- On March 23, 2016
I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough to get to the full story—a humorous take on what to do about falling birth rates in upstate New York. The story, it turned out, wasn’t nearly as exciting as the headline, but that’s a topic for another bulletin.
Article titles, PowerPoint headings, and email subject lines are some of your most valuable pieces of real estate, so spend the time to make them stand out. Here are a few pointers for writing attention-grabbing headlines that will get your readers through your door.
• Be specific, not general A competitor of mine sends a weekly email whose subject line is always “Business Writing.” If I didn’t know how good her tips were, I would delete them. A recent one, once opened, read, “21 Ways to Shrink the Email Monster.” That should have been her subject line. Pertinent subject lines also make it easier for readers to go back and find your correspondence.
The same principle applies to titles of articles, blogs, and press releases.
“Collaboration Leads to Innovation” was the header an executive gave an article he posted on his company’s intranet. He didn’t get many clicks. I recommended that he focus more on the innovation and suggested, “Company Scientists Use Collaborative Approach to Speed Up Clinical Trials.”
One of his colleagues sent a news item headed, “Exciting Announcement.” That didn’t get much traffic either. When you have an announcement to make, say what it is, for example, “Mary Smith Named Chief Executive, First Woman to Hold Post.”
• Lead with news We often send emails that include several topics, so instead of choosing one or two for the subject line, we say something lackluster like, “Times Insider: Highlights From This Week” (give me a highlight) or “Here’s What’s Happening This Week,” (tease me with something). I’m more apt to open messages with heads like these: “A Sensible Supreme Court Nomination, Clinton vs. Trump, and More” (from The New Yorker), “Judge Declares Chipotle’s Social Media Violates Labor Laws” (PRNewser), and “The Republicans played nice, for a change” (Buzzfeed News)—all of which included additional news items in the body of the email.
• Make it clear why your readers should care I pay attention when a hotel I like tells me I’m eligible to earn a free night or when my favorite food delivery service alerts me to a $10 discount on my next meal. Take a page from those types of marketing emails and make sure your headline includes a benefit statement. When a client proposed, “New Alignment of Strategy & Business Planning Team Members,” as the headline for an internal announcement, I wondered what the headline meant and why the news mattered. After reading the announcement in full, I suggested, “Strategy & Business Planning Announce Staff Changes to Strengthen Talent and Operations.” The new headline makes it clear what is happening and why—and dispenses with the fuzzy word alignment, which is best left to the planets and the stars.