You’ve only got 3 seconds…

That’s right, only 3 seconds for the headlines of your ads to get the attention of your readers and get them to move forward with reading your ads.

Today, even with all the endless discussion regarding the headlines in ads, I am still amazed at the way ads are designed. I’m also not surprised at the comments of newspaper customers who are not only disappointed in the look of their ads, but more importantly, the lack of response.

Heads up

Let me begin by saying that the customer’s logo at the top of the ad is not a headline. A headline has to intrigue, entice, or raise interest. Many times you can surprise a potential buyer by asking a question…or tell them how to do something…or provide an update on something. Headlines and subheads lead readers through your ads and entice them to continue reading. They function like directional signs on a highway. People ignore signs that are small, poorly printed, or dimly lit. However signs that are bright and clear draw attention immediately. In the same way, strong headlines attract readers while weak headlines repel them. We all know these principles, but actually doing them is another story. The reality is that five times as many people read headlines as they do body copy.

Tips for great headlines

Headlines look better in sans-serif type and should be dramatically larger than other type in the ad—the contrast should be significant. Remember, you only have 3 seconds to get readers to form an opinion of your ads, so it’s very important to use headings that grab their attention. To convey a feeling of immediacy, write headings in the present tense. Use short words, avoid abbreviations, and use precise words.

Improve readability with the following ideas

  1. Tie headlines to graphics. When headlines and graphics aren’t related, readers may feel unclear about the ad and not read it.
  2. Use screaming headlines with exclamation points sparingly. Sometimes you need a startling headline. However, if this technique is used too much, headlines lose impact and the advertiser’s credibility.
  3. Do not use reverse type for a headline and definitely not script type. These examples take the reader’s eye longer to adjust and risk complete rejection of the ad.
  4. Spell carefully. Keep readers from stumbling over typographical errors. These errors many times prevent the reader from reading further.
  5. When you put headlines in quotes, you increase recall by an average of 28 percent.



Remember, as a final reminder, the logo of the business is not the headline. There could be a small logo in the upper left corner of the ad, but it is only a quick reminder that leads into the dominant heading of the ad.