Why ‘New’ and ‘Knew’ Create Intensely Powerful Headlines


The post is by Sean D’Souza

Writing headlines for articles is like witchcraft. You have to know the spells, and chant before you can create awesome headlines, right?


What you really need is a factor of new.

And also a bit of knew.

So what do I mean by new and knew?

New is kinda obvious. If you have something new in the headline, then the reader is instantly interested.

The curiosity trigger is launched, and the reader wants to know what’s next. But if your entire headline had a factor of new you’ll cause anxiety, not curiosity.

So let’s look at a few examples to see what I mean. Let’s go back into the last century to the year 1999.

And being that it’s 1999, you’ve heard nothing about the iPod. Or podcasts. Or RSS.

And your headline read: How to Create RSS Podcasts with the iPod.

Aha, it’s all new information if you’re still stuck in 1999, right?

So why did it cause your brain to go waka-waka?

Because it’s all so new. And running into all new is like running into an InDesign Toolbar with five-hundred palettes.

Or a strange city where you don’t quite know your way round.

Notice what I just did?

I put two scenarios in front of you:

  1. InDesign Tool Bar with five-hundred palettes.
  2. A strange city where you don’t know your way around.

And if you’re familiar with InDesign, you’ll have coasted through both analogies in a few seconds. But even if you didn’t know what the heck InDesign or palettes are, the second example of the strange city would be something you could quite easily relate to.

The concept of the strange city is the factor of knew, which is something your know.

While the new is something that’s kinda still unknown.

So how do we use this magic spell for article headlines?

We mix the new and the knew. Throw in a bat wing or two. And some shitake mushrooms. Et Voila, we have a bunch of headlines that looketh like this:

  1. Why the ‘Yes-Yes’ Factor Helps You Raise Prices.
  2. Is There Too Much Sugar In Your Testimonials?
  3. The Critical Importance of Sandwiching Your Articles.
  4. How Segues Reduce Friction in Sales.
  5. Why Consumption is More Important Than Attraction and Conversion.

You noticed, didn’t you?

There are new elements in the copy. And there are knew elements.

Some things you recognized right away, while others arouse your curiosity. The factor of new attracts you, but equally important, the knew signals what topic is being covered.

So you can clearly see what those five topics are about:

  1. Raising prices.
  2. Testimonials.
  3. Something to do with article writing.
  4. Reducing friction in sales.
  5. Something that’s more important than attraction and conversion.

When the ‘new’ and the ‘knew’ mix, they create dynamite:

  • Too much ‘new’ and the headline is intimidating as hell.
  • Too much ‘knew’ is a yawn, and a siesta comes to mind.

But mixed together just right, you’ve got yourself a great headline.

Do you need to write every headline with ‘new’ and ‘knew?’

And the answer is no. This isn’t a formula for every article headline you write. There are other ways to get curiosity.

A smarter way to write article headlines is to mix and match:

  • Headlines with a ‘How To’ factor do really well.
  • Headlines with questions do really well.
  • Headlines with new and knew, however, have a special magic, and cast a spell.

But use the spell sparingly, ok!

Note: To get a free report from Sean on ‘Why Headlines Fail’, go to Psychotactics.com. When you subscribe, you get the free report + other useful articles on ‘how customers think.’

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Reader Comments (30)

  1. says

    OMEFFING GOD! This has to be the single most entertaining, best use of English post I have ever read on any effing blog ever. This excites me so much I have never used the effing word so much in my effing love.

    Amazing effing writing. Simply effing amazying, Sean. I bow down to you, I bow down to youuuuuuuuuuu.

    Effing brilliant!

  2. Raja sekharan says

    Interesting. I’ll give it a try:

    How do these fare?

    1. How Goo-Tube Affects Your Search Engine Rankings
    2. The Benadryl for your conversion rates

    I had a thought – won’t the “new” factor NOT communicate properly the benefit of reading the article or blog post?

  3. says

    Raja, the ‘knew’ communicates the general subject matter, and therefore hints at the benefit. The ‘new’ creates strong curiosity, which draws you into finding out what’s going on.

    Sean used the technique with the headline for this very article. You knew it was about headlines, but had no idea how ‘new’ and ‘knew’ would apply to writing them.

  4. says

    Pretty simple stuff. It looks like Justin liked it. It was a solid B- post in my opinion. The same thing could’ve been said in half the length.

    But, the point he’s making is true.

  5. says

    Great advice because it keeps the reader at the forefront of the writer’s mind. It’s easy to trap yourself into a bad headline when you only think about how it sounds to you as the writer who is 1) already interested in the subject and 2) already familiar with your new take on it. Thanks for breaking this down into a simple forumla!

  6. Jan says

    Justin used a “new” way to comment that he “knew” the content was good. He used the advice and ironically curiosity followed.

  7. says

    Sean, this simple principle is useful in sales, public speaking, marketing of any type. People’s eyes do glaze over if we bring them to totally unfamiliar territory. Very useful in all inter-personal relationships. Thanks.

  8. says

    Thanks for the insight Sean,

    You never cease to amaze me. Your “new-knew” mixed analogy hit home.

    Headline writing is about allure and making the reader tempted enough to want to keep reading.

    Thanks for giving us a way to entice our reader by connecting them to something that will pique their interest enough to make them want to know more.

  9. says

    Love the post. Headlines are what makes or breaks articles, blogs and other sales copy. A great way to get a message across and teach–now I want to go and put it into action.

  10. says

    Holy cow. That was the BEST copy I have EVER read. I kept trying to not read it because I knew I was hooked… I read every word. Wow. I honestly can’t believe how well written that was.

    I think I’ve seen an Internet angel.

  11. says

    Thanks. I know a concept has hit home, when some people say it’s ‘so simple’. :)

    Simple is difficult.

    It’s easier to write an article like ’10 ways to do something’, than take a difficult concept like headlines, and make it so simple that almost everyone (if not everyone) can write a headline in the next five minutes.

  12. says

    great post. This opened my eyes to the obvious, but then again, maybe not so obvious- how people perceive information & how they react to each scenario you posted.

    Nice job.

  13. says

    Looks like an ideal blog post: it’s succinct, helpful and nice-to-read. Btw, using homonyms, like “new” and “knew”, is another powerful headline strategy that you applied skilfully. Thanks Sean: I really enjoyed it!

  14. says

    If you want to make sure your copy is going to pass the test before you publish try this site. If you type in the words Business Opportunity you will see it scores very high. If you put the word Want infront of your headline it also does a lot better. I have tested this in my own landing page copy as well as in my forums and you will definately see greater views and click thrus if you have higher scoring headlines.


  15. says

    An excellent post! I like the way you recursively used the technique outlined here in the actual title for this post 😉 It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy!

    There is a good reason CopyBlogger has gotten so many subscribers in such a short period of time, and this post demonstrates a lot of that.

  16. says

    Heck of a article, I didn’t even think of it this way. Well, I guess that’s why to me it’s “new” 😉 I came up with couple headlines using this aproach, I can already see them working.

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