How to Communicate More Effectively, Part 2 – Attract Attention

Gareth L Powell @ 12-01-2009

[How to Communicate More Effectively is a series of guest posts from Gareth L Powell. In case you missed it, here’s part 1.]

The first thing you need to do when writing a blog post, email or web page is to snag your reader’s attention. If they’re skimming through their RSS feeds or searching on Google, you need them to notice your post; if they’re checking their inbox, you need your email to stand out from the crowd; and this is where your title comes in. The title of your article or blog post (or the subject line of your email) should intrigue them and give them a reason to stop doing whatever it is they are doing and read what you’ve written. Ideally, your headline should also communicate a benefit to the reader, letting them know they stand to gain something of value by reading on.

Writing killer headlines is hard work but worth it, as studies show four times as many people will read your headline as will read the rest of your message.

Examples of good headlines include:

  • Learn How To Write Like a Pro with These FREE Hints & Tips
  • 7 Tried and Tested Ways to Save Money This Christmas
  • Read 10 Hot New Writers – for FREE!
  • Buy Two Issues of Outrageous Tales and Get This FREE Book
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5 Responses to “How to Communicate More Effectively, Part 2 – Attract Attention”

  1. Dave says:

    I wouldn’t read the articles under any of those headlines, and the headlines wouldn’t stick with me.

    Maybe I’m just outside the target group, but they stink of the hard sell to me. I know what marketing looks like, and I discount it accordingly. Even something tiny like rendering “FREE” in all-caps might turn me off, depending on context.

    The only reason I’ve looked at these “How to” posts in the first place is that they come from a source — Futurismic — that I trust and enjoy. But that trust was earned. The reason I continue to read Futurismic, out of the probably hundreds of other websites I encountered around the same time, is because I’ve concluded over time that the content is pretty interesting. The challenge of getting noticed in the first place pales in comparison to that of keeping my attention over these many months.

  2. GLP says:

    Hi Dave, thanks for the feedback. I’m not claiming to have invented any of these techniques – these are tried and tested methods that have been successfully employed by copywriters for the last sixty years. I am simply trying to help struggling SF magazines by giving them some “extra ammo” in their appeals for new subscriptions. The headlines I’ve quoted are fairly crass examples that came “off the top of my head” – if they were properly targeted to an SF audience, they might include benefits that were of interest to you, such as 12 issues for the price of 10 (a common subscription offer).

  3. Dave says:

    Yeah, maybe we’ve just had a little audience mismatch. On the other hand, I do think that me and people like me are so deluged with classic marketing copy — not only in traditional sources, but in email, search ads, twitter ads, etc. — that it has diminished effect, even when it is relatively well targeted.

    I certainly didn’t mean to deny your skill at what you do.

  4. Nancy Jane Moore says:

    I’m with Dave. The particular examples you gave are not only headlines that make me run screaming for the exits, they also smack of, if not exactly scams, at least efforts to sell me something I don’t want and don’t need.

    The headlines that attract my attention tend to be quirky ones that promise me a new approach to something. I’m forever clicking on headlines like that in the NY Times only to discover that it was only the headline writer — and not the author of the story — who had the creative approach.

    As a writer and as part of the Book View Cafe publishing consortium, I am very interested in marketing to readers. What I’d like to see are some ideas on how to market to people like Dave and me who do a lot of reading and set our bullshit detectors on high. That’s my target audience. If you’ve got any ideas, please toss ’em our way.

  5. GLP says:

    Thanks for the input, Nancy. When your target audience consists of people who consider themselves somehow immune to marketing, you have to personalise your message more than ever and specifically address their particular needs. For instance, if you are targetting biliophiles and book collectors, you need to subtly emphasise the quality of the books you’re selling and include something that will make them appear more valuable and desirable, such as a numbered, signed limited edition, for example. The more personal and specific you can make your message, the better. Perhaps you could offer recommendations based on previous purchases? As I said in response to Dave, the headlines I used as examples in my post were fairly crass, general examplesdesigned to to emphasise and exaggerate the point I was trying to get across – that you ideally need to have a headline that sums up your message and includes one or both of the following: a) a benefit and b) an offer. There’s a very old saying in marketing: “No offer, no sale.”

    I hope this – and the rest of the posts in this series – are some help.