Long Or Short: Which Headlines Are Better? How short should a good headline be? What makes a good headline? How long is too long for a headline?
Let's find out, shall we?
Let’s say I told you to go down to the supermarket.
And I gave you directions.
Take the first left, and then take a right at the fifth corner. After which you take a U-Turn at the traffic lights. But don’t miss the right-hand turn, which you’ll see right after the roundabout.
What just went on there, you wonder…
You see, I confused you on purpose. And you knew that. But most of the time, you’re not seeking to confuse customers with your headlines. And yet, time and again, you end up writing headlines that seem to confuse the heck out of everyone.
What’s worse is that you CAN fix the headline in a flash.
If you knew what to do, that is.
So let’s cut the chatter, shall we? Let’s look at why most headlines don't work. And why our headlines are confusing. Is the headline too short or long? Is it simply because we confuse our thoughts?
Huh, what do thoughts have to do with headlines?
Okay, why were you confused when I gave directions in the first paragraph? Yes, there were way too many thoughts involved. So while your brain was trying to hold onto one thought, the second thought stomped in, quickly followed by a third and the fourth.
So let’s look at a confusing headline, shall we?
Example: Is your personal services business struggling to find enough new clients because you are making these classic mistakes with your best clients?
So how many thoughts did you detect in the line above? Let’s see.
Thought 1: Struggling to find enough new clients.
Thought 2: Making classic mistakes with your clients.
Now, let’s separate these thoughts and rewrite them
Headline 1: Are you struggling to find new consulting clients?
Headline 2: Are you making these classic mistakes with your clients?
But, but, but you say…
Because what I’ve effectively done is treated the concept as two headlines when in fact, the writer wanted to write one headline—and convey the exact thoughts above.
So how do we use both thoughts without losing the gist of the concept?
Why that’s easy. You don’t write it all in one headline.
That’s the biggest reason why you have sub-headlines.
I’ll say it again. That’s why you have sub-headlines.
So yeah, if you’re that peachy keen to get the very same thought in the headline, you just go choppity chop, and split the headline down the center!
And here's what you'll get:
Are you struggling to find new consulting clients?
(How to avoid making these classic mistakes when prospecting)
See what just happened above?
We took two mangled thoughts and separated them. We bathed them, freshened the thoughts up a bit, and re-presented them without any confusion.
The confusion that begins once you start exceeding 14-16 words. Or to put it another way, your headlines shouldn't exceed 14-16 words.
Come to think, none of your lines should exceed 14 words. Why? Because a line represents a thought. And when you write a line that exceeds 14 words, guess what happens?
Yes, another thought sneaks in through the cracks. Before you know it, a couple or even a trio of thoughts have taken residence. And then your brain feels like a grocery list you can't remember.
Imagine having a page full of grocery lists you can't remember
You're trying to get an idea across, but your client reading the information is inundated with multiple thoughts. And instantly, their brain starts going into shut-down mode. This of course, is the last thing you want.
And we haven’t even taken the visual aspect into consideration
We are visual creatures. When we see too much, our brain presses the ‘exit, exit' button and wants to get out in a massive hurry.
The longer, denser, and more clumped your headlines, lines, and paragraphs turn out to be, the less it's going to get read.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting that you write less. What I'm suggesting is that you do the following.
a) Keep your headlines (and lines) focused on one thought.
b) Keep your lines visually short. It helps readability.
c) Keep adequate spacing between your paragraphs to avoid overload.
This simple act of brevity causes your reader to focus on what you really want to tell them.
Don't get intimidated with length or lack of length of your headline.
Concentrate on the power of the thought.
Um…one, one thought will do just fine!
Jef Menguin says
I wonder where I can place the subtitle. Shall I write it together with the headline?
Smart thinking. Information needs to come bite-sized or most people won’t process it.
This is something that I have been working on for the past year, but I still have a lot of work