9 Proven Headline Formulas
That Sell Like Crazy

How to Write Headlines

You can write a headline in an infinite number of ways. However, certain types of headlines have proven themselves repeatedly for many years. By following the “formula” of these headlines, you can give yourself an edge when you are serious about persuading someone to read and respond to your copy.

The following 9 headline formulas are some of the easiest to write and the most powerful. When it comes time to write a headline, try one of these first. At the very least, this can give you a creative jumping off point to write a headline that works.

1. Say it simply and directly.

The direct headline should be used far more often than it is. No cleverness. No jokes. No wordplay. The direct headline gets right to the point. It works particularly well with strong offers, recognized brand names, and product or service types with which the reader is familiar.

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2. State the big benefit.

One of the first techniques you should always explore is transforming your major benefit into a headline. After all, your number one selling point should be up front. It stands the best chance of selecting the right audience and preparing them to respond. Plus, if they read nothing else, they have at least seen the best selling point you have to offer. If you have trouble writing this kind of headline, it’s a sure sign you need to think a bit more about your product or service.

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3. Announce exciting news.

People read newspapers and magazines because they love news. It’s just basic human nature. We’re curious. We not only want to know, we need to know. Casting your headline in a way that suggests news, rather than advertising, can have the same powerful appeal of a feature story in the morning paper. An important note: the product or service doesn’t necessarily have to be newly created to qualify as news. It merely has to be news to your reader.

  • At Last, American Scientists Have Created the Perfect Alternative to a Mined Diamond!
  • Introducing the newest idea in cross-training. From NordicTrack.
  • Now program your DVR by simply speaking to the revolutionary DVR VOICE programmer.

4. Appeal to the “how-to” instinct.

The how-to headline appeals to the need most of us have to improve ourselves or our lives in some way. The secret here is to focus on a need or want and promise to fulfill that need or want. Be careful, though. The how-to must highlight the benefit or final result, not the process itself. Look at this example:

  • How to make money working from home with your PC.

Suppose instead it read, “How to start a full-time computer business in your home.” This misses the point, doesn’t it? It sounds like a lot of work. It says nothing about the real motivator, which is using a computer you already own to make money easily. To write a how-to headline, begin with the words “How to” or “How” then immediately fill in the benefit.

  • How to stop smoking in 30 days … or your money back.
  • How You Can Profit From the 3 Greatest Service Businesses of the Decade!
  • How to do Central America on $17 a day.

5. Pose a provocative question.

Asking a question directly involves your reader. However, your question cannot be random or clever. It must relate directly and clearly to the major benefit of the product. It must also prod the reader to answer “yes” or at least “I’m not sure, but I want to know more.”

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6. Bark a command.

Sales copy often falls flat because it fails to tell the reader what to do. This headline type allows you to be direct, provide a benefit, and take a commanding posture simultaneously. It’s not conversational, it’s dictatorial — but in an acceptable way that readers have come to expect in clear writing.

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7. Offer useful information.

Let me clue you in on a little secret. Most people don’t want information. I know you’ve always been taught otherwise, but it’s true. People are drowning in facts. What people really want is a sense of order and predictability in their lives. We want to feel a sense of power over our world. Therefore, we seek out the secrets, tips, hints, laws, rules, and systems that promise to help us gain control and make sense of things. Notice how these headlines promise information that does just this.

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  • Free brochure shows you how to end your money worries for good.

8. Relay an honest, enthusiastic testimonial.

A testimonial headline can do two things for you. First, it presents your reader with a third party endorsement of your product or service. Second, it capitalizes on the fact that people like to know what other people say.

  • “Quite simply, the finest design software ever released.”
  • “This diet program worked for me. It can work for you, too!”
  • “It’s the first book on personal finance that really made sense to me.”

A variation of this strategy is to write a headline in the first person and put quotation marks around it. This “virtual testimonial” gives you a more interesting headline and improves readership.

9. Authenticate your proposition with a little something extra.

People distrust sales copy. And for good reason. A lot of it proves inaccurate or downright dishonest. To cut through this distrust, you can add a little something extra to your headline that seems out of place, yet rings true. Look at the following headlines and notice how the words “Ohio man,” “Obsolete,” and “Frustrated bartender” stand out. Their specificity or quirkiness adds a truthful aura that traditional copy could never achieve.

  • Ohio man has 21-year tested formula to create multimillion dollar business from scratch, without bank loans, venture capitalists or selling stock.
  • Small Company’s New Golf Ball Flies Too Far; Could Obsolete Many Golf Courses.
  • Frustrated bartender develops incredible device to clean and disinfect your entire home…

There are many, many other ways to write a headline. Whatever strategy you choose, don’t make a decision too quickly. Take time to brainstorm. Write dozens or even hundreds of headlines. You never know exactly what you want to say before you say it, so giving yourself plenty of choices is the surest way to arrive at the best, most powerful headline.

About the Author: Dean Rieck is a leading direct marketing copywriter. For more copywriting and selling tips, sign up for Dean’s free direct response newsletter or visit the Direct Creative Blog.

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Reader Comments (158)

  1. says

    Great 9 points on writing headline, I love writing headlines a lot when I’m writing my blog post, I always write a few and choose the best for my blog post, and now with your 9 points of information of writing headline, it had given me more creative ideals.
    Thanks !

  2. says

    Hi. Thanks for the post. I’ve always struggled with headlines on my blog. One question… is it best to write the headline, and then create the article, or best to ‘extract’ a headline from the completed copy?

  3. Adrienne Szewczyk says

    I prefer to write headlines first because the format of the copy generally follows. For example, if I’m using a “how-to” headline, I’ll probably end up outlining specific steps. It also helps me maintain a sharper focus on the post.

  4. says

    Great tips ~ I also have a lot of editors who like to get the “number” headlines:

    Eight ways to …
    … in six easy steps

  5. says

    Great tip, we all want to know “what’s in it for me” and by stating that right up front then it’s definitely going to help increase sales and conversions.

  6. says

    great tips.
    i just practice some of them. and it’s work.

    we always need practice to make our headline better and better

  7. says

    Awesome post. I love thinking of creative headlines and I agree with Brian’s comment – most people do write the headlines first. Building an article around an amazing topic is much easier than building an amazing headline around an article.

  8. says

    Great tips about writing great attention getting headlines. I use these on a daily basis and continue to learn, practice, and test new headlines.

    I do have my favorites though. Asking a question, how-to’s, and the personal testimonial are the ones that I use a lot.

  9. says

    Thanks Dean! It would be interesting to see how we can rank them – from most powerful to least powerful. But I guess it’s not possible…

  10. says

    I have made hundreds of pages and have had similar titles for all of them.

    Even though I have been using these methods for some time now, I never found myself compiling them all into a list like you so quaintly did so here.

    I will make sure to bookmark this article too :) .

  11. says

    Great article–I love your examples and tips. Personally, I recommend drafting the article first, figuring out the headline next, then revising the article to fulfill the “promise” made in the heading. We know more clearly what we’re saying once we’ve had a chance to draft it.

  12. says

    Hi Dean,

    Really great article. Loved every word of it. Next time I write a headline I’ll keep everything on my mind that you mentioned in your article.

    Thanks a lot.

    Mani Raj
    Havoc Marketing

  13. says

    What gets my attention is the hard sell type headline. “Tornado Destroys White House” “Infant Lands Airplane” “Man Eats 1000 Roaches” are the type of headlines that get my attention.

    Get to the point with your headlines. You’re competing with billions of webpages out there.

  14. says

    Great list. I like the idea of a testimonial headline — I have rarely seen that one put to use. Another way to look at it is to simply ask yourself what headline would pique YOUR interest.

  15. says

    Nope, actually both Dean and Bob Bly owe John Caples for these. The first edition of “Tested Advertising Methods” came out in what… 1930?

    He who reads the earliest source material wins, Jim. :)

  16. says

    Know what Dean! All these comments are just useless if they don’t use it. Many are saying ‘wonderful advice!!’ but even after years of your resourceful writing very few have become insightful like you.

  17. says

    Dean
    I love the point about why the “9 ways to” formula is so effective. It’s so true that the promise of information is not as attractive as information with order. The information is the feature – the order and, well, actionability is the benefit, and that’s the thing to focus on. Nice post, thanks.
    John

  18. says

    Good points, especially…

    “Most people don’t want information. I know you’ve always been taught otherwise, but it’s true. People are drowning in facts. What people really want is a sense of order and predictability in their lives. We want to feel a sense of power over our world. Therefore, we seek out the secrets, tips, hints, laws, rules, and systems that promise to help us gain control and make sense of things.”

    For more examples of epic headlines, check the links to the right under ‘popular’. Nobody writes them like copyblogger :)

  19. says

    Excellent tips! Using the “How To” strategy has worked really well for me.After all, people are coming online often looking for information to solve a problem they have.One has to avoid giving away too much in the headline.

  20. says

    Thanks for the article. Because of this article, I’ve already gone in and changed around some headlines for posts that I have scheduled for the future. Also, regardless of whether I write the headline before or after the post, it helps for me to come back later and take a fresh look at it. I find that sometimes I say too much in a headline, when something simple and direct (your #1) works better.

  21. says

    I’m going to start going through my headlines and fixing them! Will it mess up any search engine pageranks by editing them after an article has already been posted for a while?

  22. says

    This is a very nice post integrating the most important things to look out for when creating new content at your website or blog. These advices, along with others from copyblogger have been of great value to me, even if my website is a bit more technical involving website creation tricks and advice. I keep learning great things from copyblogger and have changed much of the way i view things online. Thanx for that :)

  23. says

    Hi Dean. All fantastic tips! Short and sweet is powerful. I usually get an idea for a headline and by the time I’ve finished writing the post, the headline has changed a few times. Sort of like focusing the camera lens.

    I have learned to let go of the “crazy” ideas for titles; they can lead a reader astray as to the real theme of the story. But, I’m still tempted. I know there IS a way to do this successfully. Sometimes it comes immediately, sometimes it takes work.

  24. says

    Very useful and helpful. I wrestle with writing headlines and this will make the wrestling less vigorous. Thanks for the excellent insights.

  25. says

    I love these points. indeed headlines have subliminal power that would increase the urge in readers to go deeper into the story.

    writing good headlines i think may not require too much expertise, but i am sure lots of experiment is needed in order to get used to it. thanks for ‘the nine principles’.

  26. says

    For the purpose of article marketing, it is always a good idea to write multiple articles for posting and syndication. But where I run into problems is coming up with different ways of saying the same thing.

    By using all these headline ideas to rewrite the same article, that job becomes much easier! What an awesome discovery! THANK YOU for sharing this! You just made my life a bit easier! LOL!

  27. says

    Very useful tips. Sometimes I contemplate between having headlines which are SEO friendly and headlines which appeal to the readers. In the end I end up using both thanks to the All in One SEO plugin.

  28. says

    Good post. It seems like blogging has to be one or the other these days: a marketing tool, stripped to the core and ‘ripped’ with key words, or a vanity blog that is just the writer’s ideas and thoughts.

    Has anyone got examples of blogs that strike a balance between the two?

  29. says

    very concise post. everything starts with the headline, with your blogpost. though how very interesting may be your content, if without a good headline, or having a lame title post, readers and visitors will just pass by without knowing what you want to share to them.

  30. says

    This is such useful information because people forget the hook to getting their work read is all in the title. I can’t seem to write an article unless I have the title first. However, I end up amending the title to fit in better with the article once it is written anyway! It is vital to get it write but also making relevant to the written work.

  31. says

    You missed the most important ending point of all. After you select what you think is the best headline create 5 more and use Google Website Optimizer to find out if your right or wrong.

    Best practices are a great launching point but what truly tells you the effectiveness of a headline is sales or the lack of.

    Also check out “tested marketing methods” its an old book by some old marketer but there is a ton of information about headlines and copy that really rocks.

  32. says

    I think the book David is referring to is Tested Advertising Methods by John Caples.

    An even older book, that’s still relevant, is Scientific Advertising by Claude Hopkins. You can find it free online (the copyright has expired).

  33. says

    Your examples feel spammy and salesy. I feel like anyone remotely intelligent should see through these headlines and realize they are not authentic or sincere. You must think that people are stupid. I assure you that many of them are not.

  34. says

    A nice piece, but did not seem to really talk about what a powerful motivator fear can be. We buy so often to be more, not due to our needs… And remember- tell em what you’re gonna tell em, tell em, tell em what you told em. Yes it works. We are all very busy, and frequently unable to give our whole attention to our loved one’s, let alone a post.

  35. says

    Nope that’s wrong people are stupid. The reason a lot of these examples work is because they have been tested and proven. If people were not stupid they wouldn’t have proven these headlines sold the most over others.

    Don’t think of people being like you, people are not as tech / marketing savvy as us. People like to be told what to do every step of the way and they like there marketing to be just as simple.

  36. says

    Thank you for your advice. I’m in the middle of figuring out how to promote my product/service–online assessment of business writing–and your ideas for headlines are clear and to the point. Thanks

  37. says

    This is great. Headlines are probably my favourite thing to write because a good headline is one of the quickest ways to draw people’s attention. Thanks for the advice.

  38. says

    Nice one, Dean. Having written recruitment advertisements (job ads) for over 1,100 organisations of every size and sector, I’ve learned to do the headline LAST. That way, I’m completely steeped in the topic before I try to distill it into a few words. This really works. It also obviates writer’s block. Best regards, P. :)

  39. says

    Thanks for all the tips I think they really just out and just reach out. Grabbing someone and saying hear look I have something great that will benefit you!

  40. says

    Brian, Thanks for all the copy writing info, I really appreciate it. I listen to your interview with yaro over and over and I keep getting things out if it. BTW I’m a Clark too.
    Have a great evening.
    Larry C.

  41. says

    Hi Dean,
    Thanks for such a great post.
    It gives us a series of thoughts to quickly run through before making a blog post.
    It also brings focus to the real reason a particular piece of writing exists and WHAT ON EARTH you’re trying to get across

  42. says

    Most of the copywriting articles I’ve encountered advise against starting an article by writing the headline. I’m going to take your advice and try the opposite; it sounds like a great way to keep focus of promised reader benefits.

  43. says

    Great post. I’m a huge fan of benefit lead sales headlines.

    I read some really interesting statistics in Perry Marshall’s Google Adwords about this.

    He has performed extensive testing of headlines using Google Adwords. The great thing about using GA is that you can split test your ads to see which headline is most effective. Perry demonstrated that leading with benefit before feature can perform over 1000% better than the same wording presented feature first!

  44. says

    Number 5 is a technique I use quite a bit and it really does seem to grab focus a lot. Thanks for the nice list.

  45. says

    @John: Yep, made the same experiences. Provocative posts always catch alot of attention, especially if there are some people with very strong opinions on the topic.

  46. says

    I like number 6. I think this one is the key to an effective headline, I really enjoyed this blog post thanks, it’s giving me great think juice.

  47. says

    When I was reading your articles, it started to remind me every great headline articles which attract my attention. Those were using the same formula which you have written in this article. Thanks for sharing these 9 proven formula…

  48. says

    Very interesting info, I’m using some of it, let’s see if it really works! :-) Anyway thanks for theusefull info, it is actionable!

  49. says

    This headline formulas are something that I keep on hand at all times. I was just looking at some of the headlines that I have brain dumped and I found another headline formula.

    It goes something like this:

    “Are You One Of Who Are ”

    So it would look something like this:

    “Are YOU One Of The 95% Of Business Owners Who Are Frustrated With Their Current Marketing Results?”

    Thanks for the headline formulas, Joel.

  50. says

    Doh! That didn’t work, let me try that again….

    It goes something like this:

    “Are You One Of (insert target market) Who Are (insert their biggest frustration or problem)”

    So it would look something like this:

    “Are YOU One Of The 95% Of Business Owners Who Are Frustrated With Their Current Marketing Results?”

  51. says

    I love you series on writing better blog headlines. Thanks so much. I know it’s years old, but I just found it . Here’s my first attempt at better headlines.

    How to Sleep In, Eat Well and Impress Your Mother-in-Law.

    Mary

  52. says

    I absolutely agree that the Headlines will catch the attention of the reader if it has that perfect buying persuasive
    pizazz.
    Quite right to make a headline simple and to the point. No use waffling on without a sharpe catch phrase.

    I also enjoy the How To quality articles especially from ehow.

    I use the Healine Creator Software to create the best Headlines ever created.

    Thanks for this information.

    Richard

  53. says

    HI Dean,
    Thank you for the great tips. I remember being told early in my writing
    career.
    People don’t want to be sold, they want to purchase

    Also ask the question if/then rule. If you want to loose weight, then do what I did

    Thanks for your contribution,
    Jeff Faldalen

  54. says

    Great list Dean. I guess writing the headline first would always help you stay on track during the article and also prevent over stuffing of keywords.

    I already write loads of “How to…..” articles but this is becoming harder to rank for?

    I am going to be implementing a few of your suggestions and I will let you know how I got on.

    Peace

  55. says

    When I read the title of this article, I immediately started to think about my favorite headlines and what made them so memorable. You managed to cover all of the points I could think of and more. Great concise work!

    For those who write the headline before the content, I believe that you can because you already know what your content will look like to some extent.. I see a headline like a snapshot, or like a teaser for a movie. If you have the teaser in mind, you already know the tone of the movie and the overall direction. There is no teaser without footage (a.k.a content) most of the time. Headline writing is part of editing I would say; whether you initially wrote the article in your head or on paper doesn’t really matter.

    So to encourage those who have no idea how to write a headline first, you’re probably having a hard time because you haven’t seen the content clearly first. Start with the content, mentally or in writing, the rest will surely follow.

  56. says

    Excellent idea for on demand selling. I agree with your 9 points. People are really asking for solution, so they are always running after “How to” if we could provide good suggestion, which is actually helpful then any ideas can be sold.

  57. says

    I liked most on the list except for the ninth. That type of headline I see used a lot on webpages and has always been connected to some ridiculous, dishonest product so much that I now associate that type of headline with idiotic products. Maybe it’s just me.


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