Any web copywriter tussles with the question on how long, or short, their headline should be. Those of us in the business have been asking the question for years - is there an arbitrary length for grabbing someone's attention and encouraging them to read further?
Of course, this is what headlines are supposed to do. They act as a quick synopsis of what the reader can find below. The challenge of course is drawing someone's interest enough for them to want more.
In fact, there is no specific length to a headline. Adding or subtracting a word won't do much for example.
But evaluating headlines by using what's known as the "breath" test* is one way you can test your headlines to see if they're the right length. Take this one for example:
How to Recognize Six Telltale Signs of Disinterest and Lack of Motivation In Your Student and Customer
Quite a mouthful isn't it?
If you didn't run out of breath trying to read that headline, you certainly struggled to finish it in one breath. If a reader can't say a headline in one breath, they are more likely to be confused as to what the page is about.
In other words, your message will be garbled if the headline takes more than a breath to read.
But remember, adding or removing words doesn't make a headline either. Look at this one:
They Laughed when I Stepped Out on the Field. But when I Started to Play...
Now you can't say this entire headline in one breath either. The key to this headline though is the period separating the thought...commas, parentheses or dashes do the same thing.
When your headline includes a "mental pause" like this, a reader will instinctively know there is a pause in the headline and read it as two separate thoughts.
Therefore, next time you think you have a headline that's too long, do a "breath" test to see if you can say it in one breath. If you run out of breath or struggle to complete the headline in one breath, use a comma or period to separate your thoughts.
If you're unable to do this, scrap the headline and start over.
Remember though, if you're can't process your headlines and thoughts in one breath, your headline will lead to confusion and be completely useless.
*The "breath" test is brainchild of Sean D'Souza at Copyblogger. See their original post on this topic here.
Stone Reuning is president and founder of SEO Advantage, Inc., an online marketing firm and website optimization company that helps businesses turn their websites into powerful lead and revenue generation tools.
Beginning with a focus on search engine optimization in 1999, SEO Advantage now brings a full multi-disciplinary approach to each client website. Clients enjoy dominance on Google, Yahoo and Bing through a suite of unique pay-for-performance search engine optimization and online marketing services. Experts in SEO, social media optimization, online reputation management, and website conversions work hand-in-hand with small business owners and client marketing departments providing complete copywriting and creative web design support.
You'll find SEO Advantage referenced in books such as Writing Web-Based Advertising Copy to Get the Sale and the BusinessWeek bestseller The New Rules of Marketing & PR, as well as popular ebooks like The Small Business Blogging Blueprint.
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