Do you know why your headline is so important?

You’ve started writing your blog and sending out newsletters, but perhaps you’re not getting the response rate you’d like: your click-through numbers are low and no-one’s commenting or writing back to you. The writer’s life is often solitary but heck – it’s not meant to be this lonesome!

Where are you going wrong? Why aren’t people engaging with your scintillating prose, your closely-argued ideas, your innovative use of English, your sheer originality? Does all that count for nothing?

Well, yes.

Letter openingUnless people actually open your emails or read your blogs, all that does count for precisely nothing. You are, to pinch an analogy from Dan Kennedy (I think), taking water to the horse, but the obstinate beast won’t drink unless it wants to – you’ve got to make that horse thirsty. How? Feed it salt.  Make that the most attractive, interesting, downright irresistible bucket of water the horse has ever seen.

To return to your readers after our brief equicultural excursion, your task is to make them desire to drink – i.e. open your email. What constitutes “salt” for them?

• Questions work because they imply that the answer’s inside and all you have to do is open up, read, and kapow! The force is with you!
• Social proof’s another good one: it’s the type of headline that says your product works for X, so it’s bound to work for you.
• Have you ever wondered why so many headlines start with “How to…”? They appeal because they offer instant expertise: read this, and you’ll be brilliant at whatever you want. (It would be interesting to do a straw poll among your colleagues and friends to see how many of this sort of article or e-book they’ve got stored on their hard-drive.  Loads, probably: “how to…” works.)
• Threat headlines also work well, but use them carefully. I’m reminded of one my uncle saw once and dined out on for years: “Don’t spend a penny on your new carpet until you’ve seen our stock.” The implication, of course, was meant to be that you’d be fleeced if you bought your carpet anywhere else – a classic threat headline. Someone should probably have proofread it before it was passed (pun intended). On the other hand, it is memorable!

There’s a useful free online tool that could help you improve your opening rates: There’s also a lot of information on the site about how to improve your performance if your headlines are a bit limp, so it’s worth spending a bit of time there. (I don’t get any kickback from recommending it, by the way!)

I have a few gripes with it – among other things, it reckons “awesome” is an uncommon word, whereas I find it tediously overworked – but it’s still a very useful resource, so go and have a play with it. It’s good, educational fun – a sort of Early Learning Centre for grown-ups.

Let me know how you get on – comments below.

And if you want any help, let’s have a chat.

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