Writing Headlines That Get Results

Copywriting 101

It’s no surprise to discover that one of the most popular posts I’ve written for Copyblogger was How to Write Headlines That Work. Every copywriter and every journalist knows the importance of a powerful headline, and that awareness has spilled into the business blogosphere, where everyone is a bit of a copywriter and a bit of a journalist.

Despite that, many still underestimate just how important headlines are. So here are some anecdotes, facts, and guidelines that can help you write even better headlines (and also let you know how much you should focus on them).

The 50/50 Rule of Headlines

According to some of the best copywriters of all time, you should spend half of the entire time it takes to write a piece of persuasive content on the headline. So if you have a blog post that is really important to you or your business, one that you really want people to read, you should downright obsess over your post title.

Advertising legend David Ogilvy knew the power of headlines, and how the headline literally determined whether the advertisement would get read. He rewrote this famous headline for an automobile advertisement 104 times:

“At 60 miles an hour, the only thing you hear in the new Rolls Royce is the ticking of the dashboard clock …”

Master copywriter Gene Schwartz often spent an entire week on the first 50 words of a sales piece — the headline and the opening paragraph. Those 50 words are the most important part of any persuasive writing, and writing them well takes time.

Even for the masters.

The 80/20 Rule of Headlines

Here are some interesting statistics.

On average, 8 out of 10 people will read headline copy, but only 2 out of 10 will read the rest. This is the secret to the power of the headline, and why it so highly determines the effectiveness of the entire piece.

The better the headline, the better your odds of beating the averages and getting what you’ve written read by a larger percentage of people.

Writing a great headline doesn’t guarantee the success of your writing. The benefit conveyed in the headline still needs to be properly satisfied in the body copy, either with your content or your offer.

But great body content with a bad or even marginal headline is doomed to go largely unread.

How to Write a Great Headline

Last time, we looked at the different categories of headlines that work. This time, we’ll look at analytical techniques for producing great headlines.

The copywriting trainers at American Writers & Artists teach The Four U’s approach to writing headlines:

Headlines, subheads and bullets should:

  1. Be USEFUL to the reader,
  2. Provide him with a sense of URGENCY,
  3. Convey the idea that the main benefit is somehow UNIQUE; and
  4. Do all of the above in an ULTRA-SPECIFIC way.

In a recent issue of the Early to Rise ezine, copywriter Clayton Makepeace says to ask yourself six questions before you start to write your headline:

  1. Does your headline offer the reader a reward for reading?
  2. What specifics could you add to make your headline more intriguing and believable?
  3. Does your headline trigger a strong, actionable emotion the reader already has about the subject at hand?
  4. Does your headline present a proposition that will instantly get your prospect nodding his or her head?
  5. Could your headline benefit from the inclusion of a proposed transaction?
  6. Could you add an element of intrigue to drive the prospect into your opening copy?

Makepeace’s six questions combined with the basic structure of The Four U’s provide an excellent framework for writing spectacular headlines. And you’ll note that just about any headline that satisfies the framework will fall into one of the eight categories you learned last time.

It takes work and focus, but the effort will make you a more popular blogger and a more profitable businessperson.

Go back to the Copywriting 101 series.

For more on writing great headlines, check out the Magnetic Headlines series on Copyblogger.

About the Author: Brian Clark is founder of Copyblogger, CEO of Copyblogger Media, and Editor-in-Chief of Entreproducer. Get more from Brian on Google+.

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Comments

  1. I have a question.
    I like to write long headlines. I was told that long headlines are not good.
    since you are an expert in such matters, is that true?

  2. Funny you should ask. I had an entire section on that topic originally set for this post, but decided to make it a separate post due to length and focus. Do you mind waiting a day or so? :)

    The answer might surprise you.

  3. ok…

  4. No, I can’t wait, tell me now.

    Just kiddin’, of course.

    This is a great topic and I’m looking forward to more great info.

    I’ll be printing this out and saving it for future reference.

  5. I think an important aspect of headline writing on blogs that was overlooked in this article is the search engine optimization aspect. When I write the headline, I try to include keywords that I think people might Google for when thinking about the topic.

    Of course, a well-written headline for traditional media will fill the SEO role quite often — but not everything. Something to keep in mind, at any rate. :)

    Great site!

  6. Hi Andrew. I get that remark every time I write about headlines. :)

    I’ve actually written about keywords a bit, and probably will again soon. You’re right… the perfect headline is compelling to humans and spider friendly. But I (and others) believe that for bloggers who don’t have AdSense business models, that headlines written for people are more important.

    Until I write more on the subject, you may want to check out SEO Copywriting is Dead for my perspective. I’ll be doing a specific piece about the give and take of keywords in post titles in the near future.

  7. >But I (and others) believe that for bloggers who don’t have AdSense business models, that headlines written for people are more important.

    Right, but you want those people to find your blog don’t you? :-)

  8. Irish, it all depends on your model and subject really, so I won’t pretend that this is one size fits all advice.

    I have other blog projects where I focus more on key words, because search engine traffic is important for those blogs.

    For Copyblogger, I get the bulk of my traffic via links from other bloggers and repeat visits by subscribers. I get search engine traffic, but a lot of it is unrelated to my core topic at this point and these people are less likely to become regular readers. I want readers, not raw traffic, and so will anyone who is a business blogger (those selling products and services).

    So yes, I want people to find my blog, and they do, but for this blog at least, it’s because I write for people. And I think that will be true for most business bloggers, when combined with a reasonable emphasis on key words in titles.

    More on this topic soon.

  9. It all depends on your goals. Do you just want to make money with your blog, or are you high-roading it in an attempt to gain a powerful voice on par with the likes of Seth Godin, Malcolm Gladwell, etc…

    As far as AdSense-monetized blogs go, this whole debate is ridiculous. Sometimes I wonder if people actually realize just how good traffic and CTR have to be before they start pulling a noteworthy income. Take Steve Pavlina, for instance. He has long since gotten over a million pageviews a month, yet as of January, he was only making like $5K/mo. off of his site.

    Now, that’s not bad income, but it’s not mind-blowing either. On top of that, Steve’s blog is among a select few at the top of the heap, and I would argue that he’s gotten there through genuine writing and techniques that are on par with what Brian is suggesting here.

    Of course, the bottom line depends on your personal goals, but I feel as though gaining a powerful, respected voice in the blogosphere far outweighs a couple thousand a year (if you’re lucky…or persistent) off of ads. It’s all about people, and your goal ought to be to compel your readers to dive into your content.

    Finally, I would like to add another editorial note. I think that pursuing blogging as a business is dumb. On the other hand, I think pursuing blogging as an avenue to open up larger, more expansive business opportunities is pure genius. And this, of course, is where the headlines come in…

  10. Chris, well done. I think you just lessened my workload… I don’t need to post a follow-up after that, because that’s pretty much what I would have said.

    I will add this — none of the top 100 blogs got there due to search engine traffic. They *get* search engine traffic, but that’s not what made them so popular. Writing for search engines is a losing proposition for a business blogger.

  11. great discussion.i’m a little fish. in a big blog, and i’ve been trying to make my blogs search friendly, ..

    I think now i’ll refocus on the content.

  12. I’m tearing through your blog like a lawstudent cramming for an exam. T

    Thanks for all the great stuff.

    Now, if you’re going to spend so much time on a title for a post, how much time should you you spend on the title of the entire blog!

    I spent 2 days.

    what do you think?

    http://artmaker.blogspot.com

    The new title is there.

    Previously: ‘what they don’t teach you in art school’.

  13. Hi,

    Before reading your blog; I had this headline:(

    Low-income Adults Jump-Start your career

    But have now changed it to:)

    How to Jump-Start your career

    It’s less patronising and it certainly spells out what I wanted to say, on a leaflet about online training courses.

    Thanks,

    Gerry