Unlike other animals, humans are driven by rational thought (well… some of us are). However, as much as we like to believe in our powers of higher thinking, we’re still led by our emotions and instincts more often than we care to admit. Good copywriters know that a great headline grabs audiences’ attentions and taps into their emotions – leaving them with little choice but to keep reading. Want to learn how to sharpen your headlines’ hooks? Read on to find out more…
An offer they can’t refuse
We see clickbait all the time. Despite knowing that the articles are usually just trashy advertisements (or even worse, a link to a virus), we sometimes get tempted and click through anyway. Sites like Buzzfeed are notorious for clickbait titles, and as much as we rip on them for mediocrity, their titles often contain attractive promises that serve as fine lures. Just what makes clickbait so attractive? Is it because “we won’t believe” it until we read it? Or is it because it seemingly makes a fantastic promise that resonates with us?
According to Robert van Tongeren from SmartBlogger, it’s essential to consider context and what your audience needs now in order to deliver promises that readers find relevant. Let’s say you were tasked to write a promotional piece for a travel agency… Compare the two headlines below:
· Tricks to finding the perfect holiday destination
· How to find holiday destinations customers will beg to sign-up for
Although the first looks appropriate, van Tongeren urges you to reconsider. If you asked travel agents what they wanted most right now, how many of them would be interested in finding the perfect holiday destination? Maybe a few… but having customers begging to throw money their way is probably the more attractive option! Knowing that there is an immediate need, you can frame your headline in a way that will attract conversions like chum in open water.
However after you’ve lured them in, you better be certain that you can deliver on your promise – otherwise you’d be no different from the clickbaiters. “Be click-worthy, not click-bait-y,” writes Forbes. “The difference? Whether the piece pays off on the headline’s promise.”
The blame game
Many people find it difficult to accept responsibility for the misfortunes or inadequacies in their lives. Arguably, this is why we love pointing the finger of blame at someone or something else – it validates our current circumstances and requires little effort on our part. Marketers can take advantage of this by identifying a common “enemy” shared by audiences, then providing a solution to overcome it.
Van Tongeren suggest posing several questions to help you identify a scapegoat:
· What is your audience trying but failing at?
· What are some outside forces that hold your audiences back?
· Who or what can your audience blame for their lack of success?
Using the travel agency example again, we expect their clientele are often busy couples or families with little time to plan a holiday due to poor work-life balance, the time-suck of parenthood or simply the stress of organising a vacation. With these factors in mind, you now have common targets for your headlines – letting your audience know that you understand their struggles, and that you can help them! Using this tactic, we might craft the following:
· Why your overstressed family deserves a fret-free vacation
Alternatively, you can also blame the reader for their current difficult circumstances and create fear about what will happen if things don’t change. Van Tongeren poses a few more questions for consideration:
· How is your audience holding itself back?
· What mistakes do they already suspect they’re making?
· What is the worst possible future your audience can imagine?
· What situation does your audience dread finding themselves in?
Although you’ll need to craft your headline with a bit more tact (you wouldn’t want to offend your readers), letting them know that they have the ability to fix their own mistakes provides a powerful wake-up call. Using the example above, we might tweak it to:
· Will your family sabotage your vacation in paradise?
“This appeals to the desire to not feel like a screw-up,” writes van Tongeren, “We’ll do anything to avoid mistakes and get things right because we want to avoid making fools of ourselves.”
When sex and wit intersect
Provided your target audience isn’t young children, then it’s a no-brainer that sex sells. We’re not talking about explicit adult material like you’d find in 50 Shades of Grey (otherwise you’d have furious conservative mobs coming at you with torches and pitchforks), but instead, headlines that blend wit and a bit of naughty imagery to pique readers’ interests.
In Steve Harrison’s book, How to Write Better Copy, he provides an example of a witty, yet racy headline:
· “This summer, kiss your wife in places she’s never been kissed before.”
Without knowing who or what the brand is, the above is rather suggestive. However, what if we told you it was an advertisement for a travel agency promoting their new holiday destinations? Now the headline makes more sense – and you’re probably criticising yourself for having your mind in the gutter.
To pull this off (no pun intended), you need to align your product with the interests of your target audience. Think about what an exotic vacation could mean for busy families or couples (some gutter thoughts intended), and see if you can connect the dots between the two.
“The fact that many couples see their fortnight away each year as a chance to catch up on their rumpy-pumpy adds extra meaning to the headline, and makes it doubly satisfying,” writes Harrison.
Integrating emotions and imagination-stimulating imagery into a headline creates a potent brew for arousing reader curiosity – provided you have a thorough understanding of their needs and are able to frame your hooks around them. If you’re having trouble crafting a headline with a finely honed edge, remember that an experienced copywriter can help to craft personalised promises that are anything but clickbait.