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How to write an article: includes headline & subheadings, intro, transitions, body, closing.

Headlines

This list contains some excerpts from Copyblogger's "How to write Magnetic Headlines" eBook, which I very highly recommend reading.

The headline is your promise to the reader. Make it specific to your audience rather than watering it down for mass appeal.

  • Main criteria: useful · urgency · unique · ultra specific (according to Copywriting 101)
    • Useful: include specific, clear benefit! Why read?
      • "Achieve that in this little time"
      • "The 5-minute improvement that boosts..."
    • Urgency: why now?
    • Unique: something new?
    • Specific: make sense to your prospect
  • Good length: 16-18 words
  • Don't use superlatives like "always" or "everybody". "Almost" and "many" is more credible
  • Headline needs keywords
  • Obvious benefit
  • Write them as commands
  • Clarifies who should read
  • Add a little extra thought to draw attention to detail:
    • "I want them all, especially #5"
    • "(easier than you think!)"
    • "(takes 2 minutes a day!)"
    • "...might surprise you"
  • Short and punchy. Delete extra words. Take time and refine them!
  • Make it negative: "how to fail", "how to piss them off" etc.
    • More on negative headlines: superlatives (worst, never) work
  • Go after the point of maximum anxiety!
  • Psychotactics: make a headline with most or all of these features:
    • Question-based: rather than statement
    • Problem-based: "struggling?" "driving you crazy?" "tired of...?"
    • Curious: point to sth. in the article ("these triggers", "how to")
  • Then: test the headline! Send it to a few dozen people, get feedback

How to come up with them

  • Keep a swipe file
    • A book or list full of headlines that have been proven to work

Matt's Swipe File

  • "How to" headline:
    • One of the most powerful out there
    • Improved by "and":
      • How to win friends and influence people
      • How to save time and get things done
      • How to save money and retire rich
    • "How to [mundane task] that [rewarding benefit]"
  • How I...
  • How [something] did [something else] (e.g. "helped me achieve")
  • How ... gets you into trouble
  • Why [declaration]
    • Why some poeple almost always write great post titles
    • Why Parallax Design doesn't have to Tank your SEO
      • Implies that this big new trend usually does. Gasp!
  • Also: how/here's why/what/when/etc [declaration]
  • Who else wants ... ?
  • Here's a Method that Helps [audience] to [benefit]
  • What [insert group] can learn about [skill] from [current pop culture item]
  • When/what to...
  • Top tips to...
  • The step by step guide...
  • The ultimate guide...
  • Why you should...
  • Top-x lists (Top 10 things I learned from my first breakup)
  • Why [xyz] doesn't work for you
  • Use unexpected combinations: e.g. "what comedians teach us about writing"
  • Good/bad news! [...]
  • Advantages of...
  • The shocking truth about...
  • Are you making this mistake...?
  • 5 little known facts about...
  • Lady Gaga's guide to...
  • Is your business safe from...?
  • Warning!
  • Secrets of...
  • LIttle-known ways to...
  • Now you can ...
  • Create/Have a ... you can be proud of
  • What everybody ought to know about ...
  • Get rid of [problem] once and for all
  • How to commit brand suicide
  • Never trust a silent customer
  • How to Aggravate Top Bloggers So They’ll Never Help You

Anxiety, Teases:

  • What never - ever - to eat on an airplane
  • What your doctor doesn’t tell you
  • Bills it’s okay to pay late
  • Why married women have affairs

Questions - something that can't be answered without reading the article:

  • Are you (not) doing these x things?
  • Did you know ...?
  • Is your community ...?
  • Can you resist...?
  • Are you missing...?
  • Are you avoiding learning about headlines because you're not a copywriter?
  • Are your headlines missing these precise psychological triggers?
  • Do you know who's killing your marketing?
  • Are you operating without an audio logo?
  • Who is your real competition?
  • Need to create a dynamite web site?

Intro (Opening)

  • The opening sentence is known as the "lede" in editing lingo
    • Make it great: look for that catchy, spicy sentence in your article and put it up top
  • Opening catches attention!
  • Tells the audience what this is about
    • And what they will gain from reading
  • Set a good pace for article from the get-go
  • Each sentence should lead the reader to the next.
  • No dilly-dallying: quick, descriptive, tasty intro
    • Short and captivating first sentence
    • Examples: summarize message in subheading, lead off with story (in the chaotic middle!)
  • Tone: set it in first paragraph, stick to it
  • Project a favourable, specific image that teases
  • Use an attention-getting generalization
  • Present a picture
  • Startling question or challenging statement
  • "Are you one of the xyz who..." => "You're not alone. But there's abc you can do"
  • Pose problem (e.g. as a personal observation)
  • Address or name common excuses for non-action! (bullet list)
    • Then tell them to cut the bullsh*t

Examples

  • Story about where reader is and what they want to achieve
    • "So you've finally taken the plunge and created a Twitter profile. Now what?"

Weak Openings

  • Apologetic statement
  • Unrelated story/joke
  • Commonplace observation
  • Long/slow statement/story
  • Trite question

Keeping the Attention

  • Follow the intro with a "nut graf": paragraph that sums up what readers will get from your article
    • Purpose: orientation
    • It's the "Overture" in music

Transitions

How to get from one section of my article to the next

  • Words: afterward, also, but, consequently, consider, finally, instead, later, meanwhile, moreover, next, then, yet.
  • Phrases: according to, as a result, for example, for instance, in addition, let's begin with, more importantly, this means, to illustrate.
  • Statements, questions
    • "If this is valuable, why is everyone resisting?"
    • "We must consider 3 things: 1, 2, 3"

Body

  • Supports my ideas
  • Outline all info I have, then make 2-3 best bits into main statements
    • Order them effectively
    • Use subpoints to elaborate
    • Add support material: statistics, testimonies, examples, stories, visual aids, facts
  • Storyselling: touch both emotion and logic!
  • Keep the story relevant and have a transformation
  • Don't miss the point: headline and article must align, "big idea"
  • Build crescendo, lead up to a punchline
  • Subheadings ("mini headlines"):
    • Keep "scanners" engaged an scrolling down the page
      • "Scanner": a reader that quickly skips through an article instead of reading line by line. Many people do that!
    • Have about one subhead per full page when scrolling
    • 16 words at the very most!
  • Internal Cliffhangers
    • Stitch content together using emotions and shock
    • Suspense, humour, dramatic surprises, challenges
    • Make sure you read all the way to the end, where ~
    • Let me explain / here's what I mean / here's why / for example
    • DIALOGUE
    • Tease at the beginning, payoff at the end
  • Optimize writing:
    • Who does it appeal to?
    • Who will it alienate? (that might be ok)
  • Get quotes from live humans: experts, leaders / competitors!
  • Don’t be the expert
  • Don’t quote books, friends, Wikipedia

Conclusion (Closing)

  • This is very important because people remember it
    • After reading the article, this will stick in the mind
    • Make it MEMORABLE, reinforce your idea
  • Closing headline examples:
    • "To conclude"
    • "Parting thoughts"
    • "Takeaways"
  • Summary, or call to action
    • Make it specific! Leave no question about what's to be done
  • Final remark: challenge, question, anecdote, quotation, catchphrase
    • "Take a few minutes before lunch today to..."
  • Forceful and confident
  • One final punchy quote (save it for the end)
  • Tie the ending into the opening
  • Rules from Copyblogger:
    • Address your reader: now it's about them. Compare article's content with their struggles!
      • What would I like my ideal reader to go and do next?
    • Concrete and feasible action: things you can do next week, tomorrow, today!
      • Small wins
    • Take the biggest obstacle away
      • Overwhelming? Remind them of the first step
      • Insecure? Pep-talk! (though it may be hard)
      • Too much trouble? Remind of the reard! (e.g. happiness, relaxation, productivity)
    • Touch the heart: hit them on an emotional level! Use analogies, emotional words
      • Sobering look at the reader's habits
      • Disturbing look at the problem
      • Hopeful glimpse of solution
    • Nail the last line: it'll stick with them for days
      • Nugget of wisdom!
      • Use poetic techniques: rhythm (e.g. staccato), rhyme, repetition