Copywriting headlines that win attention is not easy. You don’t want to write a clickbait headline because those aggravate readers and fail to deliver the intended message.
A headline is the first impression you get when you give that content a nanosecond of your precious time. The same first impression when you walk into the office or a room and sense the atmosphere.
The same first impression when you meet a new person and get their vibe before they even as much open their mouths.
When you select and copywrite your headline, think about the first impression you need it to create in the audience you want to capture.
This is more important than you may imagine because, quite literally, the headline means success or failure.
Welcome back to the Building a Modern Employer Brand podcast! In this episode, we’ll continue with last week’s topic of copywriting for HR and talk about headlines that help your messages get attention.
My name is Susanna Rantanen, and this podcast is for those who want to learn how to use branding, marketing and communications in the HR industry!
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Copywriting headlines that win attention
One of the five key rules of thumb when copywriting for HR was shared in the last week’s episode: ensuring your copytext delivers what your headline promises.
I always get annoyed when I see a really catchy headline on social media or in an online newspaper, only to find the actual article doesn’t explain to me what the headline promises.
I never end up reading those articles, which makes them a waste of space for those media.
The purpose of a headline is to head the content that follows.
A headline is the first impression you get when you give that content a nanosecond of your precious time.
The same first impression when you walk into the office or a room and sense the atmosphere.
The same first impression when you meet a new person and get their vibe before they even as much open their mouths.
When you select and copywrite your headline, think about the first impression you need it to create in the audience you want to capture. This is more important than you may imagine because, quite literally, the headline means success or failure.
The three characteristics of a great communicator
In the previous episode, 129, which was copywriting for HR, I explained the three characteristics of a great communicator (by Donald Miller). Do you remember what those were?
Allow me to jog your memory:
- Great communicators are understood. They know how to form words into clear and concise messages.
- Great communicators are interesting. They know how to win attention and captivate their audiences with simple messages.
- Great communicators inspire change. Their messages inspire the audience to adapt to change or enforce change.
If your headline, the first impression your message creates, is boring, complex or irrelevant, your message fails to attract attention and inspire change. Instead of doing its important job, your message turned into fluff that filled up another corner of the Universe, and nobody cared.
You don’t want that. No one wants that!
When we communicate with others, we communicate because we feel we have something important for them to hear, consider and maybe even act on.
We may put a great deal of effort into crafting our message. Use the time that we could have used elsewhere. Don’t we want our audiences to pay attention and act on our messages?
We should care about the first impression too. And that’s why we need to talk about copywriting headlines.
Copywriting headlines gets easier with practice and paying attention
I used to find writing headlines quite difficult, and I’ve noticed most of my employees and students struggle with headlines too.
Headlines are hard to write. The good ones, I might emphasise!
Because I love writing and copywrite a lot for work, I have put in a fair amount of hours to become a great communicator and copywriter. And I can tell headlines get easier with practice and attention to detail.
I study headlines quite automatically these days. Of course, we see headlines everywhere online and on social media, and I can’t help myself analysing what’s good or bad about the headlines that steal my attention!
I want you to start doing this too. It’s super useful for copywriters and enhancing our own copywriting skills!
First impressions created by headlines depend on the content format too
Let’s talk about those first impressions our headlines need to create.
First, we need to notice that the first impression can be visual, in text format or audio, and the format also impacts the first impression.
Secondly, we must note that the content type also impacts the first impression. Does the audience only see or hear the headline, or do they get a visual presentation? Are they also able to read the first few sentences below the headline?
Social media posts and ads
If you think about a social media post or a social media ad, you can usually see about 1-3 lines under the headline that help direct your mind in the direction of some sort.
You only use your ears if it is audio, and the sound impacts the first impression. If it is a video, whatever is being shown at the beginning either supports or distracts the intended first impression.
Sometimes you have 10-20 seconds to make the first impression, and sometimes you have less than one second, so you need to be mindful about how you construct your headline depending on what else is there to support the intended first impression and how much time are you likely to get from your audience.
The thing is, no matter how interesting, captivating or valuable the rest of your content is, if your headline fails to win the attention, your audience skips the rest of the message, just like that.
The four functions of the headline
We can ask our headlines to deliver us four types of value*):
- Get us attention
- Help select our audience
- Deliver a complete message
- Attract the reader to digest the rest of the content
A clever headline is almost always a mistake.
Writing a clever headline that does the work is a form of art. If you are not a copywriting artist, trying to be clever and funny will bite you in the arse.
Remember also that the best headlines appeal to the recipients’ self-interest and needs, not to the writer’s self-interest and needs.
*) Source: The Copywriter’s Handbook by Robert W. Bly.
How to win attention with your headline?
There are a few tricks copywriters use to get attention with a headline, and these are specific words used in the headline.
But before you get excited, remember that your headline is a promise that needs to be delivered in your text and thereafter. So, only use any of these specific words when they truly apply [to the content].
Words that help captivate attention when used in a headline
- Free – Because everyone wants a freebie, don’t we?
- How to – Because one of the most googled types of content is how to do something.
- Why – Because we have many unanswered questions in our minds, and humans are curious in nature and like to know why something is.
- Quick or easy – Both appeal to our laziness. Humans like to get stuff done as fast and easily as possible because we are wired to use as little energy.
- Proven, guaranteed and results – These win attention because we want to get results as easily as possible and are always looking for tips and templates for getting results faster.
Now you want to know how can you possibly use these words in talent marketing?
Let’s try these out:
- Free chance to win a seat in our in-house sales training for our new sales talents!
- How to find out the likely company culture of a prospective employer?
- Why do recruiters always ask this question…
- Quick template to write a good resume!
- A proven way to become a subject-matter expert in your field and accelerate your career development!
Would I win your attention with any of these headlines?
What about using a headline to help select your target audience?
The point in using your headline to help win the attention of the right audience is that you don’t want to waste anyone’s time as a recruiter to attract applications from candidates that are not a right fit for your opening.
Or, if you want to advertise a job, say a sales manager’s job, and you pay by clicks, you want to make sure only those click whom you want to click.
This means that instead of promoting a job for a “sales manager”, your headline is more specific in addressing, for example: “An experienced, Swedish-speaking B2B sales manager for IT projects“.
How to get your headline deliver a complete message?
The wise advertising industry folks know that 4/5 readers only read the headline and skip the entire body text. That’s why you should include your key message in your headline.
When I teach how to write career stories and blog posts, I always pinpoint using headings and subheadings as your key fields in delivering the complete message.
When your audience skims through your content, they get the key message from the headlines and don’t even need to read more unless your headlines compel them to give more time on your text.
Here’s an example:
“Including company culture content in your recruitment campaign can increase your reach by 150%.”
And then, your copytext explains why and how.
How to write headlines that attract the reader to digest the entire body text?
Sometimes you need your audience to read more than just the headline. If you think about internal communication during these times of changes, you need your employees to pay attention to more than just a headline.
When your information is new and complex, you need your audience to give it more attention and read the whole message or watch the entire video.
Of course, you cannot share all that information in the headline, so the role of your headline changes. Now it must compel the audience to sink their teeth into the content.
How do you do this?
The best tactics are:
- Triggering curiosity to know more.
- Offering a reward (informational)
- Provoking a statement
Examples of headlines that compel the reader to sink their teeth into the content
#1 “What a Finnish construction startup decided to do during the economic depression to win in the business when the competition was going down like dominoes.”
I keep telling our clients to share their struggles and victories during their change journey with their audiences, but hardly anyone seems to have the guts to use this tactic to earn considerable attention, reach and respect from their peers, stakeholders, competitors, and talent audiences.
People are curious to know how someone else has overcome a heartache or a major business struggle. The trick here is not to share just the pain but also the cure. If you only talk about your pain, you appear weak. But when you talk about how you conquered your pain, you appear a hero, a strong and attractive hero everyone in a similar situation wants to become.
Would you want to know?
- If you were a startup, you would.
- If you were a construction company, you would.
- If you were working in the construction field, you would.
- If you were managing a startup during an economic depression, you would.
#2 The five-minute recruitment marketing makeover to get more candidates to consider your role than a 10K recruitment consultant.”
Interested to read the whole thing?
Headlines are the first impression of your content, and being strategic about what you write in that first line can lead to success or failure with your copywriting.
Keep these things in mind, and you’ll be well on your way to writing great copy for HR.
Ok, that’s all for this week, my friends!
Come back next week for more branding, marketing and communications juice to keep you going with employer branding, recruiting and personal branding!
My name is Susanna Rantanen, and I teach branding, marketing and communications for the HR Industry professionals who want to build a successful career and get the life you deserve!
Thanks for listening, and until next time, happy writing!