Attention: Is Your Headline Getting Any?

“There’s just no quiet in Vegas.” ~Barry Manilow

Same thing online, Barry.

Like driving down the strip, even at an ungodly hour, our old pal the Internet feeds us an unending spread of exactly what we want.

Between the inbox, RSS, Twitter, and name-your-social-network-of-choice, the competition for our attention is aggressive and utterly incapable of mercy.

How can your stuff get read, watched, or listened to if it’s buried alive (see: invisible) under the non-stop avalanche of an entire civilization’s most mundane and brilliant ideas?

It all starts in one place…

In this episode Brian and I discuss:

  • The brutal reality of how many readers you really have
  • What David Ogilvy said about headlines, and why it’s even more important today
  • The 80/20 Rule of headline writing
  • The four indispensable ingredients every great headline must have
  • What types of headlines are perennially popular with readers, and how to write them

Hit the flash player below to listen now:

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About the Author: Robert Bruce is Copyblogger Media’s Chief Copywriter and Resident Recluse.

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  1. Bruce:

    This show I’m very interested in, since headlines are the starting point for great copy. I look forward to points covered.


  2. Robert/Brian

    Are there any plans in place to ever transcribe the PodCasts and post the transcriptions? Or will this (great) content be Podcast only?


  3. I’ll be tuning in for this bad boy. Anything on headlines is a must read, or in this case, must listen.

  4. :) I am eager to start podcasting also…but I wonder – is my voice good enough? :)

  5. Two of the most popular marketing blogs, from Seth Godin and Chris Brogan seem to break all types of headline writing standards on a daily basis.

    Chris’s headline yesterday was “YOUR PLACES”

    Seth’s headline yesterday was “The shell game of delight”

    Not many “U’s” in there, as far as I can tell.

    Are they just outliers, or is there something I’m not understanding about headline writing?

    • Seth doesn’t care, but has such a huge following and huge trust that enough people read anyway. At least I do.

      Brogan writes terrible headlines, and I guarantee he suffers for it. But it’s his choice. It’s just too bad that people follow his lead on that, because they don’t have the benefit of a large following that developed over many many years and owes quite a bit to his early adoption (and amazing use) of Twitter.

      Also, check AdAge for the most popular marketing blog. The fact that we can beat Seth and Chris (who both started way before I did) comes down to one thing — we try harder. ;)

      • I have to say that I was similarly skeptical of the importance you put on email subject lines being specific and clear. And I thought I had open rates to prove it, since mine were above my industry’s average.


        I did test your advice with my email marketing. My first test failed and I switched back to being “clever” and “mysterious”.

        Then, for some reason I tested it again, but this time for a few days. My opens and click thrus skyrocketed. My opens are now double my industry’s average. It was amazing.

        I do see many popular email marketers going with vague subject lines, but maybe they understand something I don’t. I’ll stick with your advice Brian, for email, blog posts, and now landing pages.

      • Why do I feel like renting a Hertz truck right now? :-D

      • I’ve noticed this phenomenon with Godin’s and Brogan’s headlines myself.

        I reached the same conclusion Brian did.

        But think of it this way… if a big celebrity had a blog, would that celebrity still get tons of click-throughs? Of course! Because people want to read what the celebrity has to say regardless of a poor headline.

        But with a guy like me, who’s only a semi celebrity, I gotta really work the headline to maximize people reading my stuff. Which is why I’m always trying to improve this challenging craft.

        • Exactly.

          People read the next line with Brogan & Godin because they already know it’s going to be good. Quirky weird headlines make it harder for new people to find them, but that’s offset by the large audiences they’ve managed to build

          If you don’t already have the attention you want, don’t short-circuit that process by saddling yourself with bad headlines.

    • Also, we’re not talking about just blog posts. Try using one of those vague headlines on a landing page and measure conversion. That’s the true telling point.

  6. Great conversation today! Also loved the new intro!!

  7. You know, sometimes I feel like I’ve written an epic headline, and when I come back and look at how that article has been shared socially, the results indication yeah, not so much. Maybe it’s the headline, maybe it’s the content, heh. But I’ve been using PostRank Analytics. It shows me how my social network shares that content (how they engage with it through ReTweets, Facebook Shares, etc.).

    Anyway, for me, when I write a post, I start with the headline first. Then I rewrite it until it’s just about right.

    Great show fellas!

  8. Hi Robert.
    Thanks for sharing this information. I started listening a while ago and have switched it off… so I can focus properly later!

    Headlines must equal “compelling events”. Hook, effect and impact!! “The Facebook will end on the 15th March” viral headline earlier this month would be a classic example :)


  9. I used to struggle writing good headlines. I never had a problem writing quality content, but I always had the problem of no one reading my content because the headline did not grab their attention.

  10. Out of all the blogs I think you guys have got it spot on because the headlines are interesting and I want to click in to every stroy every time I come here. On other sites like say Techcrunch I’ll stop on the homepage and scan 20 articles before I find one that I’ll actually bother reading. That sort of model is only really an extension of Twitter and just sort of devalues the content massively as people chase page views to monetize.

    • Niall, good point. The big advertising-driven blogs have the mentality of “let’s publish so much that they’ll click through on something.” For the rest of us, we need people to click through at the highest rate for everything we publish. Big difference.

  11. Well as usual, great show guys.

    I’m going to have to start spending more time writing headlines.

    That last sentence was the understatement of the year. Cough.

    But seriously, I shucked out $80 of cold, hard-earned cash this morning and bought Genesis/Freelance. Gotta say, I’m loving the piss out of it. You can tell that to Brian Gardner or whoever runs that shack over there. It rocks.

    I was going to say that it blows Thesis in the smoke, but figured that might be kind of rude. And we all know I’m a super nice guy.

  12. Thanks, guys. I didn’t have time to finish the podcast. What are the four characteristics (one word is fine, I’ll figure it out)…thanks!


  13. These headlines that I’ve seen can fall into 3 categories for me:

    1) Those that are clearly aimed at SEO (Create Killer SEO Headlines)
    2) Those that are aimed at catching the reader’s attention (How I made $X in X Days)
    3) Those that are just awful (Spend Money Fast!)

    I always keep my headlines in Column 2, I’m not interested in creating content purely for keyword’s sake. I have fun creating new and witty headlines, it’s one of the reasons why I enjoy blogging! (And because I can write whatever I want and get away with it) ;-)

  14. I particularly enjoyed the points on which indispensable ingredients a headline must have. It needs to be useful to the reader, have sense of urgency, be unique and ultra specific. I found these really well defined and great examples were given with each, making them easy to put into context.

    Great post. Thanks.

  15. This is a very good episode. I think headlines are very important today and most of us think “whats good for me, it is good for my readers”. I honestly think that is not completely right, a headline need to be useful for the targeted readership. There is no perfect headline which may draw the attention of all your readers.

  16. I love writing headlines, it’s one of my favorite parts of writing, and I always Google my headlines first to see if they’ve already been written. I like your 4 U’s.

  17. Thanks for the help with headlines. I put a WAY better headline on my blog yesterday than I ever had before. I used to just list one word (pretty boring, I know), but now I have learned the folly of my ways. Thanks – great as always.

  18. Dear Brian,

    As always kick-ass information. But, tell me, must I really face the oh so brutal reality of my bleak reader stats???

    Your almost friend,

  19. Here’s my trick – I keep a bookmark in my web brower to Cosmo magazine, along with all the past Cosmo article covers on Amazon. When I need a headline, I just use their ‘formulas’ and they work like a charm. In other words, I keep an online ‘swap’ file of bookmarks to publications that employ the highest paid copywriters in the world.

    Anyone know how much a Cosmo headline writer makes?
    Any other magazines you look for when it comes to great headlines?

    Great podcast Robert. Thanks for all the information you give freely.