Writing Powerful Headlines

Having a good headline is not enough. Writing powerful headlines instills grabs-them-by-the-throat attention. The headline gets the undivided attention of your prospect.

Is there an easy way to come up with the most effective headline? Not really – there are techniques; there are attention words that help to make your headline stand out; but it still takes practice, experience and skill to find the one that pulls no punches, hits the mark dead on and delivers the best measurable results.

Having said that, let me give you a few pointers to get you started…

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Get Your Creative Juices Flowing

0ne of the biggest mistakes I see people making is writing one or two headlines and thinking “That’s it!”

It rarely is.

When you start crafting your headlines you are only just getting warmed up – your creative performance is still in first gear. As you write more – allowing each headline to act as a catalyst for the next – they begin to flow, like sliding into the higher gears in a performance car.

That’s why I encourage people to write as many headlines as possible before deciding which ones to test. Personally I aim to write at least 100, if not more. Then you're on your way to writing powerful headlines.

Study Successful Headlines

Find successful headlines. How can you recognise a successful headline? Look for these attributes:

  1. It’s a headline for a direct response advert or sales letter. You can tell if it’s a direct response marketing campaign because there is a reference code. You are asked to quote it or it is printed on the response form or in the advert.
  2. You see the same headline frequently. If it is used in a direct response campaign, which means it is measurable and is being monitored, it is unlikely to be continually used if it isn’t proving to be successful.

Study the headline.

Is it specific? (Being specific makes your headline more believable)

Does it contain the promise of a result or benefit that appeals? (People are only interested in results; ‘What’s In It For Me?’)

Does it intrigue without being obscure? (Curiosity can hold your reader’s attention provided your first paragraph is strong).

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What is it appealing to; envy; greed; pride or status; generosity; well-being or health; peace of mind or something else? (You need to know what appeals to your target market – and you may have to test different appeals to see which is the stronger motivator).

Is it short or long? (Your headline should be long enough to put your message across).

Is it using any of the attention words that magnetically draw your eye and catch your attention? (See the list of words following the headline examples below).

Writing Powerful Headlines Examples

I’ve shown the attention words used in these headlines in bold...

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Attention Words

Using specifics, identifying a benefit or result your reader can expect or a problem they have that you can solve makes your headline more attractive. Include one or more attention words when writing powerful headlines increases the attraction because certain words are proven to draw the eye – just like a magnet.

Here’s 15 you can use:

  • You / Your
  • Amazing
  • These
  • Proof
  • How / How to
  • Here’s
  • Find Out
  • Announcing
  • Breakthrough
  • Free
  • Who Else?
  • Last Chance
  • Advice
  • Easy
  • Secret

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7 Crucial Points

Bear in mind these 7 crucial points when developing your headlines:

1- Be results focused.  Clearly indicate the benefits the reader can expect to get by taking up this offer.  For example, increased sales; weight loss; feeling fitter; reduced productivity costs etc.

2 – Be specific, quote actual figures if appropriate, e.g. "How to Increase Your Productivity by 23% within 28 Days"

3 – Use 1 or more proven response words or phrases.  Certain words attract people; such as Announcing; Revolutionary; Unique; Valuable; At Last; First Time Ever; Phenomenal, among others.  Using these makes your headline more compelling and eye-catching,

4 – When writing powerful headlines, don't restrict the length of your headline.  It should be as long as it needs to be to get your important sales message across, even if that is 3 or 4 lines.

5 – Avoid asking questions that can be answered “No!” or elicit a glib comment without drawing your reader into the letter. 

Let me give you an example:

My Father received a letter from the local water company with the headline "What would you do if you had a burst pipe?"  This headline had obviously been thought about before being sent out and was probably considered to be a good one.  My Father said "Fix it!" and he threw the letter away.  Perhaps a better headline may have been "Here's What To Do if Your Water Pipe Bursts."

However, there are certain types of questions that can be powerful in a headline:

"Who Else Would Like to…" implies someone else has benefited and perhaps the reader could too.

6 – When writing powerful headlines, avoid trying to be clever, cute or obscure – if people have to think about what you mean, you’ve lost them.  Don't use clichés – people often ignore these types of headlines.

7 – Keep your headline and offer relevant to the reader.  An inappropriate or curiosity headline that doesn’t relate to the rest of the letter or advert makes your reader feel cheated, and they won’t trust the rest of your message – even if they bother to read it!

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The Secret of How To Make Writing 30 Headlines Easy

When I said to aim at writing 100 headlines to give you the best chance of finding the winner, did you think “No Way!” or something similar? It seems like an insurmountable task – doesn’t it?

Try this:

Grab a pen and paper

Look at the first word/phrase in the list above

Write a descriptive headline about your product or service; the result you can deliver or the problem you can solve, using that word. Follow the headline advice I’ve given you earlier in this post.

Now write a second one, using the same attention word.

Move onto the second word and do the same again; two sentences using the attention word.

Continue down the list – by the time you’ve used each word you have 30 headlines. They won’t all be fantastic – some may even be ridiculous, but by writing powerful headlines your creative juices start to flow.

Think you could repeat the exercise another 2 times? Do it and you’ve written 90 headlines! Not bad going eh?

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Another Trick

How do you get your creative juices to flow when writing powerful headlines?

When you are immersed in the day-to-day flow of your business it can be difficult to pull yourself away enough to allow those innovative, compelling words to materialize.

And sometimes we need to get back the imagination and free thinking of our childhood – see things through fresh eyes, with a new, vibrant perspective.

But how?

When teaching, I go through the ‘science’ behind writing an effective sales letter (or advert)…

  • craft eye-catching headlines
  • structure the letter to follow my skeleton outline
  • write a personal letter to your prospect
  • paint the picture of what the reader gets – benefits – in a language that resonates with him

All of this is important. But facing a blank page or empty computer screen is a real dampener for many.

So I start off by giving everyone a small bottle of champagne.

What?!

Encourage people to drink – like a writing equivalent of dutch courage?

Absolutely Not!!

The bottle is champagne bubbles – the type you see at weddings.

Having fun – for some going back to the childhood pleasure of blowing bubbles – lightens your mood.

It generates laughter; lessens the sometimes sombre and serious mood of business. And thoughts and ideas start to percolate through.

And, happily, for many it does make writing easier, because writing about your passion; your business is fun! Isn’t it?

Give it a go – what have you got to lose? You might surprise yourself with a flow of creative writing that ‘hits the mark’.

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Where Else Do These Techniques Apply?

1 - Use headlines you've created, but not used as your main headline, within your sub-headlines – they catch the reader’s eye – especially if they are skimming your letter – and it can pull them back into reading it.  Your sub-headlines should deliver the main points of your message – similar to a telegram.

2 – Writing powerful headlines often reveals a good P.S.  The P.S. is usually the third thing that people read in a letter.  First the reader checks the letter is addressed correctly; name; spelling etc. Then he or she looks at the end of the letter to find out who sent it – and that's when your P.S. is seen. 

The intention is to encourage your prospect to read the letter as well as remind them of the main benefit of responding.  In your P.S. encapsulate your offer, the real benefit the reader gains by responding and any bonuses they will receive.

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