8 Simple Dos and Don’ts for Writing Headlines that Don’t Bore My Face Off

After last week’s post, I hope you took a good hard look at the design of your landing page. Today you’re going to re-assess the most valuable real estate within that design: your page’s headline.

Your headline is the very first thing I should see, the thing that catches my attention and keeps me from going to check Facebook again. It’s the thing that pulls me in and gets me to read the rest of your landing page you’ve worked so hard on.

Now I KNOW you’re thinking long and hard about what to put at the top of that page. You’re digging deep into the farthest corners of your brain, mining for people’s opinions in Facebook groups, taking whatever advice you can get about what to call this webinar or report or checklist.

But before you make that final decision, run through this quick Dos and Don’ts list to see if you can take what you’ve got and make it even better:

1. Don’t use your headline to tell me about the packaging of your content.

If your headline says “Free Webinar/Online Training/Report/Coaching” and nothing else, you’ve committed the first cardinal sin of headline writing.

Truth time: the only one who’s excited about your webinar is YOU. I honestly don’t want to sit through another webinar or coaching call unless you can make the case that it can help me solve a concrete problem. (AHEM! Your headline can make that case for you.) Then maybe I’ll consider reading the rest of your landing page.

2. Do use the headline to hook me by quickly laying out the problem I have or the solution you provide.

Here are a handful of headlines that all speak to some struggle people are dealing with (plus my impression of the inner monologue of a true prospect reading each one):

how safe is your site from cruel hackers, janky servers + crappy circumstances outside your control?

from Tiny Blue Orange

(“Oh SNAP, I have NO idea if my site is safe!  And what are those crappy circumstances that are outside of my control? Aaaaaggggghhh gotta keep reading!”)

Never ask “is it paleo” ever again!

from Nerd Fitness

(“Wait REALLY? This is exactly what’s keeping me from actually following the paleo diet – I don’t know what I can eat! So I eat salad all the time which makes my soul weep, and I don’t last more than a day before scarfing some doughnuts. Could this be the resource I’ve been looking for?”)

All Day on Facebook with Nothing To Show For It?

from LKR Social Media

(“UGH, she’s RIGHT! I am wasting my whole day on Facebook and getting zip in terms of results. Maybe this could actually help.”)

Yours Free: A Cheat Sheet for Writing Blog Posts That Go Viral

from Copyblogger

(“I spend so much time on my blog posts but NOBODY bothers sharing them. It’s so depressing, I’m not sure why I bother. Could there really be some science to this? This might be worth checking out.”)

3. Don’t use the headline to introduce yourself.

“I” or “we” have no place in your headline. This is one of the hardest things for people to grasp, but no one cares about you . . . at least not yet. I mean they might care a little, but not more than they care about themselves. About their own shit. Their struggles, to-do lists, big ideas, weekend plans, marital strife, overstuffed inboxes, paralyzing insecurity, kids who won’t stop screaming, or lack of good salsa in their lives.

4. Do make it all about your potential subscriber.

Use the second person in your headlines. In case you’ve forgotten elementary school grammar lessons, the second person means using the subject “you” (as opposed to I, he, she, we or they).

Ash Ambirge does an amazing job of writing in the second person over at The Middle Finger Project (unless she’s telling a personal story). Here’s an example of Ash’s brilliant mix of “you” and “I.”

5. Don’t expect a vague headline to do anything but bore me.

For example:

  • How to Use Facebook Ads
  • Build a Business That You Love
  • Start Living an Abundant, Authentic Life
  • The Guide to Getting It On

(OK, that last one is actually the name of a book, and an AMAZING one at that. In case you need help in that area. Just sayin’.)

I have to come clean about this: I write headlines like this all the time. It’s such an easy trap to fall into; I know that my webinar about landing pages can help people grow their list more. So “How to improve your landing page” seems like a perfectly acceptable headline to me.  At first.

But “how to improve your landing page” is incredibly boring. How many people do you think sit around talking with their friends about how they need to improve their landing pages? Or how they want to live a life of freedom? Or how to be happy?

It’s much more likely that people are saying things like:

  • “I need to make $500 extra per month so I can pay off all this credit card debt.”
  • “I need to lose 10 pounds to feel good about this bridesmaids dress I’m being forced to wear.”
  • “I want to find a new job that lets me work from home because my commute is sucking every ounce of joy from my soul.”
  • “I need to figure out which credit card will help me get enough miles to take that trip to Croatia without killing my credit score.”

Don’t be vague or abstract in your headline. It won’t grab anyone’s attention.

6. Do talk in specific terms that peak my curiosity, for example:

What would it feel like to know you’re moving forward every single day on your launch? Good. That’s How.
The End of the Boost Post Button
Free Download: A One-Page Complete Guide to Real Food
The 4 Most Important Pages On Your Website, And How To Tweak Them To Triple Your Conversions
And a few more from Moz:

Great Headline Examples: Moz

Note about the Moz examples above: I actually think these are kind of boring headlines. That said,  I’ve read that The Beginner’s Guide to SEO brings Moz an INCREDIBLE amount of search traffic to their site. (It’s a fantastic guide by the way; I’d highly recommend it to anyone interested in getting their feet wet with SEO.)

My guess is that the “beginner’s guide” positioning speaks to a very particular kind of visitor, someone who really needs to be walked through these concepts starting at a basic level. If you know your audience and what resources they’re looking for, you can write headlines that pull them right in.

7. Don’t let yourself off the hook with a bad headline.

I know, I know. You just need to get this landing page live as soon as humanly possible so you can move onto the next task on your endless launch to-do list! So you’re tempted to come up with a so-so headline that you know I wouldn’t approve of, just so it can be done already!

Resist the urge – I know you can do it.

8. Do write out a boatload of different options before you settle.

Every hear of Upworthy’s 25 Headline Challenge?

We implemented that rule for all most of the blog posts on the LKR Social Media blog, and our headlines (and therefore our social shares and traffic) drastically improved.

You can read about the challenge here but the gist of it is this: you have to write 25 headlines for a single blog post or landing page before you choose one.

This exercise can be unbelievably difficult, but usually around headline #18 you have this incredible breakthrough, and everything that flows from your brain to your fingertips is either sheer genius or straight-up insane. Insane doesn’t mean bad – it may be just the thing your headline needs!

PRO TIP: all those headlines you don’t end up using can be repurposed into tweets and posts on Facebook, Google Plus, Pinterest and Instagram. BOOM!

My Go-To Headline Resource

Every six months or so, I review one PDF to keep my brain “in shape” for headline writing. If not, I end up writing vague crap that you would be very disappointed in if you saw it. Click here to grab this PDF from Boost Blog Traffic for free (and make sure you bookmark it!).

If you take away one thing about writing headlines from this post, it should be this:

Your headline should be about the person you want to attract to your list or about what you’re going to give them. It should not be about you or your business.

You feel me?

Want to get some lightning-fast feedback on the latest headline you wrote?

Leave it in the comments below; I’ll give you my thoughts and then push you Whiplash-style to make it even better. I promise I won’t make your fingers bleed. :)