients do so. After all, no one knows their subject in quite the same way that they do. I think that it is fine if someone else edits their words, as this means that they are providing a better service to their readers. (During the next copywriting for the web training course, we will be discussing how writing and editing are two separate skills).

There are clearly a number of challenges here, aren’t there? For a start, you have to have quite a bit to say in order to hit 1000 words on any given subject. Having said this, if you continually read about your subject, launch new services / products and are reasonably creative then this is less of a problem. I often work provide marketing advice to independent professionals and business owners who need a little help with their marketing strategy in general and their content marketing in particular (which = the brave new world of marketing). For example, they realise that they can write about their enterprise, services, products and customers. But what else can they write about? Perhaps it is easier for someone ‘looking in’ rather than someone ‘looking out’ to see the numerous possibilities that exist.

Personally, I have found that the more you write and the more frequently you do so, the easier it gets. I imagine that all of these little copywriting and idea generation neurons are busy talking to each other, no matter what I am doing.

Another challenge is how are you going to get all of these words into a machine? I was ill one summer, when I was 16 years old. My father gave me a book which taught me how to touch type. So I know what home keys are, on a keyboard (they have little raised areas for your fingers to find) and I am a reasonably fast typist who can look at the screen whilst I type, not at the keyboard. If you ‘hunt and peck’, I suggest that you learn how to touch type (age is no barrier to learning, is it?)

The average typing speed is 39 words per minute, in other words 2,340 words per hour (the record is an astonishing 216 words per minute). Yes, I know what you are thinking. Probably something like: “There is no way that I could write a 1000 word blog in half an hour.” OK, I accept this. So here are a few ideas which might help:

* Walk around with a note book and pen (i.e. a paper note book). When you have an idea for a blog, write it down. Yes, I know that your fingers will feel clumsy handling the pen as you probably haven’t used one for a decade, but hey, old skills can be useful. Why this 20th century approach? Because all of the novelists I know do this and it would appear that the act of writing with a pen sparks off more ideas than using the virtual keyboard on your smartphone.

* Write regularly, ideally every day – even if it is only 100 words (the words will soon mount up).

* When you read don’t just read about your profession. Ideas come from many different sources. As Leonardo da Vinci said: “Realise that everything connects to everything else.”

* Write directly into your blog software (i.e. WordPress). If someone has to edit / review / clear your words – get them to do so online, ideally within the blog software itself.

* Blog at least once a week and share your blog posts via social media.

By the way, if you are realistically never going to become a touch typist, then I suggest that you start using dictation software. Everyone tells me that it is getting better and better. The alternative would be to work with someone who can make it happen for you i.e. help you to come up with the ideas and actually get them published via your blog, MailChimp newsletter and social media accounts. There are many ways to get all of this done, without soaking up all of your working day.

Here are some other blog posts on content creation which may help:

Coming up with new ideas and finding time to think

How to generate ideas for content marketing blogs

I will be discussing these issues during my next Writing for the Web training course.

Written by marketing consultant, trainer, speaker and author Nigel Temple.
3,000+ clients over a 30 year period.
Nigel is available for hire as a marketing consultantmarketing trainer or marketing speaker.
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