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What They Didn’t Tell You About Writing Headlines

By Jessica Craddock

Mar 05
  In this epic article:

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*This post may contain an affiliate link, which means I will either make a small amount of money or receive free services if you decide to purchase my recommendation. I only recommend products or services that, at other times, I spread the word about whole-heartedly without compensation. 

Have you noticed I've been writing email series instead of one-offs this year? What do you think? Is it easier to understand when I take four weeks to write out more details or would you rather have short and sweet subjects?

Unless you tell me otherwise, I’m going to keep it up for a while. I’m having fun.

My theme for March is ‘What they didn’t tell you about headlines’!

Here’s the irony in this title. You probably know some of this information on writing headlines already. This week and next week might not be all to new to you, but I’m writing it anyway because:

  • 1
    A refresher is always good
  • 2
    I might explain headlines so they click in a new, useable way
  • 3
    I’m building up to something good you haven’t heard in week 3 & 4, and I need to lay the foundation down first

So let's get down to the basics...

What is a headline?

A headline is usually considered a short, attention-grabbing summary that tells what a longer piece of writing is about. Its goal is to make you want to read whatever has been written. It’s often used for blog posts, email subjects and news articles.

Why should I use them?

Artists should use a headline almost anytime they want to get someone to click.

This could be a blog post you’ve written to get traffic to your website, an event announcement, or the subject of a sales email to name just a few.

You could even get creative and use a headline as a call to action at the end of a social media post, on your website “do next” buttons, or anytime you want to convince someone to do something online. (See, selling can be fun!)

Why won’t people shut up about headlines?

You know all those hours you put into that content you want people to read? If you can’t convince someone they want to read what you’ve written right off the bat, you wasted your time writing that article or email.  That is dumb, self-defeating, and results in less time you have to spend on important things like creating art or living your life.

I don’t have time to waste time. What should I do?

  • 1
    Study headlines. This series will give you plenty to work off of until you feel like you’ve mastered these skills, then you can go learn some more.
  • 2
    Practice, practice, practice (aka: "Do the work & create your luck", like I say every week)
headlines to attract art buyers

This weekend I had some old friends drive a long way to come see me. As we were standing around a big pot of homemade chicken soup, we started talking about how our phones have turned into a never ending barrage of unwanted information shoved in our face. 

That got me thinking about headlines.

Unless I feel like a headline is speaking directly to me, like the author is in my head with something I want to readI almost resent being asked to read it in the first place. 

There are many headline formulas out there that work - but they’re often used poorly and loose their oomph.

Here are some of the most popular:

Common Headline Formula #1: How to

Often used by artists who: like to teach to attract customers

An example of how it is often used wrong: "How to Choose a Color Palette"

Common headline formula #2: The list

Often used by artists who: like to inspire to attract customers

An example of how it is often used wrong: "3 Ways to Show off a Painting"

Common headline formula #3: The command headline

Often used by artists who: like to buck the norm to attract customers

An example of how it is often used wrong: "Stop Buying Mass Produced Art"

These examples look perfectly acceptable, right? They follow the formulas. They’re art related. Why you bein’ so picky, Jessica??

Headlines are everywhere. Just like ads or news headlines - they can’t just follow the formula. They have to be special to stand out and get clicked by the person you want to buy your art. 

Remember: the point of a headline is to get people to read what you wrote– so you don’t waste your time writing just another thing floating around the internet unread – so you can start to get attention from the right people – so you can start selling more regularly – so you can start generating an income – so you can live each day with passion...

See, it’s a big deal! 

If you’re convinced, look at the three big problems with the headline examples I gave:

  • 1
    They aren’t intriguing. Be honest with yourself when you write your headline. Is there enough curiosity built in to want to know more? Do they just have to know "3 Ways to Show off a Painting"?
  • 2
    They don’t say why this matters to the person reading it. Why does knowing how to choose a color palette matter to anyone? You might say, “because they want to know.” But why do they want to know? Are they redecorating their living room? Do they want to use your hand lettering on a perfectly coordinated table for their next dinner party? Do they want to learn how to mix oils like you?
  • 3
    They are too general to speak to anyone in particular. You know all those ideal customer worksheets you’ve filled out and stuffed in a folder because you don’t know how to use them? Boom! Here’s a great reason to dust them off. If you are trying to attract customers who are tired of mass-produced art from chain stores, figure out your person’s “why it matters” to make the headline click-worthy. Is staying away from mass-produced art a political stance (because it supports small business) or an ego thing (they want their home to look stand out from the other moms)? When you have an ideal customer in mind - you can think through the distinctions in your headline that will speak just to them.
headline tricks for artists

I’ve been reading and using Marie Kondo’s book, “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up”. It’s so good. 

Her book has really become a movement. Have you heard people using her name as a verb? It’s crazy. “I Kondo’ed my computer files.” “I Kondo’ed my sock drawer.” Decluttering and simplifying your life has become such a hot topic lately. I believe it’s because people are overwhelmed with the amount of stuff, the never-ending to-do list, the amount of information…

People don’t want all that crap anymore.

They want less. They only want the stuff that makes their life better. 

That’s why one of my favorite tips to make your headlines stand out from the pack is this… add a benefit.

What is a benefit? 

A benefit tells your reader the end result they’ll be able to get. It helps them understand why they should use five of their very valuable minutes to read whatever you are asking them to read. 

By giving them a benefit, you are saying “Hey, don’t worry, this is worth your time. I got you.”

They’ll appreciate you for taking the time to understand them, and you'll get your marketing out there at the same time.

What if there isn't a benefit?

There’s always a benefit. The trick is to know who you are talking to so you can find it. 

Knowing who you want to read it, and what they want out of it, will help you figure out why they care about that email or blog post. (And help you decide what to write in the first place)

Here’s the headlines examples from last week. Let’s rework them using a benefit. 

The secret sauce is to add “so”/“so that”/“so you can” or something similar to show them why they care to click. 

Common Headline Formula #1: How to

An example of how it is often used wrong: "How to Choose a Color Palette"

Vs.

How to choose a color palette so you can...

  • Banish “matchy matchy” from your living room
  • Build a custom watercolor set that you love
  • Pick the perfect mat to make your new art pop against your wall color
  • Alternate art with the seasons

Side note: Notice how one of these headlines pops out from the others? If “your thing” is interior design tips, but out of nowhere you tell your people how to build a watercolor set, you’re going to lose some credibility points. Another good reason to know who you’re talking to. 

Common headline formula #2: The list

An example of how it is often used wrong: "3 Ways to Show off a Painting”

Vs.

3 Ways to Show off a Painting so you can...

  • Be the envy of the block
  • Make it the center of attention & save some dough
  • Bring awareness to its cause (which is why you bought it in the first place)

Common headline formula #3: The command headline

An example of how it is often used wrong: "Stop Buying Mass Produced Art"

Vs.

Stop Buying Mass Produced Art so you can...

  • Show your support for micro businesses
  • Own something no one else has
  • Tell your children the story behind it

Get it? Isn’t that a cool trick?!

Clickable headlines. Easy peasy.

artist headlines that stand out

My other favorite way to make headlines clickable is by adding what I like to call copy gems. ✨

Copy gems✨ create a visual by referencing something your audience knows. This might be pop culture, a hobby, a place, a book... anything they might think about or encounter on a regular day.

Adding a visual makes your headlines "SHINY" so it jumps off the page at the right person.

For example: Instead of ‘2 Ways to Make your Home Decor Pop’, consider adding a copy gem✨ to to make your headline both more memorable and more clickable.

This could look like:

  • 2 Ways to Make your Home Decor Pop Like Lucille Ball’s Hair

But, if your people don’t know who Lucille Ball is, that headline is worthless. Instead you might say:

  • 2 Ways to Make your Home Decor Bling Like Lady Gaga’s Pink Engagement Ring
  • 2 Ways to Make your Home Decor as Refined as a Black Parrot Tulip
PRO TIP: use “fact” details as much as possible.
  • Not fact: beautiful, perfect, mindful
  • Fact: blue, braided, shiny

Let’s do another one.

Instead of “Stop Buying Mass Produced Art so You Can Tell Your Children the Story Behind it”, you might say:

  • Does the art in your home show your children you’re rooting for the Inigo Montoya’s of the world?
  • “Someday you’ll pass that print from Hobby Lobby down to your own kids!” said no one, ever.
  • Tell your child the story of the artist who was living her dream, not what the Santa Fe gift shop looked like.
PRO TIP #2: Be as specific as possible. If you are having trouble being specific, use a proper noun.
  • ‘Inigo Montoya’ is better than ‘little guys’.
  • ‘Hobby Lobby’ is better than ‘chain store’.
  • ‘Santa Fe gift shop’ is better than 'gift shop'.

Copy gems✨... just one more nifty trick for your artist headlines!

homework for an artist's online art business

Identify three places you can use headlines to make your marketing more worthwhile. The next time you create something in one of these places, practice writing a headline using one of these tricks.

Headlines are an incredibly valuable skill if you want to sell art online. They can be used in a variety of creative ways to help you get yourself in front of new people, or build likeability and trust with the people who already know you exist. They're definitely worth your time.

You won’t master headlines overnight, but you will if you practice, practice, practice. 

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Do the work & create your luck,

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About the Author

Jessica Craddock is a consultant for artist entrepreneurs who have started building their following online but haven’t figured who would buy their art. They’re tired of being all over the place and don’t know what to say or how to say it. She teaches them to work smarter and be “authentically them” so they can sell more through their website & spend their days creating beautiful things.

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