As you know, I'm constantly making the point that the text on web sites is not given enough attention. Which is unfortunate, because the headlines on site pages make huge demands on the skills of any writer.
If you're writing a headline or heading for a site page, here are four things you need to keep in mind, four elements that demand your attention, four separate 'audiences' you need to satisfy.
1. Make the reader feel he or she is in the right place
Every time someone clicks on a link and a new page begins to open, the reader is thinking, in one way or another, "Is this page going to give me what I'm looking for?" This is particularly true of first-time visitors. It is also true of any visitor on any page in your site, even a repeat visitor who is accessing a page for the first.
Matching the headline to the reader's expectations is central to holding their attention and giving them a high level of confidence.
If the heading doesn't match the reader's hopes and expectations, their confidence in finding what they want will fall and your conversion rates will decline.
2. Make the reader feel good and want to continue
This is where a page heading takes on the characteristics of a print advertisement headline. The heading not only has to satisfy point number one, but also has to make a 'sale'. That is to say, it has to sell the reader on the benefits of reading the page. Just as an ad headline sells the reader on the benefits of reading the body text.
By way of illustration, if I were selling my search engine copywriting skills, I might write a heading that says:
"Yes, I write copy for search engines."
That might satisfy my point number one, but it doesn't cut the mustard with point number two.
I'd be better off saying something like:
"Ask me to make your Web copy irresistible to search engines."
Doubtless I could improve on that headline with a few rewrites, but as it is, it contains a benefit and a promise. It still covers point number one, but also goes further ? it gives the reader more of an incentive to actually read the page.
3. Appeal to the search engines
To ignore the needs of the search engines on any page is foolishness. You need to work with your page title, meta tags and headline to ensure that you are covering the most relevant and profitable key words and phrases. If you don't, you are losing traffic and losing potential readers and customers.
While some writers find it frustrating to have to accommodate the needs of SEO, doing so will actually help you with point number one. The better you know and understand what people are entering into the search box, the easier it will be for you to write text that is relevant to their expectations and needs.
4. Satisfy the needs of the company or organization
This is the tough one. This is where your not-very-net-savvy manager or client pressures you to make the heading more company centric, about the company or organization, and not about the needs of the reader.
At this point you have to fight the best fight you can. Gather together the best evidence you can find and persuade the manager of the errors of his or her ways. If all else fails, you can always suggest a test...testing your heading against theirs...and then measure the search engine traffic, and the conversion rate of the page.
Nick Usborne is a copywriter, author, speaker and advocat of good writing. You can access all his archived newsletter articles on copywriting and writing for the web at his Excess Voice site. You'll find more articles and resources on how to make money as a freelance writer at his Freelance Writing Success site.