Persuasive Writing 5 – Writing Headlines that Reel in Readers

“On 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.” – David Ogilvy

You might be a copywriting genius, and composed a sales letter that can sell carpets to Egyptians. But if you can’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.
It’s your headline’s job to hook readers with the promise of a tasty reward that will reel them into devouring your copy.

So let’s be clear: your headline must be able to attract the reader’s interest if your writing is going to have a chance of selling your product.

“If you can come up with a good headline, you are almost sure to have a good ad. But even the greatest writer can’t save an ad with a poor headline.” – John Caple

Interest = benefit + curiosity

People are, by nature, motivated by pursuing their own objectives in life and what can benefit them personally. So they’ll only read your copy if they think there’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 people’s curiosity by hinting at the benefits your writing offers.

So whether it’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 you’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 you’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 they’re happy to use to bait their sales letter.

After you’ve settled on a winner, you can use your second and third choices as subheads to break up your copy and highlight your argument’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. ‘Play the Piano in Seven Days or Your Money Back’
  • Provoke curiosity with a question e.g. ‘Do You Make These Mistakes in English?’ (Maxwell Sackheim)
  • Explain clearly what benefit your offering e.g. ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ (Dale Carnegie)
  • Use a strong verb and a commanding tone of voice to suggest what action the reader can take e.g. ‘Win At Poker With These Strategies Used By The Pros’
  • Make a bold attention grabbing statement e.g. ‘Amazing Secret Discovered By One-Legged Golfer Adds 50 Yards To Your Drives, Eliminates Hooks And Slices…And Can Slash Up To 10 Strokes From Your Game Almost Overnight!’ (John Carlton)
  • Make a no frills news announcement e.g. ‘New Dimoxnyl Hair Tonic Grows Back Your Hair and Youthful Looks Overnight!’

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.

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