â€œOn the average, five times as many people read the headlines as read the body copy. It follows that, unless your headline sells your product, you have wasted 90 percent of your money.â€ â€“ David Ogilvy
You might be a copywriting genius, and composed a sales letter that can sell carpets to Egyptians. But if you canâ€™t pull the reader into your writing then your compelling copy will merely be a waste of words.
Whether on the cover of a magazine, in a sales letter or on a web page, headlines are the most important element of persuasive writing.
Itâ€™s your headlineâ€™s job to hook readers with the promise of a tasty reward that will reel them into devouring your copy.
So letâ€™s be clear: your headline must be able to attract the readerâ€™s interest if your writing is going to have a chance of selling your product.
â€œIf you can come up with a good headline, you are almost sure to have a good ad. But even the greatest writer canâ€™t save an ad with a poor headline.â€ â€“ John Caple
Interest = benefit + curiosity
People are, by nature, motivated by pursuing their own objectives in life and what can benefit them personally. So theyâ€™ll only read your copy if they think thereâ€™s something in it for them.
This means your headline needs to offer the promise of a benefit the reader will gain from reading what you have to say.
People are also curious. And headlines should feed on peopleâ€™s curiosity by hinting at the benefits your writing offers.
So whether itâ€™s the promise of valuable info, solving a problem or a full proof money making scheme, your headline needs to offer the promise of a benefit and build curiosity if youâ€™re going to reel in readers.
Add sweat, tears and a full paper bin to the above equation
Finding the magic combination of words that will hook readers into your writing is tricky.
So youâ€™ll need to write as many benefit and curiosity laden headlines as you can. Some copywriters will write out over 100 before they settle on one theyâ€™re happy to use to bait their sales letter.
After youâ€™ve settled on a winner, you can use your second and third choices as subheads to break up your copy and highlight your argumentâ€™s key points.
A few headline ideas to get you started
Here are a few tried and tested headline formulas you can adapt:
- Make a bold promise with a guarantee e.g. â€˜Play the Piano in Seven Days or Your Money Backâ€™
- Provoke curiosity with a question e.g. â€˜Do You Make These Mistakes in English?â€™ (Maxwell Sackheim)
- Explain clearly what benefit your offering e.g. â€˜How to Win Friends and Influence Peopleâ€™ (Dale Carnegie)
- Use a strong verb and a commanding tone of voice to suggest what action the reader can take e.g. â€˜Win At Poker With These Strategies Used By The Prosâ€™
- Make a bold attention grabbing statement e.g. â€˜Amazing Secret Discovered By One-Legged Golfer Adds 50 Yards To Your Drives, Eliminates Hooks And Slicesâ€¦And Can Slash Up To 10 Strokes From Your Game Almost Overnight!â€™ (John Carlton)
- Make a no frills news announcement e.g. â€˜New Dimoxnyl Hair Tonic Grows Back Your Hair and Youthful Looks Overnight!â€™
Writing headlines is a tricky business for even the most experienced and talented copywriters.
But working on creating a headline baited with the promise of a benefit and curiosity should get your pen scribbling towards creating headlines that hook more readers and reel them into your words.