I’m sure you’ve heard it said a million times that the headline is THE most important part of copywriting.
But even though everyone agrees in its importance, there’s always been a debate over what the main purpose of the headline is, how long it should be and the amount of selling that it should do.
In my opinion, the headline is ultimately about ONE thing. And that’s grabbing your prospects attention and compelling them to read your sales message.
That’s what this article is about.
A killer headline should stop your prospect cold, make sure they don’t move on to the next shiny object and lead them right into reading the body of your copy.
When you write your headline, you should ask yourself if it accomplished that basic goal. If it doesn’t, then scrap it and start over.
The Key Ingredients of a Killer Headline
Your headlines should be specific.
Not JUST specific but ULTRA-SPECIFIC!
What do I mean by that? Let’s imagine you are selling a system for making more money in the stock market.
If you are quoting an amount of money that your average customer has made using this system you are selling don’t just say…
“Our Average Customer Made 20k In Their First Six Months Alone of Using Our Amazing System”.
It just isn’t specific enough which lends itself to creating doubt about whether this claim is legitimate.
Instead, actually, go to your accountant and find out what the real average amount of profit is that your customers have (at least hopefully have) made and use that EXACT amount to the penny.
So, your new headline would read like this …
“Our Average Customer Made $20,126.07 In Their First Six Months Alone of Using Our Amazing System”.
Do you see how much more believable that is?
It doesn’t sound like it is a number just pulled out of a hat at random, although in reality it very well could have been and was by us just now.
Perception is everything and being specific leads to the perception of reality.
Dan Kennedy’s Great Classified Ad Headline Test
If you want to gauge the potential pulling power of your headline you can use the “great headline test”, which was created by Dan Kennedy, to judge whether or not your headline is strong enough for your advertisement.
Take your headline alone, add a call to action to the end of it….
… and then ask yourself:
“If I ran this headline alone with nothing else but a call to action as a classified ad, would anyone respond to it?”
If the answer is NO, well, I’d use that as a pretty good sign that you’ve got more work to do.
If the answer is YES, you might want to come up with one or two more which fit the same criteria and then test them against each other until you have a clear winner.
So, What Makes A Really Great Headline?
A great headline should grab your prospect by the eyeballs and pull them into the body of your sales message.
When you are writing a headline aim for OUTRAGEOUS and COMPELLING.
You want it to be harder to NOT read your full sales message than to read it due to your headline being:
… so magnetic…
… curiosity provoking…
… that if you TRY to skip reading it, it’s going to…
… bug, bug, bug you like an itch you’re trying NOT to scratch…
… until you finally give in and aaaaahhhhhh… SWEET RELIEF.
A Great Headline Usually Includes All or Some of the Following:
Everyone loves news and they love to be the first to hear about or use something. Especially if is a cutting edge or revolutionary product or service.
Why? In many cases, so they can brag to their friends and family about how hip they are.
Yes, that might sound ridiculously superficial, BUT we are talking about basic human nature and this is a REAL factor.
There’s something else that’s just simply compelling about something being new and if the NEWS is about something NEW, then you’ve got a pretty powerful formula for grabbing your prospect’s elusive attention.
If you want to maximize your sales never underestimate the earth-shaking power of curiosity.
If you pique someone’s interest hard enough there is almost NOTHING they won’t do to satisfy the urge to know what is being kept from them.
Curiosity compels people to ACT, and it will literally drive someone CRAZY until that curiosity has been satisfied!
So, use the power of BURNING curiosity to suck your prospect in and then TEASE, TEASE, TEASE until they MUST have relief.
The relief which will ONLY come by them giving in and buying your product or service.
A BIG Benefit That Solves a BIG Problem
Everyone has nagging problems we would do virtually anything to solve.
Therefore, if your headline can highlight that problem and then offer a promise of a solution…
… in a way where your prospect truly believes this might be a REAL key to removing whatever the pain this problem is causing them…
… then you have a very good chance of getting and keeping their full attention.
The Power of Questions in Your Headlines
Another great way of writing a great headline is to ask a question.
Not just any question.
But if you know your market…
… (and you should ALWAYS know your market… more on that later) …
… you need to ask a question about a BURNING topic they already have in their mind.
If it’s a nagging problem that’s keeping them up at night…
… ALL THE BETTER!
What do I mean by that?
You Can Never Go Wrong Writing A Headline That Speaks To What Your Prospect Is Already Thinking About
Let’s say you are writing a headline for a product that shows easy ways for the best man to write a killer wedding speech.
You can probably picture your ideal prospect as being a shy, nervous guy who’s literally shaking in his shoes.
He’s filled with anxiety and worried half to death that he might screw up the most important day in his best friend’s life.
So, what does he do?
He gets up out of bed and heads to his computer and does a google search for…
“Easy Ways to Write A Killer Wedding Speech”.
BINGO! Your product shows up in the search results but there are 10 other competing products in the results too.
So, how does he choose which one to read more about and potentially buy?
By the headline of course!
That’s why the headline is SO vital to the success of your product.
Now, Let’s Think of a Good “QUESTION HEADLINE” Which Would Stand Out Among All Of Your Competition
“Are You Making THESE Lethal Mistakes In Writing Your Wedding Speech?”
This is a takeoff on the classic headline…
“Are You Making THESE Mistakes In English?”
… which was one of the most successful headlines of all time, running in newspapers and magazines non-stop for over 40 years.
So, that could be a powerful headline. Why?
Well, the psychology behind it is in the word “THESE” which creates a curiosity over what the lethal mistake might be.
It’s important to always follow through with this line of thinking in the ad and make sure your product answers these questions.
Otherwise, it will feel like a bait and switch to your customers.
Okay, so we came up with one potential headline for our wedding speech e-book. It was a question headline with embedded curiosity, and I think it could be pretty effective.
But could we do better? Let’s try.
How about a “Big Promise” headline?
One that includes a strong guarantee with two benefits.
It eliminates the worry of not being satisfied with the content of the product.
There’s also a built-in “Proof Factor” as we must believe in our product to offer a guarantee which flips the risk factor on us.
Here it is:
“Take Just 15 Minutes to Read This Book and If You Don’t Write A Wedding Speech So Great That the Bride and Groom Shed Tears of Joy…
I’ll DOUBLE Your Money Back… NO Questions Asked… GUARANTEED!!!”
I think that would get your full sales message read. Don’t you?
Of course, there’s only one way to know for sure and that’s to TEST, TEST, TEST!
I always recommend coming up with at least three different headlines that your gut instinct and the rules of Copywriting tell you should work…
… and then split test the heck out of them until you determine a clear-cut winner.
Here Are Some More Fundamentals About Writing Powerful Headlines
I want to emphasize again what’s most important for you to keep in mind when writing headlines.
Even if you have read some of this before and even if some has been mentioned already in this book, it is vitally important for you to fully understand these foundational elements of creating winning headlines.
The MOST important fact I want to keep hammering home to you is if you want to be truly effective with your headlines, you always have to start with what your target audience wants or doesn’t want and what is most important to them.
In other words, NO ONE cares about your product or service…
… but they care VERY MUCH about what your product or service is going to do for them.
So, to be able to sell them anything your headline MUST speak directly to how your product or service is going to benefit them…
… or they will shut you down faster than you can say “BANKRUPTCY”.
A great headline should stop your prospect cold and cut through whatever else is occupying their current thoughts.
Your Headline Should Be Like A Door-to-Door Salesperson Who Says Something So Compelling When You Open Up the Door…
You Excitedly Invite Them In To Hear All of the Details of What They Have To Offer You!
With the knowledge of how important the headline is to the success of your sales message and your entire business…
… I hope you realize how vital it is to spend a large amount of time and effort on crafting the most powerful headline you can.
My Personal Favorite Headlines Types
Earlier in this chapter, we briefly covered two of the most effective headline styles you can model for maximum success.
Here is a more detailed look at my favorite headline styles which have never failed to bring killer results for my clients and myself:
**** A quick note about this list of headlines and the examples which go with them. Many of the examples could actually appear on more than one style as they combine different persuasive elements to create what I would call a “SUPER-HEADLINE”. For example, a really killer headline might include News, Curiosity and a Question to be ultra-powerful.
Also, some of the following headline examples are classics used in real ads years ago and many others I wrote just for this book, either way, please do not completely copy but out of respect only model them for inspiration.
The Offer Headline
The Offer Headline is the most direct headline you can write and in many ways is the easiest, but don’t think for a second the ease of writing has anything to do with its power.
If (through your extensive research) you know that your prospect is interested in the big benefit or solution your product or service has to offer, then this might be THE most effective headline for you to use.
Often, a prospect is just looking for the best price or guarantee of the best deal in order to buy.
If you can get their attention with a promise of a great deal or guarantee that melts away their worries and can then back it up in your body copy, then you have a really good chance at getting the sale.
- Pick Any Of These Books For Only 1 Penny!
- Now You Can Buy The New and Improved “Magic Bathroom Cleaner” for 50% off the Normal Price… GUARANTEED to Get Rid of Even The Nastiest Mildew Problems or Your Money Back… No Questions Asked!
- You Can Own The New Edition of Encyclopedia Britannica for ONLY $1 Per Month! Complete Satisfaction GUARANTEED!
- Play Guitar in 7 Days or Your Money Back!
- Owners Save 20% to 50% On Fuel With The G.E. Oil Furnace
- One Place Setting FREE for Every Three You Buy!
- Lose Ugly Fat… An Average of 7 Pounds a Month!
The Story Headline
We are neurologically hardwired to pay attention to a good story. This goes back to our ancestors who in the days before TV, movies, radio or even books used stories to keep themselves entertained and more-so to pass along family traditions and religious beliefs.
When someone says something like this to you: “Hey, you’re not going to believe what I saw Sally doing last night.” What is your natural reaction? Well, if you know Sally (or maybe even if you don’t), you’re going to perk up, lean in a little closer and practically salivating at the juicy gossip you’re about to be fed.
This is the power of a story. We ALL love a good story, especially if it’s controversial, salacious or has a perceived benefit to us. So, be smart and take advantage of this in your headline!
No matter how superficial and irrelevant to our life this story might be, for a few minutes, we tend to react like it is the most important piece of information we’ve ever heard!
This is REALLY powerful marketing magic, so use it for its maximum effectiveness in your headline.
A good story headline will suck your prospect into your sales message faster than greased lightning and if the story actually relates to something your prospect has interest in, then you will definitely have them hooked in to read the rest of your full sales message.
- How I Retired On a Guaranteed Income for Life
- They Laughed When I Sat Down At The Piano… But When I Started to Play!
- Hand Woven By The Mountain People of New Mexico
The Question Headline
If someone poses a question to you and it involves something of distinct personal interest, then it is virtually impossible for you to ignore it.
Henceforth, if you use a question headline and tie it to the already determined…
WANTS, NEEDS, DESIRES or burning PROBLEM which needs to be solved…
… it can cut through the clutter in your prospect’s mind better than just about anything.
And again, this is the main purpose of our headline. To grab the attention of our prospect so we can pull them into the body copy of our sales message.
The question headline is powerful for another reason as well. And that is because by using a question in our headline, we bypass our prospect’s natural aversion to being sold.
Many more direct headlines waive a big red flag saying…
“A Sales Pitch is Coming… LOOK OUT!”
But the question headline – if done right – won’t sound any warning alarms to your prospect but will gently lead them into reading your sales message so you can then lead them into buying from you.
- Who Else Wants A Screen Star Figure?
- Why Do Some Men Always Seem to Make Money In the Stock Market?
- Are You Ready To Start Making Real Money Online?
- Will You Give Me 7 Days to Prove I Can Make You A New Man?
The If/Then Headline
This headline is one of my favorites as it taps into built into a psychological proof factor. How? By creating a velvet rope type of barrier which says, “this isn’t for everyone” BUT if you do THIS or you QUALIFY in some way, you will reap a specific benefit, which the details of will be revealed in the body copy.
This is also an almost PERFECT way to open your sales message.
The great Gary Halbert started a ton of his sales copy using this formula as the opening sentence.
I’ve often thought he used it so much that it was sort of overkill… but from his perspective, I believe Gary was ALL business and only cared about doing what worked.
And why fix something that isn’t broke?
- If You Have Even Just ONE Day of Sales Experience… Then I’ll Show You How to Make REAL Money Online… in Your Spare Time!
- If You’ll Give Me Just 5 Minutes of Your Time… Then I’ll Show You How To Live Like A Millionaire… On Your Current Salary!
- If You Have Ever Wanted To Play Guitar Like A Rock Star… Then Get Ready To Start Fighting Off The Groupies, Cause This Message Is Going to Make Your Wildest Rock N Roll Fantasies Come True!
- If You Have Ever Wanted To Drive A Golf Ball Like A PGA Pro… Then Get Ready to Amaze All Your Buddies As You Tee Off Like A Green Jacket Wearing Champion!
- If Going On Another Diet Is Out of the Question, Yet You Need to Lose Weight… Then This Is EXACTLY What You’ve Been Waiting For!
The Curiosity Headline
One of the most powerful weapons you can use in the battle for your prospect’s attention is curiosity.
If you can combine in your headline a statement which arouses a…
… BURNING CURIOSITY…
… along with promising a benefit which fulfills a dominant WANT, NEED, DESIRE or urgent PROBLEM your potential customer is already concerned with…
… then you have potentially THE most explosive formula for sales success.
CAUTION: Always make sure to “pay off” the secret you are teasing.
Either reveal it in the headline right away or at least very soon in the body copy. This is important unless you choose to tease things even further by promising to lift the curtain later in your sales message.
Also, when you tease the revealing of the secret it can be a good way to keep your reader engaged. But just make sure you remember to PAY IT OFF before you go into the close. Otherwise, you’ll end up invoking the wrath of your reader.
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- The Lazy Man’s Way to Riches
- Finally, How Even A Broke Ugly Guy Can Date A Beautiful Woman
- When Doctors “Feel Rotten” Here’s What They DoHow I Made A Fortune With a “Fool” Idea
The “How To” Headline
The “How To” headline might be the easiest AND most powerful style of headline you can possibly write.
When we see the words “How To” attached to a topic that interests us, our natural curiosity takes over and we want to know these BIG SECRETS the author is about to reveal.
This is why there are so many “How To” book titles. If you look at your very own library, I bet you’ve got several of these yourself.
But this formula shouldn’t be over-done.
Why? Because while this can be very effective, it is also the most used and you don’t want your prospects to be immune to it from seeing it too often.
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- How To Get Rid Of An Inferiority Complex
- How To Get Enthusiastic Applause… Even A Standing Ovation… Every Time You Speak
- How To Get Your Cooking Bragged About
- How To Make Money Writing Short Paragraphs
- How To Stop Worrying and Start Living
- How To Do Your Christmas Shopping in Five Minutes
- How To Feel Fit At Any Age
The Flagging Headline
The flagging headline is designed to do exactly what the name suggests… to “Flag Down” your ideal prospects.
It uses trigger words which should pop out to those you are targeting so they instantly will stop what they are doing and take at least a second to read or listen to what this message is about.
What do I mean by trigger words? Well, for example, I am a HUGE fan of the rock band KISS. If I see virtually anything with KISS or KISS Fans or KISS ARMY in the title, it’s almost guaranteed to grab my attention which of course is the primary job of the headline.
The same would go for someone who is into Golf or Bowling or heck, even Bio-Chemistry or something I would find equally boring if the RIGHT PERSON sees those words which “Call Them Out” by their interest, this is all that matters.
After all, we don’t care if someone who ISN’T our prospect gives our ad a second glance… we ONLY care about getting the interest of our potential buyer.
- To a Mother Whose Child is Three Years Old
- Free to Brides… $2 to all others
- To Men Who Want to Quit Work One Day
- Car Owners… Save One Gallon of Gas in Every Ten
- Attention Bowlers: Here’s How You Can Get A Strike Almost Every Time You Step Up To Play
- Do You Love Golf? If So, This Magazine Was Made For You!
The Secret Headline
This headline is very similar to the curiosity and “how to” headlines as they touch on the same basic psychology.
We truly do believe there are “Secrets” being kept from us. Often, people will use this as an excuse for not being as successful as they feel they should be or use it as a point of resentment where they think…
“If I had the same access to the same resources they do, I’d be happier, healthier, wealthier, etc.”
Since this is something that’s already buried deep in the subconscious of most people, use this to your advantage in selling and especially in creating strong headlines which are proven to be effective.
- The Secret of Making People Like You
- 7 Secrets to Making a Killing in the Stock Market
- The Secret to Becoming a Millionaire is Simply Using the Right Words
- Seven Figure Copywriting Secrets Revealed
- Finally! The Secret to Making Women Instantly Fall In Love With You Revealed By A One-Time Loser Who’s Now A True Babe Magnet
- Former PGA Pro Shows You The Secret To His Million Dollar Swing!
- Forbidden Sex Secrets of A Former “Adult Industry” Superstar
- Scientists Discover The Secret To Looking Years Younger… Without Surgery!
The Big Benefit Headline
The big benefit headline clearly answers the number one question your prospect has on their mind when they see your ad, which is…
“What’s In It for Me?”
It is a very direct headline which relies on knowing the target market you are writing to and what their level of awareness is relating to what they are most interested in right now in life.
This is my “go to” headline if nothing stronger comes to me as it’s really hard to go wrong whenever you are shooting straight into the heart of what’s truly important to your prospect.
- Get Rid of Money Worries for Good!
- Here’s How To Have A Long and Healthy Life
- Who Else Wants a Lighter Cake… In Half The Mixing Time?
- How to Have A Cool, Quiet Bedroom… Even on Hot Nights
- You’re Never Too Old To Hear Better
- Instant Incorporation While You Wait!
If you enjoyed this article on writing headlines then you’re going to LOVE my new book called “Seven Figure Headline Writing Secrets” which reveals my most closely guarded headline and copywriting secrets.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Robert Sean Pascoe is a Freelance Direct Response Copywriter who specializes in working with small business owners to create Hard-Hitting, Powerful Advertising and Marketing campaigns as well as persuasive SEO Optimized Blog Posts, Articles, and Web Content.
If you could use a big boost to your bottom line or if you have an idea for a new product or service and need some help making things happen then send Robert an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a 100% Free Consultation!