Never mind the poor maligned goldfish, it’s we humans that have a notoriously short attention span. According to a survey reported in The Daily Telegraph it’s a mere eight seconds.
So how do you get someone to read that web page or report that you’ve slaved over to get word perfect?
The secret is to come up with a headline or title that hits the reader right between the eyes – making it impossible not to read on. Ah, but how? Here are six tips that will sharpen your skills.
1. Tell people something they’d love to hear.
If you’ve got a killer fact, use it. If not, tell readers something useful that’s going to help them or make life easier. ‘New’ is one of the most powerful words you can use. ‘Free’ is even better. Can’t really use either? Okay, try making your heading newsy, exciting or intriguing. Above all, remember that sometimes the heading is the only thing that people are going to read. So get your key message up there. And make it short. For instance, ‘Your tax problems solved’, not ‘We understand how difficult it can be to deal with HMRC’.
2. Make your heading able to ‘stand alone’.
Here’s a good test. You know how when you google something it throws up a long list of pages. And what do you do? You speed-read down it to find a single phrase that looks worth clicking through. So make your heading as self-contained as possible. Apart from anything else, it will make anything you put online more likely to be picked up by search engines.
3. Don’t try to be, like, too cool.
Hip expressions and trending buzzwords? Best avoided. They’ll be so yesterday by tomorrow morning. And it will be obvious, sometimes painfully, that you’re trying too hard. Nothing wrong with plain English. Especially if English isn’t the first language of your audience. On the other hand, if you are writing for young teenagers, go for it. And the best of luck.
4. To be concise . . .
. . . be concise. Which means being totally ruthless in slashing out all unnecessary words. It might hurt, but bite the bullet. In fact, go for the brevity of a bullet point whenever possible. The shorter the heading, the better it will show up on small screens such as phones and tablets.
5. Do not like Yoda speak
Get your words in the best order, with the most important ones at the beginning. As in ‘Solution to global warming found after extensive research’. Not ‘Extensive research finds solution to global warming’. Simple is it not?
6. Finally, follow through
Having got the heading right, make sure there’s a smooth transition to your main story in the opening sentence. You’ve grabbed attention for a few fleeting seconds. Move quickly and seamlessly on to what you have to say. Don’t start all over again at the beginning and lose the impetus.
Follow this advice and you have far more chance of people reading not just the heading but all the way to the final word. Like you’ve just done.