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10 Easy Tips On How To Write Better Headlines (Warning: Response Rates May Soar 20X)

The “Dean Of Copywriters” John Caples famously said that an effective marketing piece/ad can have 19.5 times the success of a poorly written ad. And the most important aspect of advertising is the headline.

In fact, 5 times as many people read headlines as read the body copy of an ad, according to David Oglivy in his Oglivy On Advertising (A Top 20 Best Business Book Of All Time).

The headline of this ad is considered one of the most effective in the history of advertising due to its appeal to self-interest and curiousity.

Maybe you’re not directly in marketing/advertising, so should you care?

Big time!

If you do any of the following you will benefit from improving your headline writing skills:

  • Write emails (the subject line is your headline)
  • Name things (whether your product or your business or, in some cases, your child!)
  • Write blog postings
  • Write a description of yourself on your resume or LinkedIn profile

I’m by no means a copywriting expert, but I hang out with some and I’ve studied some of the greats (David Oglivy, Al Ries, Jack Trout, John Caples).

So I am going to share 10 awesome headline-writing tips I’ve learned along the way.

10 Tips On How To Write Effective Headline

1) Write The Headline First

The purpose of the headline is to get the reader to keep on reading the body/copy of your messaging.

So don’t wait until the end of writing your copy or article to come up with the headline. Think a bunch about it first.

When I write my articles (such as for this blog), I first pick a topic I’m interested/or know a bit about (e.g. “Headline Writing”) and then I spend a little time (in this case 10 minutes) working on the headline.

Then I write the article.

2) Always State A Clear Benefit For The Reader

Almost all great headlines have a clear benefit is to the reader. Everyone has self-interests and you must focus on that in your headline in order to get the person to continue reading.

I use the Google AdWords Keyword tool to research the topic I’m interested in writing. The Keyword Tool shows how many people are searching certain topics and it really helps me get in their shoes and to appeal to their potential benefit/self-interest.

For example, when I searched the Keyword Tool for “writing headlines” I found that 260 people per month search the term “How To Write A Headline”  – so I used that as the main “benefit” in my headline above.

I added in a further benefit (increasing response rates by 19.5X) as well as “10 Easy Tips” (see tip #5 below) so that it’s crystal clear who this article is for: anyone who wants to get some easy tips on how to write better headlines and increase their sales!

3) Pique Their Curiosity

People are curious by nature, and you can add that to the Benefit to create some killer headlines.

An example of a headline with curiosity would be: “The 7 Home Safety Tips The FBI Doesn’t Want You To Know About.”

4) News Sells

Ogilvy says headlines with news perform 22% better than those without news.

Some tips on working news into your headlines (thanks to John Caples) are:

  • Begin with the word “Introducing” or “Announcing” (e.g. “Introducing The New Best-Selling Book On Headline Writing!”
  • Begin with the word “New” or “Now” (e.g. “New Floss Has Toothpaste Built In So You Don’t Need To Brush”).
  • Put a date into your headline: “Coming September 7th, The Hottest TV Show The Critics Are Raving About”

5) Show Quick & Easy Ways

Caples also points out how people love short-cuts — so you can work what he calls “Quick & Easy Ways” of doing things into your headline.

If you look at some of my recent headlines, for example, you’ll find that I use “Quick & Easy” on a regular basis:

“5 Easy Ways To Increase Serendipity”

“4 Simple Tips To Help You Make (“50-50″) Tough Decisions”

“6 Easy Tools To Name Stuff On The Web”

6) Make It Believable

The benefit you communicate in your headline needs to be believable.

For example, you would never want to use a headline that said: “10 Ways To Guarantee You Make $Billions.”

Instead, you might rephrase it to state: “The 10 Tips Billionaires Credit For Making Their Billions.”

7) Mention Your Niche

Oglivy suggests that if your advertising to a small group of people (e.g. men aged 65 and over), you should mention that in your headline.

“New FDA-Approved Pill That Increases Erections For 90% Of Men Aged 65 & Over.”

8) “Put Your Headline In Quotes”

Oglivy is a big fan of headlines in quotes and found they did 28% better than those without.

9) Mention Where They Live

If you’re advertising in a local area, make sure to mention the location in the headline: “Introducing 24-Hour 5-Star Catering To San Francisco Businesses!”

Notice how we included news (“Introducing”), self-interest/benefit (“5-Star Catering”  and location all in the headline.

10) Three Things To Avoid In Headline Writing

There are some clear no-no’s in writing headlines. Here are three:

Trickiness/Cleverness

In general, you want to avoid being too tricky or clever in a headline. While you want to pique a reader’s curiosity, you don’t want to completely puzzle them.

Caples gives the following example of a headline that is trying to be clever but fails to deliver enough benefit to get most people to read on:

“The Odds Are 9 To 1 Against You” (that was for a business training course). Most people won’t keep reading the rest of the ad.

Little To No Headline At All

Some advertisements have no headline at all. Plain stupid. Similarly, some subject lines in emails say nothing or just “re:” or “fyi” — that’s asking a lot from the reader and unless you two have a trusted, best-friend type relationship, you’re going to get poor open rates of that email.

Gloom Or Negativity

In general, people don’t want to be bummed out. If you’re going to talk about something negative — e.g. you think the stock market is going to plunge — then try to turn it into the positive such as “7 Quick Tips To Protect Yourself From The Coming Wall Street Crash.” (notice how that headline also uses Curiosity).

Some Examples Of Good Headlines

Go check out 50 Examples of Headlines that Forced Me to Read On — they include categories of different headlines that I have found awesome including examples for many of them.

In the meantime, here are a few excellent headlines:

“They Laughed When I Sat Down At the Piano, But When I Started To Play!” (This headline (pictured above) was written by John Caples himself! It shows clear benefit (everyone wants to be popular) and piques curiosity.

“56% Off Baseball Autographed By Buster Posey” (Groupon and its army of copywriters makes the benefit crystal clear in the headlines (aka subject lines) of their emails).

“Have You Ever Seen A Bald-Headed Sheep” (Oglivy loved this headline from Lanolin, for a cure for baldness, because it shows benefit and piques curiosity).

“Soup On The Rocks” (Another Oglivy favorite is Campbell’s Soup ad which showed a clear benefit (taste) in a headline of just a few words).

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