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Tips & Tricks - Copywriting

When writing headlines, the conventional wisdom is to make them short – eight words or less in most cases. This tradition dates back to the early years of magazine copywriting and probably is more related to space constraints than any measure of effectiveness. In fact, research from the direct mail industry indicates that only slightly more than half (50-60%) of effective headlines are eight words or less – meaning that almost half of longer headlines are effective.

Things may also be different when writing headlines for web sites. Dr. Jakob Nielsen, an acknowledged user-interface expert who holds a Ph.D. in human-computer interaction from the Technical University of Denmark in Copenhagen, released an eye-tracking study in 2006 that showed readers read web pages in an F pattern. They scroll across the top of the page, come back across the page, then down the left side to see if anything is of interest.

Knowing this pattern provides the opportunity for web page designers to place a headline across the top of the page, locate a subhead below it, and put other supporting information down the left hand column.