009 How to Write Headlines that Get Results

A simple 4-step formula to writing one helluva seductive headline.

Headline writing is probably the first and most important skill you need to learn as a web writer.

John Caples called it the most important part of an advertisement. That’s why he dedicates four out of eighteen chapters to headline writing in his book Tested Advertising Methods.

And you can sum up those four chapters in one hyphenated word.

In this 11-minute episode you’ll discover:

  • What that hyphenated word is
  • A simple formula for writing headlines that get results
  • The most successful headline ever written for college men
  • A sleazy tactic (you should avoid) that drives readers away
  • Why list headlines will always work (even if you hate them)
  • 2 ways to add urgency to your headlines

[episode no=”9″]

The Show Notes

How to Write Headlines that Get Results

Demian Farnworth Hi, welcome to Rough Draft, your daily dose of essential web writing advice. I’m your host, Demian Farnworth, Chief Content Writer for Copyblogger Media. And thank you for sharing the next four minutes of your life with me.

This is episode 9, and we’re — me, myself, and I — we’re calling it … “Use this 4-step formula to write helluva seductive headline.”

And it is actually brought to you by Authority Rainmaker, a carefully designed live educational experience that presents a complete and effective online marketing strategy to help you immediately accelerate your business.

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And not to forget the secret sauce of it all: building real-world relationships with other attendees. Get all the details right now at rainmaker.fm/event, and we look forward to seeing you in Denver, Colorado this May. That’s rainmaker.fm/event.

Now on to the episode.

What that Hyphenated Word is

Work in the copywriting or web writing field long enough and you get a knack for picking up on what works. Actually measure what you write and you get to be dead on.

Take the headline, for example.

Headline writing is probably the first and most important skill you need to learn as a web writer. John Caples calls it the most important part of an advertisement. That’s why he dedicates four out of eighteen chapters to headline writing in his book Tested Advertising Methods.

I recommend you read that book if you have any interest in improving your copywriting chops or grab our free magnetic headlines ebook. In the meantime, I’ll sum up those four chapters for you in one hyphenated word: self-interest.

Not your self-interest. Your readers.

This is why a media company like Upworthy invests in tests and concepts. Buzzfeed lives and dies on headlines. A number of years ago The Atlantic said they were going to focus less on SEO and more on great headlines.

It’s that self-interest.

Zero in on a need or want that your reader has and craft a headline in such a way that catches their attention and draws them in.

The key is knowing your audience.

The Most Successful Headline Ever Written for College Men

Exhibit A: college men.

One of the most successful headlines ever written for this audience simply said, “Sex.”

That one word stopped late adolescent, early twenty-something men dead in their tracks because it pinpointed exactly the most pressing thing upon their mind.

Have you any idea what they were selling? Major buzzkill: would you believe textbooks? That is how a humdinger of a headline will fail to deliver. Trick your reader, and you lose that reader.

Writing Headlines that Get Results with the 4 Us

A simple formula for writing killer headlines: it’s called the 4 Us. Is the headline unique? Is it useful? Is it ultra-specific? Is it urgent?

The example I like to share: “How to wash dishes.” It’s useful, but not very unique, ultraspecific or urgent.

So let’s make it unique. “How to wash dishes with vinegar.” Now we are on to something! But it’s still not there. You will probably find a number of articles like this.

How about this: “89 ways to wash dishes with vinegar.” Okay. Now we are getting somewhere. It is not only useful, because it promises to teach you something, but it’s also unique and ultraspecific. The 89 ways makes it specific.

But let’s make it urgent, right. “89 ways to wash dishes with vinegar before you die of cholera.” It’s also a longer headline. The trick is to squeeze as many Us as possible in the headline — with economy.

2 Ways to Add Urgency to Your Headlines

When I explain these Us to writers, the first three are self-explanatory. It’s the urgent slant that I usually get asked for clarification. Here’s how I explain it.

Urgent can be described in two ways:

You need to order this today–it is deadline driven, scarcity driven. “Get Your Free e-Book Before Price Jumps Tonight at Midnight.” “This Deal Ends October 31.” “Only Two Seats Left.”

The other way is to say if you don’t fix x now, then y will happen. For example, “Read This Before You Buy Your Next Property.” “Tax Laws Change on Jan 31–Are You Ready?” “14 Mistakes That Even Season Property Investors Make.”

Great headlines use three or four of those elements. But when it comes to writing for the web … it is important that you take notice of those headlines that are working online. That you are aware of the context, the shape of headlines, and the lingo.

What is Working Online

That gives you a flavor of what is working online. You can have the formulas, that’s the science. But the art of headline writing is knowing what to put in those variables.

You can do that by going to your favorite sites and looking at the most popular headlines — most sites usually have a most popular article in the sidebar.

But I want to teach you a very potent exercise that I actually learned from Robert Scoble — and it involves a now-dead Google tool … but will lead to headlines that work online.

What is it? Ah, yes. That’s for next episode. Stay tuned. And in the meantime I would love it if you headed over to iTunes and review this show and leave a comment. That would mean a lot to me. That would show that I’m providing value.

Until then, take care.