Copywriters utilise these psychological tactics to write headlines

DSM Digital School of Marketing - headlines

Whether on a newspaper front page or Google’s first page of search results, headlines are pretty important. Think of them as the movie trailer to your piece of content. If the headline doesn’t grab the reader – prompting them to delve further into the copy – then they’re likely not going to read much more. There are a few tactics used by copywriters to make sure their headlines are the attention-grabbing nuggets of literary gold. We’re looking at four of these below:

1. Necessary numbers

Humans like predictability and certainty and David H Maister proved it with a fascinating study on the psychology of waiting in lines. He found that we gravitate towards things that we know; things that we have experienced and can depend on. The title 10 ways to pluck a chicken informs the reader of what they’re in for; there are a whopping TEN ways, and the reader can decide when they have the time to read all ten. A study by Conductor found that Internet users prefer number headlines to any other type (how to, question, audience referencing).


2. Audience referencing

If your copywriting doesn’t require a number headline, the next best is addressing the reader. This involves the use of words like you and your – with the copywriter speaking directly to the reader. A study in Norway looked into the effectiveness of headlines by promoting the new iPhone online. One headline read “For sale: Black iPhone4 16GB” (standard classifieds headline). The second read “Anyone needs a new iPhone4? (question without audience referencing). The third read “Is this your new iPhone4?” (question with audience referencing). Study participants preferred the third headline.

3. The ‘how-to’ revolution

How to write your best blog article ever. As a headline, it’s pretty good. Not only does it address the reader (who we hope is a copywriter), but it’s tapping into people’s need to figure things out. The first place that individuals turn to to find out information is the Internet; specifically, search engines like Google. If you’re writing marketing agency copy, the chances are good that you’ll be promoting a product or service of some kind. What problem does it solve? Once you know the problem, and you have the solution, all you have to do is point the reader in the right direction. For example: How to successfully live and work in China.


4. Asking questions

This psychological tactic is all about playing on the natural curiosity of the reader. People want to know things and, even more so, they want to know what other people know. Questions are highly effective when used in copywriting headlines as they force the reader to think about the answer to the question. If you ask the right question, you can get the answer you’re looking for. For example: are you REALLY ready to have a baby? Any nervous expectant mother would most likely click on this headline as her answer is likely to be a resounding NO and she’ll want to find out how to get ready for the imminent birth of her baby.

While it might seem too daunting a craft to try master for most, copywriting is a pretty straight-forward process.

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DSM Digital School of Marketing - Copy Writing