9 Ways To Write Headlines That Work!

I’m becoming a big fan of Copyblogger! I was moseying around his site when I came across this great article: 9 Proven Headline Formulas That Sell Like Crazy. Having been in a variety of writing/editing roles in the past (copywriter, PR manager, editor, corporate “go to” guy for the English language), I thought these were pretty spot on (examples of how in the full article here):

1. Say it simply and directly.

The direct headline should be used far more often than it is. No cleverness. No jokes. No wordplay. The direct headline gets right to the point. It works particularly well with strong offers, recognized brand names, and product or service types with which the reader is familiar.

2. State the big benefit.

One of the first techniques you should always explore is transforming your major benefit into a headline. After all, your number one selling point should be up front. It stands the best chance of selecting the right audience and preparing them to respond. Plus, if they read nothing else, they have at least seen the best selling point you have to offer. If you have trouble writing this kind of headline, it’s a sure sign you need to think a bit more about your product or service.

3. Announce exciting news.

People read newspapers and magazines because they love news. It’s just basic human nature. We’re curious. We not only want to know, we need to know. Casting your headline in a way that suggests news, rather than advertising, can have the same powerful appeal of a feature story in the morning paper. An important note: the product or service doesn’t necessarily have to be newly created to qualify as news. It merely has to be news to your reader.

4. Appeal to the “how-to” instinct.

The how-to headline appeals to the need most of us have to improve ourselves or our lives in some way. The secret here is to focus on a need or want and promise to fulfill that need or want. Be careful, though. The how-to must highlight the benefit or final result, not the process itself. Look at this example: ” How to make money working from home with your PC.” Suppose instead it read, “How to start a full-time computer business in your home.” This misses the point, doesn’t it? It sounds like a lot of work. It says nothing about the real motivator, which is using a computer you already own to make money easily. To write a how-to headline, begin with the words “How to” or “How” then immediately fill in the benefit.

5. Pose a provocative question.

Asking a question directly involves your reader. However, your question cannot be random or clever. It must relate directly and clearly to the major benefit of the product. It must also prod the reader to answer “yes” or at least “I’m not sure, but I want to know more.”

6. Bark a command.

Sales copy often falls flat because it fails to tell the reader what to do. This headline type allows you to be direct, provide a benefit, and take a commanding posture simultaneously. It’s not conversational, it’s dictatorial — but in an acceptable way that readers have come to expect in clear writing.

7. Offer useful information.

Let me clue you in on a little secret. Most people don’t want information. I know you’ve always been taught otherwise, but it’s true. People are drowning in facts. What people really want is a sense of order and predictability in their lives. We want to feel a sense of power over our world. Therefore, we seek out the secrets, tips, hints, laws, rules, and systems that promise to help us gain control and make sense of things. Notice how these headlines promise information that does just this.

8. Relay an honest, enthusiastic testimonial.

A testimonial headline can do two things for you. First, it presents your reader with a third party endorsement of your product or service. Second, it capitalizes on the fact that people like to know what other people say. A variation of this strategy is to write a headline in the first person and put quotation marks around it. This “virtual testimonial” gives you a more interesting headline and improves readership.
9. Authenticate your proposition with a little something extra.
People distrust sales copy. And for good reason. A lot of it proves inaccurate or downright dishonest. To cut through this distrust, you can add a little something extra to your headline that seems out of place, yet rings true. Look at the following headlines and notice how the words “Ohio man,” “Obsolete,” and “Frustrated bartender” stand out. Their specificity or quirkiness adds a truthful aura that traditional copy could never achieve.


2 thoughts on “9 Ways To Write Headlines That Work!

  1. To find your perfect headline.

    Go to Amazon.com

    On the drop down tab, select: Books

    In the search box, write in there your subject of choice, for example…


    Look at the book titles on the first 2 pages of the results.

    Make a note of any repetitive words used in the book titles and the number of times these occur.

    Now, start writing your own headlines using these power words.

    Aim to write 100 headlines initially. The first 20 will be easy, after that, you might start to struggle a little bit. This is a very good exercise for you though.

    When you have 100 headlines (at least) in front of you, choose the best one to work for your sales copy and make a note of the other headlines you prefer, which come in as your alternative top choices.

    These other headlines, you can now adapt to use for your key benefit * bullet points.

    This top copywriting tip brought to you by…

    Mark Andrews

    • Dear Mark,

      Thanks for the great idea.

      But do you think this method is basically in the same vein of an automated buzzword/bullshit generator that so many people lampoon online? No offense intended – it was just the first thing that came to mind.

      Still, it is an interesting exercise if one is completely stuck and doesn’t know where to begin…

      Thanks again for the idea!


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