Top Ten Techniques For Writing Headlines That Rock!

March 12, 2009
By Lisa Barone in Internet Marketing Conferences

Okay, let’s get serious now. I’ve been waiting for this session since I got on my nine planes to head to PubCon. Yes, I know that makes me a nerd, but I don’t care. I’m a nerd who sucks at headlines. Maybe this will help me AND keep you more amused here on the blog. See, it’s a win/win!

Brett Tabke will be moderating the totally awesome Brian Clark. I’m not worthy to even blog this. Brian Clark is super cool. /geek out

Brett’s talking about how he got turned on to Brian. Er, as in his work. I think that’s what he means. It’s pretty easy to get turned on to Brian in lots of ways. He’s kind of a hottie. And a rock star. Okay, fine, I have a writer crush. I’ll stop now.

Brian says that what your keywords are wrapped up in is more important than anything. If you’re writing something that’s link worthy (which you should be), the way you phrase your headline will have a lot to do with how much attention and links you get. Generally someone won’t link to you until they’ve read the article first. Eighty percent of people will scan your headline to see if they want to bother with you.

You want to increase your odds by having a more compelling headline to continue on with you. The function of a headline is to get the next sentence read. It’s about building momentum.

A headline is a promise….

  • That’s relevant to your target audience
  • That can’t be ignored
  • That the content must fulfill

It’s better to be ignored than thought to be a baboon. Oh, the analogies I could make here…

The Four “U” Approach to Headline Writing

  • Be Useful to the reader
  • Provide him with a sense of Urgency
  • Convey the idea that the main benefit is somehow Unique. Make it something people just can’t ignore.
  • Do all of the above in an Ultra-Specific way

Tip: Playing “headline madlibs” by plugging keywords into headline “templates”, without understanding why these so-called templates work, generally makes you look like an idiot. Hee. You’ve been warned. Use something that works in the context of what you’re doing. Just don’t mimic his templates.

1. [Blank] Ways to [blank]

This is one of the best “list” structures because it’s really a “how to” headline enhanced by specificity. Think 101 Ways to Cope with Stress or 21 Way to Live With Less. How To-type articles are great for content because that’s what people are looking for. It’s almost impossible to write a bad How To headline. Don’t reject writing list-style headlines because they’ll always work, even if people say they’re overused.

2. Who Else Wants [Blank]

Don’t use this is in the Internet marketing world because it really has been overused. It works well in other niches, though.

Starting a headline with “Who Else Wants…” is a classic social proof strategy that implies an already existing consensus desire. Think Who Else Wants a Great Blog Design or Who Else Wants a Higher Paying Job?

3. [Do Something] like [world-class example]

Gatorade milked this one to the last drop with the “Be Like Mike” campaign featuring Michael Jordan in the early ’90s. Think Speak Spanish Like a Diplomat or Put On a Conference Like Brett Tabke. Aw. :)

4. Give me [short period of time] and I’ll Give You [blank]

The headline is especially effective because it promises to deliver a benefit in a very short time period in exchange for attention. Think Give Me Five Days — And You’ll Have the Secret To Learning Anything Really Fast

5. Do You Recognize the [number] Early Warning Signs of [blank]

People want to avoid problems, and this headline promises the critical tips before it’s too late. Think Do You Recognize the 7 Early Warning Signs of High Blood Pressure.

6. You Don’t Have to Be [something challenging] to be [desired result]

People have preconceived notions that need to be removed before they can reach a desired result. You need to know your audience and how to talk to them. You need to understand their hot buttons and triggers. Think You Don’t Have to Be A Geek to Make Money Online.

7. Do You Make These Mistakes?

This is always a powerful attention grabber, since no one likes to make mistakes, and the specific use of “these” ups the curiosity factor. Think Do You Make These Mistakes in English.

People don’t want to be seen as dumb. Identify unique and interesting mistakes in your content.

8.What Everybody Ought to Know About [blank]

Big curiosity draw with this type of headline, and it acts almost as a challenge to the reader to go ahead and see if they are missing something. It’s what you say in the [blank] that matters. Think What Everyone Ought to Know About Cancer.

9. Little Known Ways to [blank]

A more intriguing (and less common) way of accomplishing the same thing as “The Secret of….” headline. It’s the opposite of the last headline. Think Little known Ways to Save On Your Heating Bill

10. Warning: [blank]

Starting a headline with the word “warning” will almost always catch attention, but it’s what you say next that will determine how well it works for your particular content. Think Warning: If you depend on Google for both traffic and advertising, you pretty much work for Google.

Question & Answer

Can you talk a little bit about writing sub-headings?

Headlines, sub-heads and bullet points are essentially the same thing. They’re all designed to keep the momentum and engagement. Using smart sub-heads can bring people into sections instead of skimming right by them. Sub-heads help get better retention . Bullet points

Can you walk us through your headline writing process?

He’s not sure there is a process anymore. It’s just like any kind of writing. The more you do it, the better you’ll get it. [That’s a lie. I’ve written hundreds of headlines and I still suck the same level of suck.]

What about controversial headlines?

Even the promise of controversy is a promise of something. The blogosphere uses controversy too much.

You lead in cap every word in the headline, how is that for readability? Are sentences better?

He doesn’t follow the rules. To him, it’s all about how it looks on the page. He always does beginning initial cap.

If you use questions as your headline, does that put something in a more introspective mood?

It depends. It gets down to the structure of your content or sales page. Some journalists say you should never ask a question. That’s wrong. You should never ask a question that someone can answer without reading the article or looking further. It shouldn’t be a “yes” or “no”. Ask questions that are unanswerable without your content.

Do you start with a headline first or do it after?

A lot of people who are traditional advertising copywriters will start with the headline. They’ll spend days on a headline because they know it’ll make or break what they’re going to do. Once you get someone going, they’re more likely to keep going.

For him, he starts off with the promise of what he’s going to deliver and then he tries to make that as compelling as possible. With other people’s work, he can’t do that.

Where do you put the call to action in copy? At the beginning? Throughout?

As far down as necessary. You have to make your case first. And then slip in the call to action.


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