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Headlines are the old carnival sideshow “barkers” of all online marketing: websites, emails, videos, blog posts, and everything else.
You may not have traditional carnivals or sideshows in your region anymore. The rides were the main attraction, followed closely by truly terrible food and by the games of chance and skill. The sideshow was exactly that – usually one or two rows of tents off to the side that offered the chance to entertain, amuse, or amaze the carnival-goers.
In the carnivals’ heyday, barkers were the key to getting patrons to cough up a hard-earned dollar or five and take a look at what “mystery” lay waiting inside the tent.
Using a glib, perfected spiel, men would stand outside the sideshow tents and hook, captivate, and convince carnival-goers to part with their hard-earned cash – in about a minute. Think of sideshow barkers as the forerunner to modern television and radio advertising.
There’s a lot to see and do at a carnival and a lot of noise and distractions. In fact, there might have been several barkers all touting their attractions at the same time. To be successful, each barker worked to craft the first line of their spiels with the power to drag people’s attention onto them.
That’s a headline.
Of course, you’re not selling oddities and wonders, so not everything that could usually be found in a barker’s spiel applies to you. But the lesson remains: first, you’ve got to hook your audience before you can deliver the rest of your message.
With that in mind, here are four headline writing tips to help you hook your audience.
- Stand and Deliver
Match your headline to what you’re actually offering. The only time that you should use words like amazing, wonderful, unique, or fantastic is if you can completely back it up with your content. You’re not BuzzFeed; you’re trying to educate and inform your readers, not entertain them. You might get away with betraying a reader’s trust once; do it again, and you’ve lost them.
- Practice “WIIFM”
Your headline must tell your readers how your article, video or blog post applies to them – “What’s In It For Me.” For instance, “The Four Advantages of Dental Implants” is both boring and very non-specific. “Get New Permanent Teeth in a Day!” speaks to people with missing teeth and leads them to read your content.
- Don’t Give the Show Away
Leave some mystery in your headline to entice the reader, but play it straight. “Why Dental Patients Prefer Implants 3 to 1” intrigues without sounding desperate. Forget trite headlines such as “The 1 Thing that Gave Sally Her Smile Back!” Those are obvious come-ons and just make you look desperate for a click.
- Be Clear and Concise
Attention spans are shorter than ever in the digital “Brave New World.” Longer headlines can lose your audience quickly. Longer headlines also don’t work for search engines; the rule is 70 characters or less to avoid having them truncated by Google in search results.
Take a lesson from the past when crafting your marketing headlines and attract more “carnival-goers” from the Internet sideshow.