The Cheater’s Guide to Writing Great Headlines

image of magnetic headlines

Imagine the life of the copywriter . . . a solitary figure staring intently at a computer screen (or out the window), flexing those mental muscles to create a killer headline out of thin air that will result in millions of dollars in sales.

Well, maybe not.

A more likely scenario has the copywriter looking for inspiration in her collection of winning space ads, sales letters and even the latest issue of Cosmo. She’ll also consult books that consist of nothing more than collections of headlines proven to work.

These compilations are called swipe files, and they’re worth their weight in gold when it comes to crafting great headlines.

Why? Because great headlines are constructed in certain time and money-tested ways that can be adapted into different contexts and re-used over and over. Anytime a promotion rakes in big bucks, you can bet copywriters and direct marketers will be studying, and saving, that headline for future reference.

In fact, swipe files can’t even really be considered cheating. It’s just the way it’s done if you want to write effective copy, especially when starting out. Only once a copywriter has a true understanding of what works can they take a completely original approach, and even then it’s pretty rare to come up with a gangbuster headline that is 100% unique.

Thanks to the “do it yourself” nature of Internet marketing, you’ll find people selling headline swipe files and even software programs that promise a “fill-in-the-blank” solution based on the “greatest headlines” ever written. Don’t get suckered by this.

The problem with that approach should be obvious. If you don’t understand why a particular headline works, you’ll never be any good at writing them. Plus, without real understanding, you’ll likely choose the wrong “formula” for any given situation, which can cause even a well-written headline to fail.

Starting with these tested templates can improve your blog post titles immediately, which in turn should translate into more readership and traffic. I’ll demonstrate several of these winning headline formulas that are well-suited for blogging, and explain why they work.

But first, the next post in this series will examine key words and why they are important in a headline. The answer may not be what you think.

This is the second installment in a series of posts called Magnetic Headlines.

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Why You Should Always Write Your Headline First

image of magnetic headlines

Want to write great headlines and even better content?

Start with the headline first.

You’ll of course have a basic idea for the subject matter of your blog post, article, free report, or sales letter. Then, simply take that basic idea and craft a killer headline before you write a single word of the body content.


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Did You Hear the One About The Long Tail?

In two days, Chris Anderson’s The Long Tail will be released in bookstores real and virtual everywhere.

The theory of the Long Tail is that our culture and economy is increasingly shifting away from a focus on a relatively small number of “hits” (mainstream products and markets) at the head of the demand curve and toward a huge number of niches in the tail.

Today, a mere two days before the book release, we learn that Mr. Anti-Hollywood himself, Johnny Depp, has steered a mainstream ship called Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest into film history by shattering every record that Chris Anderson likely wishes would have held at this particular point in time.

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My Oxymoronic Six Month Anniversary

Six months ago today, I posted my first article on Copyblogger, which was about selling to people without making them feel “sold.” Coincidentally, the first thing I read this morning was Seth Godin’s post about the necessity and virtue of selling people on things they need and will benefit from, but due to fear of the unknown they are unwilling to explore without a little prodding.

I still feel that’s part of my job with this blog.

And of course “6 month anniversary” is an oxymoron, because an anniversary is an annual event.

I guess I really should have said my “one half” or “point five” anniversary, right?

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It’s the End of AdSense as We Know It
(And I Feel Fine)

The results are in, and they ain’t pretty.

Market research firm Outsell released a report Wednesday that shows what many already knew — that click fraud in contextual pay per click advertising is a big problem. The report reveals that 14.6 percent of all clicks are bogus, and that 27 percent of advertisers reduced or stopped spending on click-based advertising.

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Do You Make These Mistakes
With Your Blog?

There seems to be a trend developing lately.

Some people are turning the whole “blogging advice” arena on its head, and instead of focusing on what you should do to be an effective blogger, they point out what you shouldn’t do. Perhaps this is a better way to get certain points across?

OK, I’m game. Here’s my “top five” list of big mistakes people make, and a handy prescription for how to cure what ails your sickly blog.

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Don’t Be Cameron Diaz

Building Your Fan Club

So let’s get real.

Can blogging really build you a fan club?

In other words, can it make you a celebrity?

The answer, of course, is yes. And you don’t need to be anywhere near the so-called blogging A-List for it to happen.

After all, as historian Daniel Boorstin once said, celebrities are simply people that are well known for their well knownness. So whether your audience is 100 or 100,000, you’ll have your own fan club as long as those people are into what you’re doing.

Anyone can do it, but only some will do it well. Doing it well will have a lot to do with how you treat the people who pay attention to what you do and say.

As various forms of media have aggressively expanded in the last century, so has the concept of celebrity. Back during the early days of film, a viewer’s interaction with the stars was nothing short of awe-inspiring. You sat in a cavernous, temple-like movie theater and watched as your heroes where projected, literally larger-than-life, on the screen before you.

When television came along, things changed a bit. Not only were the stars cut down to size, but TV made them come to us. Now you could do your ironing while you watched, and simply switch the channel if you became bored.

Then came 24-hour media saturation, where meteorologists, home decorators, infomercial gurus and sports commentators are all deemed celebrities, simply by being well known.

And now, more than a decade into the Web, we have a medium where just about anyone inclined to do so can broadcast their thoughts and likeness. As easy as blogging and other social media make it to publish, it has become clear that Warhol was right.

But whether you’re Robert Redford or Robert Scoble, one thing remains the same.

Give people half a chance, and they’ll tear you down as quickly as they built you up. Especially if you (1) forget what it was that attracted people to you in the first place, and (2) ignore what they want from you going forward.

Some of the biggest stars around understand this, while others are either completely clueless or too full of themselves to be gracious. Get a bit of blogging fame going for you, and you’ll need to figure out how to best treat your own fans.

As conflicted as he has been about fame and the Hollywood system, Johnny Depp shows nothing but love for his fans. Catch him in a crowded airport, and he’ll sign an autograph for you while carrying his luggage. George Clooney is another giant star who knows where his bread is buttered. He’ll happily joke around with and sign autographs for his legions of devotees, often while making self-deprecating comments about himself in the process.

Cameron Diaz, on the other hand, either hasn’t a clue or thinks she’s much too smart for her silly fans. Ask her for an autograph, and she’ll not only refuse, she’ll lecture you about how dumb autographs are (which is another way of saying how dumb the person making the request is).

I don’t care if you’re an actor, singer, blogger (or all three) — building a fan club is hard. You’ve got to figure out what you possess that has value to others, and then never forget the fact that unless you’re continuing to give people something that’s important to them, you’re destined for the “where are they now” category.

And it remains to be seen if washed-up bloggers will even rate a show on VH-1.

So, really… don’t be Cameron Diaz.

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Where the Hell is Matt?

Apparently, Stride Gum gets how this whole viral video thing works.

After you watch the video (it’s worth it), and read through the 3,876 (!) comments, visit Matt’s site and get the whole story.

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How Co-Registration Can Build Your Fan Club Fast

Building Your Fan Club

What if you could have other websites out recruiting subscribers for you, 24/7?

That’s basically how co-registration works. You make arrangements with partners to offer your email newsletter (or blog posts via email) for potential readers to subscribe to. If your offer is compelling enough, the subscriber will be automatically added to your email subscription list after they opt-in.

There are various ways to go about this, some better than others, but each with unique considerations to keep in mind. There are paid arrangements, barter arrangements, and sometimes hybrids. Keep in mind that this is in no way buying or trading email addresses — it’s simply a form of off-site advertising that offers an opt-in subscription to your content, plus any relevant bonus reports or tutorials that you may offer as an enticement.

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Thoughts on Persistence

“My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure.”

— Abraham Lincoln

Congratulations to the Dallas Mavericks on their best season in team history. Let’s hope they’re not content.