Headlines are both deadly and powerful part of your marketing arsenal.

There are ways that an improper headline can destroy your credibility and your brand. There are also ways a killer headline can drive enormous amounts of traffic and have your marketing piece go viral.

Famous copywriters have said since the 1940’s, spend 50% of your time on your headline, and the other 50% on the rest of your copy. Let’s tune into what John Caples wrote in his book “How to Make Your Advertising Make Money”

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Headline written by John Caples

“My interest in advertising headlines dates back to the time when I was a cub copywriter and was not allowed to write headlines. Ev Grady the copy chief, would hand me a layout with the headline already lettered in. Below the headline was a blank space. ‘write copy to fill the space’, he would say.

Evidently I was not considered good enough to write headlines. I don’t know how you can impress a young man more forcibly than to imply that there is a task to which he is not equal. From that time on, I was determined that someday I would write headlines”

Headline writing danger that lurks (the 1940’s advantage)

Seems pretty wild and silly to suggest that a poor headline could damage your brand, or even make you look stupid doesn’t it? Yet… today we have a brand new danger to headlines that didn’t exist in the 1940’s. In fact, one might say the early copywriters had a HUGE advantage over us! Hype wasn’t all that common back then. We were only one or two generations away from the cultural “dead serious” culture that exists in the UK. (To this day, the UK is strongly against all hype).

Today, we have these websites called “Viral Mills” that churn out gut wrenching, gossipy stories with strange images that we call “Click Bait”. You’ll know you’ve clicked on clickbait when you hit a site loaded with ads and weird images and a super short story or video lifted from some other website. They’re extremely low value, and extremely high eye candy. If you’re bored you can find yourself reading this stuff all day!
Great places to find headlines..

Why I bothered to write this blog post…

Screenshot 2016-04-26 11.36.42Let me get right to it. There isn’t a whole heck of a lot of people doing headlines (and the attached content) correctly. It’s just not very common. I read a LOT of content. I could call myself a content junkie and my wife would even agree. However, I’m continually inspired by the writers of headlines at the Washington Post. Before I dig into the why, let me provide some concrete examples of stuff that just blew my mind.

  • “Want to see a great U.S. city in one day? Two math majors show you how.”
  • “The startling thing that happens to black girls in preschool”
  • “The 9-year-old who setup a lemonade stand to help his parents fund his legal adoption”
  • “How Rachel Roy embodies the new trend in celebrity cheating scandals”
  • “The future of TV is arriving faster than anyone predicted”

These aren’t earth shattering headlines are they? But they’re interesting, they’re believable and they’re strange/fascinating enough to grab your attention. That’s the magic sauce in 2016. It’s having enough clout to back your headline, be interesting… be fascinating without going over the edge. LOTS of their headlines are like this. If you’re at all questioning the power of these headlines, checkout the shares… most of these got HUNDREDS of shares and thousands of likes.

STOP! Before you write a DAMN word of a headline…

Customer Avatar - State DiagramYou have to consider WHO this content should appeal to. If you’re clients are the type that earn under 40k, never attended college or heck, barely finished high school and spend most of their time in front of the TV (bombarded by garbage)… Your headline research should start at the checkout stand… IE: Cosmopolitan, Weekly World News, People Magazine, National Enquirer etc.

If you’re ideal client is a highly intelligent scientist who might buy your special graphing calculator, then your headline research might start in the forums or groups of electronics majors. Perhaps it might start in Scientific American or Psychology Today…

You really should do some kind of ideal customer exercise to really get a 360 degree view of WHO they are before you start writing ANY kind of headline. The formula’s will NOT all work for everyone.

Some headline general types:

  • The how to headline (EG: How to do X)
  • The guarantee headline (Guaranteed to ____ within X days)
  • The benefit headline (top benefit of the product)
  • The promise headline (By the end of the article you will…)
  • The testimonial headline (A personal revelation)
  • The question headline “Are you tired of making your boss rich?”
  • The anxiety headline “Does this make your skin crawl?”
  • The news style headline “Scientists are now saying…”

My personal favourite headline swipes:

Who else wants _____

The secret to ____

Can you pass the ____ test?

The biggest ____ myth

The Toughest ____ Question To Answer

____ Isn’t as ridiculous as you might think…

A man invented _____ because doctors (experts) were tired of _____

Don’t call me a _____

Here’s what’s helping ____ to _____

____ Statistics / Trends you can’t ignore (IE: iTunes trends you can’t ignore)

[Do something] like [world-class example] (IE: Party like Paris Hilton, Speak Spanish like a diplomat)

 

Additional Headline Creator Tools:

Headline Analysis Tools

Hey.. still reading down here eh?

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