How do you write headlines that work?
If you’ve ever wondered if your headline is lacking some oomph, it might be because of an incredibly simple omission. It’s the lack of contrast.
Contrast works in real life with colours, textures or flavours. Not surprisingly, it works with headlines too.
Here are three common questions about headlines.
1) When do you write your headlines? At the beginning or the end?
2) Should you use HOW or WHY when writing headlines?
3) How to use Contrast to prevent headlines from going flat.
Let's get started.
Q1- When do you write your headlines? At the beginning or the end?
The short answer is: mostly at the end.
But the long answer is more interesting.
Most of the time I'll have an idea for an article, outline it and finally add the headline. About 70-80% of the time the headline will come last, often minutes before the article has to be queued or published. Or maybe I've just recorded a podcast, and it's going out. In such a situation, too, the headline will come last.
Which is why headline writing needs to be practised almost like you're in a flight simulator
Simulator training is about flying, but it's also about “not crashing”. And since most of your headlines are likely to be written when you're hungry, tired and just want to finish off things, it needs to be second nature.
Just like a pilot faced with a plane falling out of the sky, you need to be able to get that headline to safety. And if you've done enough headline practice, and are watching for the specifics, this last-minute type of writing is no trouble at all.
However, there are times when I'm walking back home, and I get an idea for an article.
In such a situation, the headline might pop into my head as well. I'll jot it down or record it on my watch (Just Press Record app) and then keep dictating the core ideas that will go into the piece. In such a situation, the headline comes first, and the outline and articles will be written a lot later, possibly even weeks later.
There's another situation when the headline comes first.
And that's when you brainstorm ideas. That headline popping bit is fluke and if you don't care very much for fluke, you can use headlines as a brainstorming ninja move. That's because every tiny tweak in your headline can be the basis for a completely different article.
Let's take a few examples.
Base headline: How to write articles
- How to write articles in under 45 minutes—every single time.
- How to write articles that CEOs read (and gets ignored by the general public)
- How to write objection-filled articles that make readers sit up and take notice
- How to write articles with stories that snap readers out of their world (and into yours)
- How to write articles that get fewer clicks but more long-term clients.
- How to write articles on a daily basis for the next twenty years (or more).
- How to write articles for any industry (and look like you're a complete insider).
- How to write articles in a sequence, so they fit neatly into a report or future book.
Notice what just happened above?
That was just a simple, non-descriptive headline (How to write articles). From that one puny headline, we were able to generate eight separate headlines. The headlines would not take you more than 2-3 minutes each, which means that you now have about eight completely different directions to go in, because of simple, yet very effective brainstorming.
Which brings us to the headline of this article (which I wrote right at the end, by the way). And what's the headline? How to brainstorm dozens of article ideas by using the base-headline method.
Which takes us to the second question: Is HOW or WHY more powerful when writing headlines?
Q 2- Should you use HOW or WHY when writing headlines?
Well, it depends. Is your headline obvious?
Let's take a few examples.
1- Why you need to sit still when meditating
2- Why your kids will get a cold when in a room full of snotty kids.
3- How a shot of whisky makes commuting at peak times stress-free
Obvious, aren't they?
Now let's turn them around.
Why you need to sit still when meditating
How to sit still when meditating
Why your kids will get a cold when in a room full of snotty kids.
How to keep your kids from getting a cold in room full of snotty kids.
How a shot of whisky makes commuting at peak times stress-free
Why a rationed shot of whisky makes commuting at peak times stress- free.
If your headline is obvious, interchange the HOW with the WHY and vice versa.
And finally: How to use Contrast to prevent headlines from going flat
Q-3 How to use Contrast to prevent headlines from going flat
If you've read The Brain Audit, you'll know the power of problem and solution.
When it comes to headline writing, we use the same concept of problem and solution to create contrast. If the headline brings up a problem, you bring up the solution shortly after. If it starts with a solution, the problem needs to follow.
When you look at the headlines below, you'll find some starting with a solution, while others start with the problem. What's common to them all is the loop is closed and that's what makes the headline curious.
—How to turn negative feedback into positive praise
—Ugly Bottlenecks: How to get past client resistance and close sales
—How to recapture lost leads and quickly refill your pipeline
—The Jelly Side Down Technique: How to close sales even when your presentation fails