7 Easy Ways to Write Great Headlines

by Jodi Kaplan on March 14, 2011

David Ogilvy is quoted as saying that whenever he wrote an ad, he spent most of his time on the headline.  Especially back then, longer ads were the norm.  There were many, many paragraphs of text, often a full page of a magazine.

Why would he do this?

The reason he spent so much time writing headlines was that it’s the first thing people see on a page.  If the headline isn’t interesting, people are less likely to read further.

Ads live or die by the headline.

When there are competitions for marketing awards, the campaigns or ads that win aren’t necessarily the ones that made the most money.  That’s because the judges at these events read every word of every ad.  Real people flipping through a magazine or browsing a web site don’t do that.  They glance at the headline, look at the picture if there is one, and then decide whether it’s worth their time to read further.

So, if you want people to look at your ad, you’ll need a headline that really grabs their attention. But how?

Proven headline formulas

Luckily, there are some formulas you can use that will really attract attention.

  1. Use a number, like 101 Ways to Cut Your Heating Bill  or Top 10 Gifts for Valentine’s Day.
  2. Promise to reveal secrets: Secrets of Top Copywriters.
  3. Go to an extreme:  The Worst Headlines Ever.
  4. Make people curious: Do You Make These Mistakes in English? (this is a classic, but it still works because the only way to find out if you make those errors is to keep reading!) or Did You Just Sucker Punch a Potential Customer?
  5. Offer an easy solution to a vexing problem:  A Quick Way to Kill Bedbugs Once and for All.
  6. Tease them with a test of knowledge: Do You Recognize the Early Warning Signs of Writers’ Block?
  7. Help people get something they want:  21 Ways to Market Your Business for Free or Turn a Marketing Drip Into a Sales Flood.

The real key here?  It’s not fancy words or creative use of a thesaurus. It’s talking directly to your audience, about their problems, and how to fix them.  That’s all marketing really is.

What do you think?

Jodi Kaplan has been called the Clarity Driver and the Wizard of Words.  She blogs about broken marketing and how to stop it at Fix Your Broken Marketing.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Tom Bentley March 15, 2011 at 9:20 pm

Dangit, and I thought that the creative use of my thesaurus (say, keeping it atop my head to practice my charm-school walk) was THE key to head lines. Oh, you meant HEADLINES!

Good stuff Jodi. Just from looking at Google Analytics on my blog posts, the “How to … ” headlines pull far more readers, as do some of the “peculiar”—your “make someone curious—heads. Thanks!

Jodi Kaplan March 15, 2011 at 9:29 pm

Tom, I look forward to seeing your charm-school walk one day (with or without the thesaurus).

But seriously, how to, curiosity, greed, lust, power, prestige – they all work!

Bob Poole March 24, 2011 at 12:22 pm

Somehow I missed this, Tom. I also find the “How to …” headlines to pull more people than average. Maybe I’ll change the name of the blog to How to Hang Around the Water Cooler!

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