In Market Like You Mean It, marketing expert Al Lautenslager explains how you can engage your customers, create brand believers and gain fans for everything you sell. In this edited excerpt, the author reveals the secrets to composing headlines that will grab the attention of your target audience.

Whether you're reading a newspaper, magazine, newsletter or website, you scan. What do you scan? Pictures and headlines, mostly. What happens when you see a headline that you're interested in? You stop and read the article that goes with that headline. It's headlines that feed your attention, whether online or in print.

The headline is often the most important part of any content you read because it saves you time and prevents you from diving into the text of an article or paragraph you're not really interested in. You only have the briefest of moments to grab someone's attention during those scans. Without that attention-grabbing, "get noticed" headline, your first impression becomes no impression.

Crafting a headline that's purposeful becomes the number-one job of the writer; a very critical element in written communication. The more compelling or attention-getting a headline is, the higher the probability of getting what you've written seen and read by a larger audience.

We've mentioned magazines, newspapers and online content when discussing headlines. There's one more very important headline consideration, and that's in email communication. The headline in this case is the subject line of the email. Emails are very often opened based only on the scan of a subject line, especially in an overloaded email inbox. So crafting the subject line with the same attention-grabbing power as you would anything else in your marketing campaign is essential in email communication, too. 

Another version of a compelling headline is in search engine results. When you do your respective search for your keyword or a phrase, the resulting links on the search engine results page are a collection of headlines. You scan and click on the one that interests you the most or comes closest to what you were thinking when you initiated your search.

In order for you to get noticed you have to think from the standpoint of those you're targeting with your message or information. In marketing, you want to speak from the perspective of the customer or prospect. Every time they look at your marketing, they're thinking, "What's in it for me?" That means you have to grab them to make them read on. With every communication, think about what will cause them to read on. That's the start of how to craft a compelling headline. Spend time on this--lots of time. Don't release your communication until you're convinced you have a headline that will get noticed. Once you do, you'll get more attention, more readers, more buzz and more results.

Create your headlines to get noticed, get attention and inspire interest. The more compelling and interesting your headline, the higher the probability of attracting the target you're after. Let's look at some different kinds of headlines that worked.

How-To Headlines

In marketing, motivating people to take action is typically the goal. Reading a how-to headline usually leaves no doubt about what's next:

  • Five Activities That Will Extend Your Life
  • How to Double Your Income and Take More Time Off
  • Paying Your House Off in Five Years

Story Headlines

While you can't tell a story with just a headline, you can introduce a storyline as a hook:

  • How a Five-Year-Old Saved a Life
  • From Ds and Fs to CEO
  • Alive! How I Survived Burial in an Avalanche for 12 Hours

Challenge Headlines

If you can get a prospect to connect with what you wrote, you have a good chance of communicating further with them. If you pose a "challenge question" and a prospect says, "That's just like me or my situation," you've got their attention:

  • Would You Like More Customers Than You Can Handle?
  • Are You Faced with More Debt Than You Could Ever Pay Off?
  • Is Your Teen Struggling to Get Through High School?

Extreme Headlines

Sometimes referred to as "shock and awe" or "surprise" messaging, extreme approaches definitely get attention:

  • One in 20 People Will Get Arrested This Year
  • Seven Foods to Eat to Guarantee a Shorter Life
  • What Your Car Dealer Won't Tell You

Targeted Headlines

Over half the success of your marketing is based on targeting. So the more targeted you can make a headline, the higher the probability it will be read--especially by those you want to read it:

  • You've Thought about Retiring But Don't Know Where to Start (Target: people in their 40s to 60s)
  • If You Want a Good College Education for Your Child, You'll Like This (Target: parents of high school/college-age children)
  • Want a New Job You Really Like? Read What Not to Do (Target: people who are unhappy in their current job or want to advance in their career)

Emotion-Based Headlines

In every area of marketing, playing on emotion works, whether in a headline or in the body copy of marketing messages. Emotions drive us whether we think we're rational or not. Here are some examples:

  • Someone You Know Is About to Have a Heart Attack--And You Can Prevent It
  • Live Longer with Less Stress Over Money
  • Your Kids Will Struggle to Have the Same Quality of Life That You Do

Very often you only have a brief moment to get attention and get noticed. Headlines can do that for you efficiently and effectively.