Headlines are tricky: You need to write them so that they grab people’s attentions and entice them to read the rest of the page. But just how do you do that? And what headlines are appropriate when? Read on…
Today’s question comes from Bethany T. who asks, “I’m a little confused about how to write headlines. I understand that most headlines fall into the benefit-driven or the curiosity-driven camps, but how do I know when to use which one?”
It’s pretty common that there’s a lot of confusion around headlines—and most of that has to do with the fact that there’s a lot of confused information out there. Some websites will tell you that the headline’s primary role is to pique a reader’s interest in order to get them to read further (hence the curiosity headline) while others will tell you that you need to give people a reason right away to keep reading (hence the benefit headlines).
And both of these can be valid…at different times. And what dictates those different times? The kind of writing that’s on the page.
In general, the rule to live by is that if the page contains copy—words designed to sell or persuade—you should be using a benefit-driven headline. That means that home pages of websites, sales pages and careers pages on websites would fall into this category.
On these pages, you want to get the visitor to do something, whether that be to learn more, to subscribe, to purchase or to contact you. In order to get them to read more of the page and take action, you need to give them a reason to do that—and that reason comes in your headline. Remember, the “benefit to consumer” is what’s in it for the person who’s reading it. What do they get out of the service/product/action?
Curiosity headlines, on the other hand, work well on content pages. Curiosity headlines can cover a vast breadth of types of headlines, but the key to them is that they tease the content on the rest of the page without giving it all away. So, for example, a few headlines that would fall into this category are, “The 5 Characteristics All Millionaires Share” or “Why I’ll Never Go to McDonald’s Again” or even “What Sets Us Apart.”
These headlines are designed to pique the reader’s interest and entice them to read the rest of the page. The benefit that the user will derive is content benefit (so they’ll either be entertained, informed or inspired) and that’s suggested by the headline, but not blatantly stated.
In general, people looking through content pages are in more of the “exploring” mindset and people reading copy pages are more in the “search and finding” mindset. Content readers want a story; copy readers want a solution. Knowing this, on copy pages, you need to tell them immediately what that solution is and how it will help them, and on content pages, you need to pique their interest in the story.
There are people out there who will suggest that you use curiosity headlines on sales pages—specifically on online sales letter pages. But the interesting thing about online sales letter pages is that they, themselves, are really a hybrid of copy and content: The seller is telling a story in order to get the reader to make a purchase. So might they work there? Perhaps, but it’s worth testing.
The long and short of it is that sticking with a benefit-driven headline on a copy project will always put you in a strong position and set you up to communicate with potential customers in the way that they most prefer: Speaking about themselves and about what they need from the company.
Your turn! Have you seen any especially good benefit or curiosity headlines lately? Let us know in the comments below!