Episode 19 Todd Jones Talks Headlines
\Wwelcome to the STM interview show. Before we get on the dish week’s episode, I want to apologize for this podcast is not coming out on a consistent basis. The business has been really busy. Like they have my spare time. I’ve been distracted by the magical run at the Toronto Raptors. We, the north starting this week, the podcast will come out on Monday.
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Our goal is to have these completed by the end of July. Now on this week. Todd Jones and I have become really good friends over the last few months. We share ideas on a regular basis. Todd is a copywriter at copy on one of the zoom calls we had. We were talking about creating headlines. We thought this would be a really great discussion for you to listen to without further delay, we sit back and relax and enjoy the great discussion about headlines with Todd and myself.
Everybody wrapped. Rob Cairns here. I’m here with my good friend, Todd Jones, Todd and I have had many, many conversations. And today we and taught. Professional copywriter. [00:02:00] Talk a little bit about headlines and how much headlines make towards copy writing. How are you today? Todd probably could use some more coffee, but other than that, I’m doing pretty well.
Yeah. We all could use more coffee. Would you like some or, or just some diet Coke that will lunch and then apparently wearing off real quick. So. So you, you run a really, um, cold called copy fight, and you’re kind of write copy for some people right now. What are some of the things you’re working on right now?
Uh, working on a project with the agency, uh, the nonprofits down in Texas and, uh, um, they, they arrest you and rehab sea turtles. Uh, it’s been an interesting project, something different than I’ve done before. So enjoying doing that, writing the, uh, some of the main pages on that and, um, helping [00:03:00] set the course for strategy going forward, um, coming to that project.
And I usually write a couple of blog posts a week for a main WP and that’s. What I got, I have a few people that have contacted me about stuff recently, and I’m working on some products that maybe I can sell in the near future. And, uh, yeah, if you want to check out, Todd’s writing a main WP. It’s really good.
Uh, informative. Sometimes there’s some people who like discussion as we all know, uh, discussion brings ideas. Um, and we’re just talking offline. That’s really important. The biggest problem with, um, the average person can’t do it or doesn’t do it well, isn’t that right? Uh, you know, some average people have actually acquired the skill and done it.
So, um, I guess this, maybe that’s a little different way of looking at it. No, no. I mean, it’s a skill, like building a website [00:04:00] or running PPC or Facebook ads, those kind of things. I mean, um, you know, maybe it comes a little easier as someone who does it regularly, uh, more often, uh, you don’t do it as, as often.
Uh, but not to say that, uh, somebody, you know, people can’t execute something. Riding up. And there’s a really, it’s actually a book I liked by Ann Handley called everybody writes. And anytime somebody starts talking about Tom or something like that, I usually recommend that book to them. It’s not going to make you some kind of persuasive copywriter per se, but you know, it gives you the basics are riding on the web.
Um, some of the things you need to pay attention to. Um, but yeah, we, we talked in one of the copywriter groups the other day, or talks about how, um, You know, many of us you’ll use something like Grammarly or something like that to kind of self help, self edit what we do. And the, the grammar Nazis don’t do too well with Todd grinding because we break the rules a lot in this for [00:05:00] so certain reason for doing it.
Sometimes it has to do with rhythm, uh, writing. I’m not going just break a rule just to get somebody to change. Know, and, um, so, and, and persuasive and so Grammarly doesn’t always like, but that’s okay. You know, we just had a little argument and I usually win and lot, but, um, I use Grammarly a lot, especially for blog posts, but, um, you know, there are little things like, um, you know, when you’re doing copy, uh, strategically for what page.
You have what I like to call the five second tests or the three seconds. That’s really. And so, you know, we, we tend to want to show how smart we are in, right. Which is totally understandable. I just went to a long graduation yesterday. I can imagine those kids want to show how smart they are, but when you have five seconds to make a, get your point across you, you, you really have to, [00:06:00] um, simplify as much as possible.
Um, which allows people to grasp what you’re saying quickly, because you don’t have, you know, a minute or two minutes for somebody to. Like, that’s why I have an issue with, uh, homepage headlines a lot, then maybe we’re discomforting, which is coming from, I don’t know, but, um, people tend to write clever headlines and, um, I would like to say, uh, which your buddy Krister in Toronto speaks up on.
We cleared it out. Yes, but I, I get that Chris Casteel by the way, enjoying a week. So I can’t claim some kind of a, and she may have gotten it from someone too. I don’t know, but, but that’s, uh, that’s typically okay. Uh, how do I, okay. If you’re, if you’re Nike or if you’re Coca-Cola, you can be clever because you have a global brand, so you can be clever and like, oh, that’s fun.
Okay, cool. [00:07:00] Uh, but if you’re just average business, no one knows who you are, a clever, just gonna make them wonder. And with that five seconds, they will hit the back button or go to another site and you lost them. Uh, let them know who you are now. That’s not to say your, your homepage headline can’t be short.
It can be. And then you can expound on that in the sub headline, a lot of people will leave a sub-headline off where they will fail to communicate what needs to be done or what it needs to be with the headline and the subject line. And he completely stressed. I, I agree with that. And it’s funny, you were talking, listening to you, Grammarly.
I must admit I’m not the best speller in the world. I use Grammarly all the time, but I’ve been known to take a headline and deliberately misspell a word, and then I’ll get like 25 responses saying, teach you misspelled that word. Well, I know those people. All right. But I had to say, because that will pointed it out.
[00:08:00] Sometimes you do things that is out of the box to get people’s attention. So people need to realize that it’s not copywriting. It’s not always about grammar. Now you talked about headlines, so really interesting. What do you think should go in a headline? Um, letters, words, is that what you’re talking about?
Yeah. What, what kind of things should go in that.
I’m gonna use the word benefit. Um, if you’re not communicating and benefit, um, the benefit of what, what you’re providing, whether it’s art or webpage or whatever, uh, you know, people wonder why they’re reading it. Why don’t they want to read it? I mean, uh, overly used to say that what people read 80% of the headlines, but 20% of the copy.
And he was talking about advertising 50 years ago. But [00:09:00] it’s still true today. I don’t, I think some people would run some tests to kind of verify that, but your headline and here’s the other thing. This is new to me, Robert, but upset. And we’ll listen to Joanna from copy hackers a lot on her Tuesday tutorials, which is like an education.
Okay. You know, if anybody thinks I have an MBA in copywriting, it’s because I listen to her. On top on her, a tutor, Tuesday tutorial. But anyway, she would go through, it’s like an older. You know, she’s going through copy. I mean, there’s different formats. Sometimes she’s interviewing somebody, somebody she’s letting somebody else present.
But when, when she used to do more of the, over the last call them over the shoulder, she had Airstory open and she would talk about what we’re done and all this kind of stuff. And then she would call them cross heads. And some of us are like, what in the world is a cross. She’s referring to a subheader in the text.
So like [00:10:00] a, whether it’s a page or a blog post or whatever, we typically do a different font size and we call it a header or sub header. She called them a process. And because it is. Tune me into this. You’re not just using it as a format through which you are using it as a formatting tool helps people scan, but you’re also using as a tool, like a normal headline to get people to read that section.
So I’ve tried to be more cognizant of that in my writing. So looking at my headline sub-headlines again or headlines in the, in the body of the blog posts, is this, make people want to read it? Does it explain what’s going to happen instead of one or two? Choppy subhead. I had really started to put a little bit more work into that, but, um, it is the old copywriting term for that.
Um, but we in the web industry tend to call it a subheader, you know, for H two or whatever, [00:11:00] but, um, that’s been an interesting discovery for me just to think about those cross ads. Okay. Um, what does it communicate? But I really think you put the benefit in there. Yes. You could throw in some shocking things.
You can misspell a word you can do. You can use somebody. I use Denzel Washington or an article one time and somebody pinned me on Facebook. I love the article and I’m a huge fan. It got more credibility because of Dansville Washington’s name in there. It’s essentially social proof in a headline. Um, so, you know, if I said, uh, joy Dean recommends, blah, blah, blah.
Well, the people in the WordPress community knows the Dean is all of a sudden he gets our attention, was reading a really not reading listing coop, a really good [00:12:00] podcast called the marketing swipe file. And it’s done by David Gearhart. He’s the CMO up at drift a company. You and I both don’t. Well, David was talking about copywriting in a recent episode a couple of weeks ago, and he said, one thing he does is he writes a one page.
Header. And then in the first line he writes almost a subheader or same idea, and then he’s done because he knows that that first line is not right. And that second line is not right. People. Aren’t going to read the rest of it. Email programs are in browsers are how we all display snippets. So he likes to get right to the point and then make his point real quickly in like five seconds.
Yeah. That’s an old journalism technique, actually. You know, if you read the newspaper, they would, uh, the first paragraph, the, the. First couple of sentences would be essentially summary of what the, the posts or the articles about and [00:13:00] help people know if they want to actually continue reading. And so I think that’s a good practice to make, although I am a big fan of books.
So there’s a kind of a balance there between, I think you do have to have a summary at some point before you start into the body of the text. And a lot of times my hooks, well, a lot of times my summaries will be right before I start. Body part. Uh, so I’m alive with my articles. A lot of times I will do a story or something like that, but look people.
So I LA a lot of times I’ll dive into that first. It’s kind of the same, uh, as watching, uh, an episode of SVU law and order SVU, which I do a lot, um, or in our NCI or something like that. Any, any show or movie is going to have a, uh, A story gap is what, um, um, the guy from StoryBrand and I’m drawing a blank right now.
[00:14:00] I know what you mean, Donald Miller calls it a story, which is what it is. You, you put a, you, you build a gap in the story and it’s done different ways. And sometimes just, you know, here’s the start, the, the old dizzy formula of once upon a time. And then you have the cons were. And it’s actually in the future and then the rest of the movie that will back in time.
And so, you know, you have a story gap, but it’s all about hooking your reader in, uh, in that section. But, um, as far as the headline, I mean, I guess you could have a hook in the headline as well, but I think you’re, you need to have that benefit in there too. So. Uh, whatever you do, you gotta have the benefit in there.
And this was my problem with clickbait headlines a little bit. Um, I know people will use formulas, um, which is fine. Uh, I’ll see a lot of formulas, but just sometimes we just gotta have somewhere to start. That’s fine. Nothing wrong with that, but they’ll use these clickbait headlines and it [00:15:00] becomes clickbait.
Whenever what you say in the headline. Um, completed in this inmate article for the page, you know, in other words, if I say something about Denzel Washington, a headline, and I don’t mention him in the article, it’s just a quick. And, um, I see people do that, especially with stuff like the ultimate guy that, you know, I have an issue with people using the alternate guide, um, and, um, wrote about that last week.
But, um, you know, a lot of times you’ll see somebody saying the ultimate God of whatever, and it won’t be announced with God. So what happens, and I think your roads, your trust as a rider, as a, as a FirstNet lemonade, Archer authority, it hurts your credibility. So I just caution people, you know, if you’re going to use a hook or if you want to use, uh, something like that, just make sure you deliver.
So if you’re going to say Denzel Washington or, or. You know, [00:16:00] John wick and the headline to get people’s attention, then you need to have that in story in the article. Somehow, otherwise you lose your credibility. And for those who don’t know, the likes of this podcast is listing the dogs and more dogs crumbles.
So, you know, that’s the way it goes. Um, not took the glass. So what shouldn’t go in a headline. Well, that’s what I, one thing I’ve just addressed is you shouldn’t put something in there that you’re not, not, you know, if you’re gonna, you’re gonna use like, uh, you know, a major name or put something in there and it just doesn’t play out.
Like you’re saying, and they are full that’s the worst thing to do. And again, it kills your credibility. Um, There can be a place for one or two word headlines, uh, for sure. But I think most of the time that’s a bad idea. Um, headlines for anything, not just the home page, you know, being [00:17:00] clever is, can be cute, is something we all kind of smirk and want to do.
Um, but I think he had to be careful about that if it’s not, you know, but it can be a hook. And as long as that hook delivers on what you’re saying, then that’s fine. Um, I think, uh, You just have to be careful about being clever and you have to be careful about, uh, using something that hooks people that you don’t deliver on.
I don’t know if I’m making any sense at all, but you do actually. So we, we know, and I agree with you. I mean, if the copy’s not in the text, there’s no point in putting in, they have, I know people do it all the time. I think long-term, it doesn’t build up long-term credibility. So I try to avoid doing that.
Um, I think there’s nothing wrong with the headline is shocking. As long as the information in the text is Israel. Like [00:18:00] you and I were talking offline where I did a actually did a podcast. I’ll put the name, Walmart in the headline, which was what we were talking about. I did a comparison and believe it or not, I’ve had eight or nine either messages or private people saying you really compare business to Walmart.
Yeah, I did. It means people listen to it, but I also. Walmart in the headline, in the, the body of what I was doing. So it, you know? Sure. Yeah. Um, so should the headlines be long short in between Devin? I’m going to say, uh, what you would probably hear from somebody like Joe clicker. It’s going to be as long as it needs to be.
That’s a, you know, that’s one of those, it’s the top answer, right? I would agree with that. And I typically talk about copy when they’re talking about that, but I think with a headline it’s, it needs to be as [00:19:00] long as it needs to be. Uh, we get into, especially with SEO and how many characters it needs to have.
Oh yeah. Wait, we cut off, you know, and you know, Google’s going to do it. Google’s going to do, it might be 60 characters today. Next week it might be 120. So, um, you know, Google. Probably display most of those characters. There’s no reason to have like a three long, a three sentence long headline. I agree. I would say a sentence, a concise sentence, uh, which, which does talk about the benefit is long enough.
So, um, You know, as you start going beyond that, it’s going to be hard to display, which means it’s going to be confusing for the reader. So, and I know it’s not a very good answer. I don’t have a character. It is a good answer actually, because if it were me, I wouldn’t be writing the headlines just for Google.
They matter, not as bad [00:20:00] as people think. Frankly, if I had a dollar for every time, Google changes in search role, you and I would retire in Hawaii somewhere warm, right above counts. And I’d be a rich man. Yeah. So my, my advice is, you know, just, uh, uh, write a concise headline, which has the benefit in the headline and what you’re talking about.
And it’s probably going to be a sentence and just stick. And if you can find a way to, you know, make it a little bit shorter, that’s fine. Uh, if you want to, if you’re a little concerned about wasn’t how long it is, you need something like that. The sheriff they’d headline analyzer, which I like to use now, because it’ll give you some parameters kind of help you, uh, play around with it.
Another trick I have done over the years, and I’ve heard this many places, um, I think, um, I try to write at least 10 headlines. It doesn’t always work out that way, but, uh, the more [00:21:00] times you can write the different variations. So you’re kinda just like a brain dump, right. And eventually, you know, the better one will come out and sometimes you just can’t, you know, get one to score high on, share through or CoSchedule.
Uh, those are a couple of headline analyzers you can use to kind of give you a sense of whether or not your headline falls flat. You know, you’re going to have, you want to have a benefit. You want to have something that evokes a little bit of emotion and you want to be clear about what you’re doing. I guess if there’s three things that, uh, that you had in your headline, those three things, the folks who have a bit of a lotion, it doesn’t have to be.
A very drastic emotion, but folks emotion is clear about what the article or what the thing is about. It has a benefit to it. So, um, that’s three, if you can do it in three words, then I would say maybe if you want to add a fourth is something that really stands out and that’s why people play the game.
The [00:22:00] misspellings, see if you want to play that game, that doesn’t work all the time, but sometimes it could, I can classify that under a vote for motion as well, because sometimes people get passion if you misspell a word, but yeah. Yeah. It’s just kind of like adding a social proof to it. And I don’t always do that, but sometimes I do.
Um, but you know, if you’re throwing in a celebrity or a well-known thing, Or something, or even like a well-known like parents or something like that. We did an article at Conway, um, last year about a crepe shop town, uh, commonly seen as a hyper local site that I run here in town and a young man was writing for the last year or two, a couple of really good articles while he did several.
But that one was about our grape shop. And I think I reworked the headline just to include Paris. You know, it was like having breakfast on the streets of Paris or something. I don’t remember exactly how it was, but I added that because I wanted people to get the mentalities and there’s nothing else in central Arkansas, [00:23:00] like this restaurant.
And it just like ran a little piece of Paris to Conway, Arkansas, and I wanted to do that. Ours was well read, so I don’t know if it had to do with the headline or the content or, but still that’s a, you know, a social proof element to it, for sure. And then the other question I always bring up is what type of and colors should go in a headline.
Should they just leave a black on white? Or do you have any theory on that? No adults, because I’ve never done much in that regard. And now my, all my sites and especially on a, like a landing page homepage or whatever, I’ll, I’ll sometimes I’ll use. The color of a lawn branding, you know, for a subheader, which is easy to do using the lead or any other pages of other, for that matter, you can change the color.
Uh, I’m not big, I’m not big on fancy fonts for headlines. Um, sometimes I have a hard time reading them and, uh, and then when, if you remember 10, [00:24:00] 15 years ago, we didn’t even use, sometimes we didn’t use HTML next week. An image in there of the hair. I’m thinking now I’m thinking, why did we do that? But we did.
And, um, because we can make a fancy looking thing. Um, but I’m not big on that stuff. If you’re gonna change the color and make it a pillar of your brand. So definitely don’t use a color. That’s contrast your own brand. We’re off the charts to get attention. You know, I think you want it to be soft. And stand out a little bit, but you don’t want it to like, you know, so use fluorescent orange or something or, or, you know, um, some of these fonts I see that people use, like why did you use that font, a script font?
You know, I would rather use comics. Uh, what is it called comics? Uh, what’s the one everybody hates that comic stands or whatever comic sense. I would really use that. Then one of the [00:25:00] script thoughts, I can’t even understand or read. That’s me personally. Um, I think you have to think about user accessibility in those cases, when you’re talking about a web, you know, now you’re out the printed brochure or something like that, you know, you can use a, you know, a little more scripted font.
You can understand what it says, but when you’re talking about web accessibility, you have to pay attention that that’s something that, um, that cause you know, your, your screen is going to read that. And then somebody may have vision problems. I’m not big on making the fancy font for your headlines, nor am I actually, I, I must’ve been, I tend to fall back on either times, new Roman or Ariel in the headline, almost scholars.
I might change the color, but I mean, I can almost guarantee if it’s a headline font. The studying digital marketing.com site. It’s going to be times new Roman or Ariel. The read the things show up [00:26:00] really well in one day, I would say is make your headline bigger, make your heading. I mean, I, I prefer almost a 16 or an 18 point heading that’s just me as a rule, but I mean, don’t make them the same as your texts, you on the stand out of bed, but scripted is really hard to read.
And frankly, it’s the last thing I want to be reading. Well, if you’re, if you’re, if you’re header or subheader or cross said, where w we call it, if it is so important to the text and it is. And people need to understand what it says through no 30. Keep reading. Then why would you want to make that hard to read?
I mean, yeah, so, and, and I’ll get on some people’s sites and usually not web professionals. I’ll see that in some of my colleagues in the copywriting community, we’ll have these funky fonts and I’m like, it may fit your brand, but it doesn’t help too much as far as reading. That’s my [00:27:00] opinion. But I would suggest anybody that wants to learn a bit about headlines.
One of the fallbacks. I always say to people, schoolwork had a big media cycle. Look at the USA today, go look at CNN, go look at the Toronto star in Toronto and see what they’re doing with their stuff. Cause I can almost guarantee you. I’ll tell you somebody who pushes the boundaries, but it does a good job through headlines.
And in the journalism field has always been the New York post. No question. They push the boundaries, they skirt around some of this stuff, but they write some of the best headlines for articles that I’ve ever seen in a journal. And they’re not afraid to be, uh, you know, most journalism are trying to be a little safe, you know, I don’t want to be too crazy.
The New York post is not afraid of that. So kudos. No, no, no. Push that boundary a little bit. Number of journalists and writers in the sites, Utah, my circle [00:28:00] locally, even guys who wrote for the star. I have a friend who writes Freeline season Toronto, right sports for the New York times, but he’s based out of Toronto.
He used to work for poor start a trial stars parent company. For years. I have another friend of mine. Re retired writer. And they always say to people, you know, why don’t you fall back on media sites? There’s a reason why they do what they do. And they do it every day is an and frankly it comes back to the same.
There’s not much difference between them all on the headlines, the way out the fonts. I think you’ve got to kind of, you know, what works really well and why it, why it doesn’t work. That’s brilliant. Well, I would say go to bus Buzzfeed, you know what I mean? I wouldn’t advocate all the headlines that you do and they, they may push the boundaries more than you are post, but you’ll get an ideal.
And what I used to hear from the chalky bloggers blog. Essentially, as far as copy and blogging goes probably at least one of the [00:29:00] top 10 blogs, um, that’s out there and what they used to say, and I’m not sure I’m leaving. Brian Park may have said it. I don’t know. But they used to say, go to your magazines or go to your bookstore, which we don’t have anymore.
But you know, your bookstore look at the magazines or it was on the news or, you know, go to the checkout counter, look at the magazine. If they’re still there, because that’s what they’re doing. They’re competing for your attention, see what they say, see how they get your attention. So I think you can push the boundaries a little bit.
Um, if it doesn’t fit your brand, though, you might be careful about doing that. Uh, you know, if you’re not, if you don’t have a casual, fun brand and then thrown out a buzz feed shop, uh, you know, headline with probably not in your best interests, but, uh, if you do then, you know, you can probably push the boundaries a little bit.
If you’re more, if your brand is more corporate, more professional than you probably want to do something more like New York times the wall street journal in terms of headlines. No, I would [00:30:00] agree. I really think that’s some good advice. Um, as somebody wants some copywriting gundog how can they get ahold of you?
Well, they can send a smoke signal or a pigeon, uh, all the way down here to Arkansas. Uh, the website is copy flight.com and um, email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Um, Working on some consulting packages now, and we have some home and about page, uh, copywriting, um, products and I’m working on other stuff as well.
So good. Thanks for your time, Todd. Have a great day. Thanks man. All right. Thank you for listening to the STM interview show. The show is hosted by Robert Karen’s CEO and chief creator of amazing ideas that standing digital martine.com. This podcast comes out every Friday. Israel on all podcast platforms.
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