When it comes to web copywriting, headlines are everything.
This was true to some extent in traditional media as well.
But online, there are more ads, headlines, and images vying for our attention than ever before.
It's arguably harder to stand out in someone's Facebook feed than it is in the pages of a newspaper or a magazine.
A mediocre headline can kill your click-through rate, even if the content is top notch.
While you should never be deliberately disingenuous or misleading in your headlines, it's okay to be a little “clickbaity” sometimes to get eyes on your content.
You want a compeling headline, and as long as you deliver on the promise of the headline, you're good.
Once someone clicks through and starts reading, you can wow them with quality.
In a recent post at Copyblogger, copywriter Brian Clark explains a headline tip that's been around since the 20th century days of super-salesy direct marketing copy: the “proclamation lead.”
That means that in the headline, you make some big, bold, and possibly outright impossible proclamation. Something that makes people go, “Wait, what? No way.”
Why? Because it grabs their attention, and that's the hardest part of getting someone to read something.
If you’ve studied copywriting, you know the purpose of the headline is to get people to click and start reading. And your opening copy needs to continue that momentum all the way to the offer or conclusion.
One way to do that is to make a bold, seemingly unreasonable assertion in your title or headline. A proclamation so jarring that the right person can’t help but keep reading, listening, or watching to see where you’re going with it.
As far as I can tell, copywriter John Forde (whose site tagline is, not coincidently, “Learn to sell or else …”) was the first to define the Proclamation Lead:
A well-constructed Proclamation Lead begins with an emotionally-compelling statement, usually in the form of the headline. And then, in the copy that follows, the reader is given information that demonstrates the validity of the implicit promise made.
Forde illustrates the Proclamation Lead with a direct mail report that is ultimately selling an alternative health newsletter. Written by Jim Rutz, the piece immediately startles and tempts the prospect with a bold statement:
Read This Or Die
Today you have a 95% chance of eventually dying from a disease or condition from which there is already a known cure somewhere on the planet. The editor of Alternatives would like to free you from that destiny.
The copy continues not by jumping to the offer, but instead by backing up the proclamation. In the process, the piece systematically removes the objections raised in the reader’s mind about the scientific validity of the bold assertions.
If you feel that example is a little too “direct marketing” for your audience, consider this from respected best-selling author Austin Kleon:
Steal Like an Artist:
10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative
It’s the exact same technique for a completely different target market. The intent is to startle people interested in becoming more creative, while concurrently tempting prospects to further explore what Kleon means by “steal.”
The key to these bold headlines and leads is the immediate emotional response provoked by the assertion. More importantly, that emotional trigger leads to immediate motivation to investigate further — and that’s what every copywriter aims to achieve right from the beginning.
You can find more great copywriting advice over at Copyblogger.