The headline of a newspaper is the most valuable piece of real estate on the whole paper.

A good headline sells papers. A bad headline gives more fodder to wrap fish at the market. 

You know from your time in the check out line at the grocery store that a headline of a magazine is likely the only part of the magazine you will ever read.

If headlines are make-or-break in print media, are they as important in digital media?

Of course they are.

Imagine if you picked up a newspaper or magazine and there was no headline. What would be the outcome? You would have no idea what the stories were about. Would you then go through and carefully read the stories to get a better understanding of what the articles are trying to communicate?

Likely not. Life is too short and your time is too precious.

You would likely move on to another paper and scan its headlines to see if there is anything worth reading. People have the same habits online. We are constantly scanning everything looking for information that helps us solve our problems.

Many of the websites that I see do not even have a headline.

If your website has no headline, it needs one. You can fix this right away by adding some text over top of your main picture. Be warned though: not all headlines are created equal.

A winning website includes a headline that clearly states what you do. It has to be simple enough that someone scanning down your page is able to quickly understand what they can get if they stay on your site and then proceed to do business with you (or whatever the purpose of the website is). 

The headline needs to include what you do and how it helps the customer. 

The best websites understand this and write their headline with the customer's goals in mind. The headline promises to help the customer (a hero in their eyes) solve a problem that will help them win the day.

As Don Miller states in Building A StoryBrand we all think we are the main characters in our story. As the main character, we have problems that we are facing; dragons to slay so that we can win the battle over evil. We are always looking for what is going to help us win and are experts at tuning out what is unnecessary. A good headline will appeal to my need to solve a problem that I am facing.

When writing a headline think, “What does my ideal customer need to know about what I do that will help them solve a problem.”

Winning Headlines Prioritize the Customer

According to Fortune 500 companies, Deloitte and Touche, advertisements which focussed on the customer were sixty percent more effective than those who focused on the business themselves.

Make your company the hero and people tune out. Make your customer the hero and help them win and you get their attention.

Avoid the Curse of Knowledge

Another mistake people make when crafting headlines is to write it as an inside joke that nobody outside of the industry gets. This is what Lee Lefever calls “the curse of knowledge”.  The curse comes upon you when you are engulfed in your business for over forty hours a week and start to think that everyone talks like you.

Have you ever hung out with a bunch of people that work together and felt like they were talking a different language? Insiders talk in a code that makes perfect sense to anyone on the inside…the rest of us, however, are left in the dark. 

Website headlines do the same.

Let me show you a perfect example of the curse of knowledge on display through an unclear headline. A friend of mine capture this screen shot. 

I literally have no idea what any of that means.

I recommend inviting feedback from someone who is totally new to your industry. They’ve never heard of you or what you do before. Ask them to read over your headline. If they do not understand what it is you do - reword it right away.

What makes a winning headline?

You might think the best headlines have to be either catchy, clever or cute. They are not. The secret is clarity. Confusion is costly because it makes site visitor think too much. 

There is a whole variety of ideas you can use and I am hesitant to include examples at the risk of limiting your creativity. I would recommend trying something like:

  • We give you the lawn you always wanted.
  • We unplug drains.
  • Let us help you find the school you want.
  • A car that’s great on fuel and fun to drive.

When it comes to writing headlines, clarity is always king. The temptation will be to sound cute or rhyme. When you make your headline too cute or try to be clever, you can lose the reader. The point of a headline is to grab the attention of the reader, quickly sharing what kind of value you offer. 

Start thinking about some possible ideas about what you offer your customers. That’s what you want to lead with and that’s the first thing your website needs.