It’s quite simple, really. When it comes to the headline, there’s just one thing at stake: absolutely everything.

Developing headlines can be an overwhelming and intimidating process. That’s because a truly great headline accomplishes so much with so little. We’re talking about summing up an entire concept, including nuances and idiosyncrasies, with a few words — a whole sentence if you’re lucky!

Though often overlooked, crafting a perfect headline is an absolutely essential part of the writing process. You may have the best content in the world, but no one is going to bother reading it unless the introductory headline is appealing. So next time you’re writing a headline, keep the following tips in mind to ensure your audience reads past your headline to the rest of your ad.

Understand your audience

Before you even think about picking up a pen, it’s essential to understand your target. Research stats and numbers about your audience and conduct a thorough evaluation of the competition. You need to know what your market wants, what they need and what drives them. Just as important, you must keep in mind how your market communicates. When your message is delivered in a tone that makes your audience feel comfortable, they will be much more apt to both hear and trust that message.

Appeal to Customer Emotions

For most of us, purchasing decisions are largely based on emotions. It can be tricky to write a headline that properly targets emotions, however, because the goal is not just to get the reader to feel. Eliciting tears of sorrow or squeals of euphoria is not accomplishing the goal of a headline: getting the reader to buy. As such, it’s essential that your headline does more than inform customers about why they need your product; an effective headline must tickle the emotions to make customers want your product.

Keep It Short and Sweet — and Simple

Simple means no confusing riddles, no complex sentence structures, no obscure words. You might think simple sounds boring, but people will actually understand your headline. Nobody is going to put work into interpreting your message, and confused readers don’t buy. A great way to check for complexity? Read your headline aloud. Would you ever speak that way? Is it an instant “get” or are even you — the writer — straining to follow the message? If necessary, reduce your message down a bit more.

Last But Not Least

It may seem backwards, but write an outline of the ad first. Then write the headline. Why? You’ve got to know what you want from your audience and thoroughly understand what you’re offering before you can boil everything down into one succinct and effective line. You may be tempted to spend less time on this last step, but don’t fall into the trap! Your headline might be the last thing on your list, but last doesn’t mean that it’s the least important. When it comes to writing an ad, it’s exactly the opposite.

The reward for taking on the seemingly impossible challenge that is writing a compelling headline? It’s all in the end result. When the light bulb goes off and all the puzzle pieces fit together, you will have created that which is wildly elusive and greatly sought-after: the effective headline.