Can Using Science Teach You to Write Better Headlines?


Writers have agonized over headlines since the invention of the printing press. There are literally hundreds of blog posts and articles on finding the magic formula that will persuade people to read the rest of your writing.

Wouldn’t life be easier if it was possible to systematically identify what elements make a great headline? Or does it defy analysis, and will remain an agonizing puzzle for copywriters for generations to come?

Last week, I wrote about the scientific approach taken by Nick Padmore towards writing slogans. He systematically compiled a set of the guiding principles that defined what made a great tagline.

Can the same approach be applied to writing headlines?

Are there intricate rules to help you find the magic arrangement of five to ten words?

Or is it an art form that requires creative thinking?

Coming up with powerful headlines is one of a copywriter’s most demanding tasks. And is also one of the most important. Sometimes you seem to spend more time on thinking up a near perfect hook then you do on writing the entire page.

There are a number of well known psychological triggers that you can use to spark a reader’s interest. Popular tactics include controversy, offering a benefit, provoking curiosity, offering new insight or answers to a question.

If you’re looking for inspiration then read some of Brian Clark’s popular posts on writing magnetic headlines, and here’s 100 more from Jay Abraham to keep you occupied [link via Copywriting Maven].

Once you’ve gained some ideas and composed your attention grabber, read it out loud to hear how it sounds. Read it to others to see how it moves them and if they look as though they’d like to hear more.

And if you’re still wondering if it’s possible to scientifically analyse the impact of your words then there’s a handy tool for giving your headline a test drive.

The Emotional Marketing Value Headline Analyzer is a free tool that assesses the intellectual, spiritual and emphatic value of your headline. Just punch it in and wait for the read out. It can be a useful tool for finding ways to tighten your language here and there and whether it’s pitched at the right audience.

But don’t start worrying about being replaced by a computer just yet. When I tried some of Jay Abraham’s 100 greatest I was rewarded with scores of less than 30% EMV. Unsatisfactory according to the software.

So, for the time being, creative types still have a role to play in composing persuasive headlines. And scientific analysis can stay in the lab.

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4 thoughts on “Can Using Science Teach You to Write Better Headlines?

  1. This is great!

    When you find a program that analyzes your article and creates a 80-100% EMV… feel free to call me directly… i’ll sign up! =)

  2. “Science” or “Statistics”…

    There is a program I have used extensively called Glyphius that utilizes an algorithm to determine a point value to your copy (typically headlines & subheads). That point value is a pretty good determinant of the probable success of your copy.

    It has worked for me — and more importantly it has helped me to become better at thinking creatively about my headlines, because of the ease at which you can try a new word here a new phrase there and see how it may impact the success.

    Your mileage may vary…

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