If you want to engage your readers, start by writing an open-ended headline.

Conversational headlines about peanut butter
I’m trying to think of a reason why you might want to write a headline that doesn’t attempt to engage your readers in some meaningful way.

I guess if you’re just making a product launch announcement, you might simply want to get the message out and be done.

You could write something like:

NEW! Nick’s Peanut Butter available in stores today!

But most of the time we’re trying to do more with our headlines.

We want to hold the reader’s interest and attention beyond just the headline itself. We want people to keep reading.

How do you keep them reading?

There are a few ways, some of which fall under the category of “tips and tricks”. For example, if you’re one of those clickbaity writers, you could write something ridiculous like:

These 10 ancient civilizations all revered peanut butter. You won’t believe #10!

But we want to do better than that. Right?

We don’t want to simply trick people into reading our content and sales page. We want to engage them, earn their trust and make them feel comfortable about buying from us.

Which brings me to my own favorite when it comes to headlines and opening sentences.

Ask an open-ended question.

Just to be clear, there is a very simple difference between a closed question and an open-ended question.

The closed question typically calls for a yes or no answer, like:

Do you like peanut butter?

Or an either/or answer, like:

Do you like your peanut butter smooth or crunchy?

In both cases, once the question has been answered, you’ve lost the attention of your reader.

You asked a question.

They answered it in their mind.

And you’re done.

But if you ask an open-end question, and it’s reasonably interesting, then you’re going to hold that reader’s attention for a little longer.

How about…

Of these 7 popular recipes that include peanut butter, which is your favorite?

Assuming your target audience has at least a passing interest in peanut butter and/or meal recipes, I think this headline has a reasonable chance of moving people forward into the body text.

The lesson here is that when you ask a question, make sure you’re not going to get a yes/no or either/or answer.

Keep the reader engaged with an open-ended question.

Remember, without engagement you have no conversation.

When you write a statement like – Nick’s Peanut Butter available in stores today! – it’s one-way communication.

With a closed question you’re doing much the same. You’re simply writing AT your readers.

With an open-ended question you’re engaging WITH your readers, because your question invites them to pause, think, and take part, even if only in their own minds.

When you get into the habit of using open-ended questions, your own attitude to your readers begins to shift as well.

Instead of simply expecting your readers to be passive recipients or consumers of what you write, you’re inviting them to engage and to participate.

As a writer, this means you no longer sit on high in your ivory tower. You’re now at the same table, treating your readers as equals… over coffee and peanut butter on toast.

This is what lies at the core of the conversational copywriting approach.

Stop writing AT your audience.

And start using open-ended questions as one of the ways to engage WITH your audience.

NOTE: If you have a particular passion for writing great headlines, I have a course devoted to just that over on my Nick Usborne website… Write Better Headlines.

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  1. Open-ended questions are a great way to get engagement (I use this a lot in person to connect deeper with people). I am not sure I purposely use it for titles, but I am going to have to start thinking about using this as more of a strategy. I think I add open-ended questions throughout my writing because it is how I have a conversation with people. The idea of using them more in writing is probably a little more inclusive to the reader and gets them thinking. I like this concept.

    Thanks for another great tip for better writing Nick! Keep the greatness coming!