Grab Headline Power to Prevent Content Death

Engrossed readerIf you blog or write to promote your work, you need readers.

Unless your readers actually dig into your content, even your best articles are dead on arrival.

What makes people read? An attention grabbing headline.

How important is the headline?

Without a hypnotic headline, your message will perish unread.

In the book Ogilvy on Advertising, David Ogilvy spells it out with numbers:

“on the average, five times as many people read the headlines as read the body copy. It follows that unless your headlines sells your product, you have wasted 90 per cent of your money”.

Copyblogger’s Associate Editor, Jon Morrow’s recent post dramatically shows us how to see and make power words work to engage readers.

In Sex, Lies, and the Art of Commanding Attention Morrow urges us to use the power of words that trigger strong emotional reactions.  Power words, he explains, are “words that pop out at us and grab our attention” because they’re wired to emotional anchors.  “Sex” and “lies” are two such words.

Are you worried that throwing emotion-laden words into your headlines will cheapen your work?  Do you hesitate to deliberately trigger emotions before the intellect of your readers?

How to Use Power Words with Integrity

Here is Morrow’s argument for loading headlines with power words that rivet your readers’ attention:

You only have half a second to grab their attention…. All you have time to do is trigger an anchor that’s already in place.

Attention is an increasingly difficult asset to gain.  So, power words give writers who use them a vital advantage over those who don’t.  They tie reading the message with pursuing our best interests, without us even thinking about it.

Is it possible to find power words that agree with more modest aesthetics or appeal to an impulse other than “sex”?  Let’s look at Morrow’s examples and see if clean, noble power words can make for attention-grabbing headlines.

Here are his examples from Copyblogger’s own powerful posts, with emotion-triggering words marked by an asterisk:

The Most Dangerous* Threat* to Your Online Marketing Efforts:

Five Grammatical Errors* That Make You Look Dumb*

5 Crippling* Beliefs That Keep Writers Penniless* and Mired* in Mediocrity*

Here’s the power word list:

  • Dangerous
  • Threat
  • Errors
  • Dumb
  • Crippling
  • Penniless
  • Mired
  • Mediocrity

These words work because most of them trigger fear.  Scary things us prompt us to find protection with the nearest tool at hand – like the immediate solution in the words that follow.

And these are perfectly respectable words.  There is plenty of strong emotion to trigger without resorting to mention of sex, lies, or anything else you or your readers might find offensive.

The most convincing argument Morrow makes to urge us to consider power words are the retro-makeovers he gives the titles with the power words removed:

“5 Beliefs That Make It Harder to Write” is the triggerless version of:  5 Crippling Beliefs That Keep Writers Penniless and Mired in Mediocrity

I’m convinced that “check headline power” should be a permanent review point for my own writing going forward.  What about yours?

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