Whatever you’re writing, whether it’s a piece of direct mail, a case study or a section of a white paper, strong headlines are vital. Research shows that readers make up their minds in around three seconds whether to continue reading or not.

Your headline needs to communicate why the piece is interesting or relevant and why readers should bother to stick around.

Here are six killer headline techniques you can use to give your writing the edge and keep your readers engaged.

1. Magic numbers

Use numbers to make the headline specific and credible. Holds out the promise of tangible benefits.

  • Top six ways to cut your tax bill
  • Three early warning signs of cash flow trouble

2. Question

Pique your readers interest by asking them a question – impel them to continue reading to find the answer.

  • Is your audit process up to scratch?
  • Do your sales figures let you down?

3. Promise success

Show readers how they will benefit by reading on.

  • Win more clients through better networking
  • Boost your profits and cut accounting costs

4. Fear of failure

Inverse of the above – suggest the risks of not reading on!

  • Five costly PR mistakes to avoid
  • Is your SAP system costing you sales?

5. Insider knowledge

Everybody likes to be in on a secret – suggest forbidden knowledge to be gained by reading on.

  • The top tips of successful business owners
  • Learn the beauty secrets of the stars

6. Power words (e.g. boost, leap, soar, slash, cut, drive, power…)

Give your headline some energy and drama by using a power word:

  • Slash your accounting costs
  • Boost fees and retain more clients

Using one of these techniques to engage your reader from the outset won’t guarantee they read right through to the end, but it at least increases your chances of getting them to read the introduction – what happens then is a whole other blog post!