Headline Writing Guide

Copywriting is an essential part of the marketing process. There is a lot of competition out there for freelance copywriters, so how do you make yourself a cut above the rest?

Well, there are several things you need to know about writing good copy that will encourage clients to buy into your products or services. But before they even start reading your text, you need to get them interested in the ad.

This article will explore several factors that are important to consider when copywriting, particularly when it comes to catching customers’ eyes and encouraging them to read on. You can do this improving your headline writing.

People nowadays are bombarded with information in the form of articles, with advertorials and marketing slotted in between. This constant flow of information can easily make your ad fade into the background, but not if you know how to grab the audience’s attention.

The first impression

Even a strong advert won’t perform well if it has a weak first impression. The audience filters out all the information they are seeing by selecting which parts to read and which parts aren’t important. How do they do this? By looking at the visuals and the headlines, or whichever bit stands out most depending on the medium.

In a magazine, for example, the headline and visuals matter most; on a website, it’s the homepage; in an e-mail, it’s the subject line. In essence, you need to be familiar with which marketing technique you are using, and how to best exploit this medium.

The body text is nothing without achieving a good first impression, because people simply won’t bother to read on.

The headline writing

On the subject of headlines, you need to know what makes a good one. A lot of copywriters opt for ‘cliché’ headlines, making use of puns and humor to catch attention. However, the reality of sales is that people want to be sure about the merchandise, not entertained by the salesperson.

This calls for a headline writing that promises the reader some kind of benefit. “How to” headlines or ones that ask questions are likely to engage readers. For example, in Marketingprofs.com used this headline time ago: Do You Know the Secret of World-Class Sales Organizations? It is great because readers are promised the reward of learning this secret if they read the article.

Functions of headlines

Headlines can be used to:

  • Get attention
  • Select the audience
  • Deliver a message
  • Draw the reader in

Stimulating, fun headlines are all well and good, but they’re useless if they’re irrelevant. Without a benefit, potential customers will avoid the ad and you’ll make no sales.

Headlines should also select the audience in some way. Obviously, certain products are marketed at a specific demographic, and this should come across in the headline. For example, selling Spanish courses in China does not require an ad that appeals to Spanish expats; even when they could be interested in the content, they are not going to hire the services!

Research has shown that four out of five readers skip the ad after reading the headline. For this reason, some authors say it can be useful to deliver the whole message right there in the headline. Try including the company name and selling promise in the headline; this might make you some sales without people even bothering to read the copy.

But the Internet is different. Most of search engines take into consideration the CTR = the proportion of people that click to visit your article when they see your headline. The most clicks you get, the best ranking you get. So for the Internet while having a promise is great, having all the information may be counterproductive.

Many products and, in particular, services, require a lot of information to be given before the reader is convinced. Therefore, the headline must get the reader’s interest so that he or she is willing to read on a little more. In this case, less is more – leave the reader wanting to know more, leave them a little curious. This way, they will be encouraged to read on.

For example, when writing copy in Spanish, it is a good way to use words like este, esta, estos, estas (meaning this, these) because they make the insights that are supposed to be found in the copy more specific. A reader can live without knowing the solution of the problem, but they for sure will want to know which is “this” specific solution you talk about. It enhances curiosity.

Types of Headlines

If you know anything about marketing, you’ll know that staying ahead of the game requires originality and variation. That said, when it comes to headline writing, it also means sticking to things that work. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! Below are several different formulas identified by Bob Bly (by the way I highly recommend his books) for headline writing that are proven to work.

Direct Headlines

These state things without any ambiguity. Direct headlines tell the reader exactly what they’re getting, straight to the point without any wordplay. Retailers usually use these to announce sales and offers.

Indirect Headlines

These make the point in a not-so-direct way. Remember talking about piquing interest? These are the headlines that raise curiosity and encourage the reader to find out more. Sometimes, they use things like double meaning that force the reader to engage with the body text in order to find out the real meaning.

News Headlines

Words like “new”, “introducing” and “discovery” deliver an announcement about the product. Readers know that the product is new or updated, and this obviously encourages sales. Consumers always want to get their hands on the latest stuff, which is why news headlines work.

How-to Headlines

This is one of the most followed tips of headline writing. So many ad headlines start with “how to”, and there’s a reason for that – it works. They offer a quick fix for whatever problem your demographic is facing, which is why this is the default formula for many marketers.

Question Headlines

Once again, question headlines incite curiosity in the reader, willing them to read on with the hidden promise of finding an answer to that question.

Command Headlines

These utilise Call to Action (CTA) phrases that are oh-so-useful for marketers. Imperatives can easily encourage readers to follow your command and, as a result, buy the product.

Reasons Why Headlines

These headlines include a number, such as “4 ways to,” “12 reasons why”, or something to that effect. They tell the audience exactly what they’re going to get in the copy, which can be an effective technique to get them to read on.

Testimonial Headlines

Nothing makes a sale like evidence that the product works. Putting the headline in quotation marks indicates that it is testimonial evidence backing up the product, which definitely gives the reader more incentive.

Switching between different types is enough variation in the copywriting world. That said, never be afraid to try other techniques if you’re comfortable enough to take a risk and see if it pays off.

Copywriting Headline Templates That Work

Sometimes, it can be hard to know what works, especially when you’re just getting started out. Here, I will give you some classic headline templates that you can steal and mould to fit your work; these are guaranteed to work!

What You Need to Create a Headline

Before we get started with some classic templates, there is some information you need to compile. The templates are very simple and easy to adapt, with certain information stripped out for you to fill in. It’s like a fill in the blanks game, only one that will earn you money if you use it right.

As a copywriter, you should already know the information below, but it is worth knowing what information you need to be thinking about when writing a headline.

Make note of the following details:

  • Product name
  • Target market
  • Benefits of the product
  • Possible objections
  • The time required to get results
  • Negatives about other products

These are, of course, not the only things you can include in a headline, but they are very good starting points.

Headline Tips and Tricks

Writing a headline is important for various types of copywriting. Technically, the tag line of an email functions as a headline, because it needs to reel the reader in in the same kind of way. The templates we give you below can be used for either text headlines or e-mail subjects.

There are many ways to write a headline. You can open with facts, be straightforward and to the point, write a little story (e.g. “They used Pinterest to plan a dream trip” from the Pinterest website), talk directly to the reader…

The possibilities are endless, because writing a headline requires the same flair and writing expertise as anything else. Don’t let my templates make you feel like to have to write rigid headlines every time – have fun with it. Nevertheless, if you’re completely stuck then check out these ideas.

Catchy Headlines Examples

Here you have some examples to write catchy headlines. Remember that since you will likely write for websites, you also need to keep them short, so that they can be included in the search engine results.

  1. Advice to [target market] who want [results]
  2. How I improved [problem] without [objection] in just [time]
  3. The product that is guaranteed to [result] without [objection]
  4. [Number] proven ways to get [results] and [benefits]
  5. Why some [target market] always get results
  6. For just [cost] you can get [results] and [benefits] in [time]
  7. How to [results] in just [time]
  8. The secret that [industry] experts don’t want you to know
  9. Get [result] and [benefit] now for less
  10. [Number] ways to boost your [result] without spending more

Final Thoughts

Copywriting requires a good grasp of how to write hard-hitting headlines that work. As with any marketing technique, this requires a little trial and error as you grow as a copywriter. Try using the above formulas and keep in mind the function of headlines to make sure that your copy grabs attention from the get go.

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