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Make a Great First Impression

You never get a second chance to grab your audience's attention, so give center stage to a headline that really turns heads.

How do you get prospects to read your online press releases? Sway subscribers to open your online newsletters? Stop shoppers from leaving your website immediately? You write a headline that attracts attention. If you want your audience to take action, you've got to give them a reason to read on.

A headline is the first line of copy. It can be the title of a press release, the subject line of an e-mail or the first few words on a web page. It shouldn't sell your product or service, but it should compel readers to read a little more.

It should also be set apart from the rest of your copy. A press release title or e-mail subject line seems obvious enough. The headline on a web page could be a different font, size or color than the rest of the supporting copy. Grab the attention of readers visually as well as emotionally.

So what gives headlines emotional power? First of all, pinpoint your readers' pain. Second, sell a result, not a feature. And third, make the result easy to obtain.

Pretend you want to lose weight. Which of these headlines would grab your attention? "Lose weight now. Money-back guarantee" or "Tired of diets that fail? Discover the 5 secrets to enjoying delicious food while losing 10 pounds in 10 days." Whoa. Big difference. Why? The second headline taps into people's pain of having tried diets that didn't work. Five steps seem simple enough. And promising a specific result within a specific time frame taps into people's need for instant gratification.

Brainstorm a list of headlines that strike an emotional chord with your target readers. What problems are they dealing with now, and what will your company's product or service help them achieve? Come up with several ideas, and test each of them out. You can then use your highest-performing headline in all your online marketing materials.

You only have seconds to make a first impression. Use a headline to tap into the needs and wants of your readers, and you'll turn web surfers into customers.

Catherine Seda, a leading internet and search marketing expert, is dean of internet marketing for LA College International and creator of the new Search Marketing Mastery Pay-Per-Click training course and free lessons.

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This article was originally published in the October 2006 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: First Impressions.

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