Why less is more when it comes to headline copy

May 16, 2018 | By | Reply More

If one helping of me a week isn’t enough…good news.

I launched a new website last week where you can hear more of my thoughts on things that aren’t so sharply focused on direct response copy.

TheGlennFisher.comas you can tell from the title – is more a resource to find out what I’m personally up to.

I’ll be using it as a platform to talk about my upcoming book – being released later this year – and the various events I’ll be speaking at. Plus you’ll find general thoughts I have on being a writer.

If you’re interested, you should check out.

My first proper piece is all about the anxiety creatives often feel when comparing themselves to others.

You can read it here.

Feel free to share your thoughts on the subject in the comments section below the article.

Why not publish it here?

I’ve always wanted AllGoodCopy.com to be a practical resource, specifically about direct response copywriting and I want it to be focused on sharing insight that will help copywriters and marketers write better copy.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ll let you know when new stuff is up over on the other site, but the last thing I want to do is spam your already busy inbox. I hate when people do that, and I’m guessing you do too. So, you won’t get overloaded because of me.

Indeed, enough of this…let’s get to this week’s piece. Funnily enough, it’s all about cutting stuff.

Snip, snip

My dog Pablo is booked in to have his gentlemen’s orbs absented.

In other words, he’s getting his bollocks chopped off.

The horror.

I’m new to dog ownership and have quickly come to love the little guy despite his attempts to attack my body the way Willem De Kooning attacks paintings.

So, the thought of voluntarily sending him to the surgeon’s table is a tough one.

My much more sensible and considerably more dog-aware partner, Ruth, has reassured me numerous times that it’s necessary and is actually good for him.

She’s right, of course.

And in a wonderfully tenuous link, it’s the same when it comes to writing headlines.

Sometimes you need to cut bits you’d prefer to keep.

BOOM.

Told you…wonderfully tenuous. I couldn’t resist.

But this is what I was thinking about earlier this week when I started working on a new idea for a long copy sales letter for the US.

It’s a simple story…with a simple takeaway…but I can’t stress how key the process I have to share with you today is.

Getting the words on the page

I’d spent most of the day researching.

I read a whole host of random articles. Watched weird YouTube videos. I studied the track record of the service I’m looking to sell and I read through all the special reports subscribers receive.

All the time I made notes and saved the links I’d come across in case I ended up using the research in the final copy. (Good tip.)

After a day of researching I had my first inklings of an idea for a headline.

In fact, it was hardly a headline at this stage…more of a pitch.

But having gathered so much research, I knew I needed to refocus my approach a bit and to help do that it would be good to get some words down on the page to see what the idea might look like as a headline.

I want to stress that I knew what I was about to write might never see the light of day (despite me technically working outside at this point) and I was comfortable with that.

I mark this because too often when a copywriter comes to commit their first words to paper, they quickly become attached and find it difficult to delete and write again.

That is why I would generally encourage people to wait as long as possible before writing.

Still, if you’re strong enough to know yourself and freely delete your own work…like I say, sometimes it helps to get some words down to help refocus the idea.

So, that’s what I did…

I wrote out a page of copy…a headline with a few bits of deck copy and the first few lines of a lead.

A few hours later, I don’t think a single piece of that copy was still on the page.

I’d cut it all and replaced it.

Here’s why…

Cut back the weeds to allow new growth

A couple of things happened in my writing process that led to me cutting that first attempt.

One thing I did was immediately send my idea in its early form to a few of the peers I refer to when I want to test an idea.

I’ve written about the importance of creating a copy peer group before – you can read that article here.

In my experience it’s key to do this early, before you become too attached to the idea.

What you’re looking for is a gut reaction to the concept more than anything. Does it spark interest?

Immediately people seemed to find the idea compelling. There was something about it and worth pursuing.

That’s good. But even if it had fallen on deaf ears, by sharing it early in the process, I would have saved a lot of time working on something that was never going to inspire.

With some backing for the idea, I allowed myself some time to edit what I had for the headline.

This is where the cutting began.

I essentially went through every word and statement and asked whether it was needed.

Some bits very obviously weren’t necessary. These are easy cuts.

Other bits I knew I’d need to foreshadow an explanation later on. These bits are harder to cut. But I’ve found that if you’re already setting yourself up for a detailed explanation or justification later on, you’re probably weakening the impact of your headline.

These days I would advise taking out the element that’s there for later explanation and rewriting the headline so it’s self-contained. Remember the reader is not reacting in a patient way to your copy. They’re busy. Distracted. They’re not looking for elements that foreshadow what happens later. If the intrigue is there and it’s strong enough, they’ll read on. Don’t over complicate your headlines.

Being strict like this forces you to keep deleting and rewriting until you’ve got something really taught.

The main headline I started with was about 20 words…as it stands, it’s now just 5.

But it still expresses everything the 20-word version did…only much sharper.

Remember, at this stage, you’re still drafting your copy and by the time you’ve finished the first draft, things are going to have developed. You may need to tweak your headline at a later point, so don’t spend weeks working on your headline complex alone…it’s a waste of time.

But I would always spend at least a few hours questioning and cutting back what you’ve written and trying to get it as tight as possible.

Having that clarity in your copy at the beginning will help enormously when it comes to drafting out the rest of the argument.

It’s a simple takeaway, one you may have heard many times before…but it is so important. I see too many writers running with their first draft and see it flop. It’s a shame because the idea is not necessarily bad…it’s just that it’s not been properly crafted.

So, always get feedback early and make sure you cut as much as you can from your first draft. Your final copy will be much stronger for it.

OK. That’s all from me for now, but if you would like to read more…you can check out my piece on an anxiety many writers share. The link is just here:

Don’t let anxiety about other people’s work get in the way of your own creativity.

And at some point this week, there’ll be a new interview with me online, which I’ll message you about.

Otherwise, I hope the rest of the week goes well and you write some great copy.

P.S. Don’t forget, if you’d like to join me for an exclusive Q&A webinar later this year, all you need to do is sponsor Ruth and me for the charity run we’re doing. It’s an ethical bribe, as they say. We’re 76% of the way there to raising our total, so every little helps.

You can sponsor us here.

Just send me the confirmation and I’ll add you to the list for the webinar.

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Category: Comment, Technicals

About the Author ()

Glenn Fisher was born in Grimsby in 1981. After a number of years working in the local council, he left to become a copywriter and founded AllGoodCopy.com, a free online resource for direct response copywriters and marketers. For over a decade he worked with The Agora, a multi-million pound international financial publisher and in 2018, having helped launch and grow Agora Financial in the UK, he left to write copy on a freelance basis, focus on coaching aspiring copywriters and publish his first book, The Art of the Click. He now lives happily with his partner Ruth and dog Pablo on the east coast of England.

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