Who Needs Headlines?

by Shaun Crowley

40 Reader Comments

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  1. Thanks for the great collection of headlines. Also I read articles like this one before I got some new ideas for our copy.

    I know that the headline is the most important part of an article (webpage, …), but yet I spend more time on the content. I should shift that…

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  2. “Copywriters who aren’t trained in writing for the web—and much of the rest is written by people who aren’t trained writers at all.” I fully agree with You on this “Speak to the individual, not the audience.” so thanks for very interesting article. btw. I really enjoyed reading Your book – “100 Copywriting Tips for Designers and Other Freelance Artists”. It’s interesting to read ideas, and observations from someone else’s point of view”¦ makes you think more. So please keep up the great work. Greetings

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  3. Bad thing about all those headlines 101 or 100 tipps for copywriter lists are, that the headlines you read are more an dmore all the same. You should not only try to write a good headline according to those lists, you have to find something suitable for your content and your readers. Some (copy) writers miss that. I’m really getting tired only reading headlines all of the same style.

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  4. I think most of the rules and tips discussed here are already covered by Jakob Nielsen and Steve Krug’s usability laws. But I can somehow appreciate Shaun’s positive insights on the marketing aspects of web writing.

    PS : I think there’s a broken link inside the article. http://alistapart.com/articles/www.37signals.com

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  5. Sorry about the title-only burp preceding.

    I read your article, which I found quite complete and undoubtedly helpful for those who have little or no experience in writing copy. (Not that that ever stopped anyone.)

    But I fear most people who read your blog and messages like this already are beyond 101. For example, I have been writing copy professionally for four decades, with the last 10 years focusing on Web copy.

    Still, I view articles like this like going to church. You don’t learn anything new, necessarily. But it is good to be reminded.

    Keep up the good words. (Pun intended.)

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  6. great ref, I’ll be reading this again when I need a headline

    one notice though, the 37signals website link seems to broken.

    someone please check that

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  7. The link to the 37signals website is broken—missing the http://

    But the article is a solid rundown of the fundamentals—I’ll be sharing it with clients and colleagues.

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  8. I would like you to do an follow-up with more and deeper about the same. Thanks !

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  9. Because I don’t write often and I am not trained this article has been very helpful to me. I really liked at the beginning were state, “motivate the visitor to continue to the next stage”. This is something I always ask, “what’s the next action?”

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  10. Great stuff Shaun. How about more info on product descriptive copy. I often get clients wanting to throw the kitchen sink onto the product detail page.

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  11. Thank you for your overview. Not all of them I agree with – specially the “I-number-everything” is getting on my nerves – see Digg It. But as another poster mentioned above: it’s like going to church – I cannot allow myself not reading it. Good work. Waiting for the next overview…

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  12. People read 25% slower on screen…

    I’d like to know where this statistic originated, and I believe it. Thanks, and great article!

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  13. A great read… thanks Shaun. I agree with a lot of what you had to say, especially your points on writing simple, easy to understand copy that doesn’t force a reader to think. In your opinion and experience, is forcing a reader to think through a headline OK (using a pun)? Do puns invite a reader to jump to the content to figure it out, or make them shy away?

    I have had the most success using How To phrases in my headlines so was happy to see it mentioned here as well. I’m looking forward to reading your books.

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  14. Great article.  I like the fact that you can apply all of the hints in this article to just about any web copy – blogs etc…  It’s hard to hook people as they rush around the web.  The web is just as much about selling ideas and information as it is products.

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  15. Hi all.  I’m not sure if it’s OK to ask for input here on my own website but I can’t see that the headline on it falls into any of the categories here.  I’d just like to know if ALA readers think it’s effective or not. www.flyonthewire.com

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  16. I have found that the articles that make the front page of Digg.com aren’t those with the best content but the ones with the snappiest titles, proof positive that writing headlines that sell is crucial. It’s interesting to see how the examples in this article correlate with the front page Diggs.

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  17. Hi
    since one week ago I’ve written an similiar article at my website in german language.

    yesterday – timezones ;)..

    saturday I’ve written an article about social media marketing – and I’m sure we have to realize that one headline is absolutly perfect to kill our server with digg traffic – but is the absolut false headline for i.e. delicious.

    If you are a developer and create the headline like your good tutorial – grabb the phone number of your hosting support ;)

    If not – your chance is less then 50percent.


    Shaun Crowley,
    your article is good . I’ve found it on a german social media at top article of the day or so.
    Because it is written in Alistapart.
    I know that more than 1/3 of the community member can’t read and understand english – but it is from Alistapart and so the article MUST be good.

    I’m sure this website needs no great headline – ;)

    Thanks a lot for your words, for understand my meanings.

    regards
    Monika

     

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  18. Another great article ALA.  Keep it up.

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  19. Your article was helpful. I hate selling. It always feels like I am trying to trick someone.

    But with some research and reasoning, you made it seem more like science, which I feel good about.

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  20. I don’t question the merits of Shaun’s article — it’s useful and interesting. no doubt. I only question the artificial (in my opinion) separation “web copywriter”/“ordinary copywriter”…
    These are NOT two different people! A good, professional copywriter should know how to write for each medium, for each genre as the end result should always be the same — engaged reader.
    Even a rookie would know that web copy has to be more succinct and informational, that it’s not print advertising, nor radio, etc. But the “web writer” is not a different species.
    True, there’s plenty of badly written websites around, but I bet that their authors write bad print ads, too. I — being a copywriter myself — have contributed my fair share of web blah-blah, forced by clients who insist on covering all “selling points”…
    In short — a good writer is good because he could write well for print, web, direct mail, long brochures and boring sales letters. He even writes smart e-mail to his Mom. Today, some agencies look for “Direct Mail copywriters”, others — for “web copywriters” or “conceptual copywriters”, but I say – that’s a mistake.
    Look for talented ones, not for narrow “specialists” with blinders. Oh, and by the way — how exactly would the “web writer” collaborate with the “conceptual” one who created the theme of the ad campaign — so all media channels would work consistently and in unison?

    Milko Stoyanov
    Creative Director, Chicago

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  21. I don’t question the merits of Shaun’s article — it’s useful and interesting. no doubt. I only question the artificial (in my opinion) separation “web copywriter”/“ordinary copywriter”…
    These are NOT two different people! A good, professional copywriter should know how to write for each medium, for each genre as the end result should always be the same — engaged reader.
    Even a rookie would know that web copy has to be more succinct and informational, that it’s not print advertising, nor radio, etc. But the “web writer” is not a different species.
    True, there’s plenty of badly written websites around, but I bet that their authors write bad print ads, too. I — being a copywriter myself — have contributed my fair share of web blah-blah, forced by clients who insist on covering all “selling points”…
    In short — a good writer is good because he could write well for print, web, direct mail, long brochures and boring sales letters. He even writes smart e-mail to his Mom. Today, some agencies look for “Direct Mail copywriters”, others — for “web copywriters” or “conceptual copywriters”, but I say – that’s a mistake.
    Look for talented ones, not for narrow “specialists” with blinders. Oh, and by the way — how exactly would the “web writer” collaborate with the “conceptual” one who created the theme of the ad campaign — so all media channels would work consistently and in unison?

    Milko Stoyanov
    Creative Director, Chicago

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  22. Thank you. Your list is the most succinct and comprehensive I have seen. Although a few responses point out that this is not new, what you have written is valuable. Let’s not get too worked up about the new. Knowing what to do is very different from actually doing.

    And what’s more, (That phrase sounds like overenthusiastic copy!) people are different. Those three words—people are different—are burned into my brain. You have a wide audience here. If we are not careful we can fall into the trap of projecting our own values (and experience level) on our readers.

    I agree with Milko that if you can write clearly, persuasively, and get to the point, then it you are likely to have the intelligence to modify what you write for different media.

    I am happy to have just discovered alistapart.com.

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  23. For someone like me struggling hard to improve their writing skills this article is more than enough to get started. Still, knowing what you want to deliver is one thing, the other is a lot of practice to make it look good. While this text cannot rplace practice, it can show you the way to a more effective outcome.

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  24. Joshua, for ideas about web copy, I always look to articles on effective selling. The principals often translate nicely to the principals of good web copy. For example, the kitchen sink syndrome has been called the “bull in a china shop”:http://www.salestrainingcamp.com/Archive_6_8_06.htm syndrome.

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  25. Lukasz,

    Yes, practice may not make perfect, but it helps. In order to write well you need to give yourself permission to make a mess.

    I think it was P.G. Wodehouse, one of my favorite writers, said that it was about the eleventh draft where he put in the spontaneity.

    Have you noticed how any accomplished person makes what they do look easy?

    Writing takes time. Like any creative process we have to understand the process. Just putting words on paper is the first step. At this stage the non-writer can believe he can’t write. Not so. Horrible first drafts are necessary. We have to start somewhere. Expecting instant results is only going to hurt you. But you need persistence and to go easy on yourself.

    Writing helps you think. It helps you organize your thoughts. Writing can even help you speak more clearly. Your writing will get better the more you do. It will get easier.  Writing also helps you appreciate what good communication is and how it works. You can get to the level where you have almost cut every adjective out. Management speak will be your enemy and you will write clearly. It’s all done with nouns and verbs.

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  26. After reading this article I will definitely think more about titles and refer back to this page when I write another article or news item for my website, very useful.

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  27. I know that there are so many people in here who find these informations to be a bit redundant, since they are specialists in this field. Still so many of us are totally new to this or with some small experience made just by doing and getting it wrong. In my country such a job is still something of the future and we have to think about our own text and headlines. As you can imagine, we are totally off sometimes.

    Good list. I’ll have to try and use this more. Some of the tips I kinda learnt, but there are so many I could surely start using.

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  28. This is a very well written article. The importance of headlines are paramount in the online world. My traffic surged as soon as I had finally figured out how to catch reader’s attention and draw them in.

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  29. Can report the same too, changed to some newspaper like Headlines and saw the results on the same day, 30% reader increase trough search engines. Thanks for sharing this with us!

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  30. Thank you, it’s a very useful article.

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  31. Thank you, it’s a very useful article.

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  32. I have just finished making the layout of a brochure and I realized that I used an headline which sounded somehow familiar to me. Then I noticed it looks like the famous “where do you want to go today?” by Microsoft though it’s in italian and it sounds “where do I want to go day?”.  I found out that the Microsoft headline in english is trademarked. I have to say that I am using it for a very small private transportation italian company which has nothing to do with computers and certainly Mr. Gates won’t ever come to know. But who knows. What should I do?  Thanks

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  33. Very good written article. Thanks for it.

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  34. Thanks for very interesting article. btw. I really enjoyed reading all of your articles. It’s interesting to read ideas, and observations from someone else’s point of view”¦ makes you think more. Keep up the good work. Greetings

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  35. I couldn’t understand some parts of this article, but it sounds interesting”¦

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  36. Wonderful article, many thanks

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  37. This is a very good article. Very helpful and informative. Keep it up!

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  38. Hello from beautiful Montana:

    Thanks for the good information. I found your site when I was printing off a list of emotions. Go figure.

    You gave me a lot to think about.  Maybe I need to edit some of my articles.

    Judy H. Wright aka Auntie Artichoke, family relations coach and author
    http://www.ArtichokePress.com

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  39. Thank you so much for this information – you certainly made my mind work overtime.

    “BestMan Speeches – How I Overcame The Fear”:http://www.bestmanspeechesreview.com

    “Free Traffic eBook – FREE DOWNLOAD”:http://resalerightsexplained.co.uk

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  40. Thanks for sharing This is a great post, I stumbled across your article while looking for some random stuff. Thanks for sharing, I’ll be sure to return regularly,

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