An Introduction to Crafting Headlines

Thu, Sep 17, 2009

Copywriting, Testing / Optimization

The headline of your ad or your blog article is the first thing your prospect will read. A well-crafted headline will draw the attention of readers and make them want to engage with the rest of the text. On the other hand, a boring and unappealing headline will cause the reader to leave your webpage seconds after opening it.

From personal experience, I can state that creating good headlines is no easy task. Large Internet marketing firms hire the services of professional web copywriters and pay them thousands of dollars just to have them write sales pages with headlines that produce good conversion rates. When you’re just beginning to explore the field of Internet marketing you’re probably not going to have that kind of money to throw around—but don’t despair! You can create stimulating, motivating headlines yourself, without too much training or effort. In this article I will give you a list of the headline-crafting rules that professional web copywriters follow.

The most common approaches to writing headlines

The direct approach

Just state in your headline, succinctly, what the rest of the article is about. For example, if you are offering a discount for an e-book on blog creation, your headline might read “Only for Today: Blogging Guru E-book at 30% off”. (For another example, see the headline of this article. ;>)

The indirect approach

This approach requires more creativity. You may wish to make a play on words to intrigue the reader enough to continue. For example, a headline such as “Sleep Soundly Tonight” may lead your reader to assume that you are going to talk about food, herbs, or some special pillow, when your product is actually software to protect one’s website from DDoS attacks.

The newsy approach

The news headline is similar to a direct headline in that both are direct and to the point. The main difference is that the former is used to reference events or products featured in the article in a “breaking news” sort of style. “Microsoft Internet Explorer 8: Latest Updates Cause Headaches for IT Industry” as a headline for an article promoting software which enforces CSS cross-compatibility is an example of this style of headline.

The how-to approach

The how-to approach to headline creation is another kind of “direct” headline style. It is often as simple as beginning the headline with “How To,” and following it with the features or benefits of reading the article/ buying the product. This approach is used by many copywriters and is believed to be one of the most effective kinds of headlines. A good example of this style of headline might be “How To Lose 10 Pounds in 10 Days.”

The questioning approach

In order to capture the attention of the reader, you can use a question in your headline. This will encourage your prospect to discover the answer by reading the rest of the article. For example, the headline “Do You Really Need to Hire an Expensive Copywriter?” will encourage a person to read on to find out what other options are available to them.

Another way of using questions in your headline is to make the headline a rhetorical question that the reader will most certainly say “yes” to. A good example is “Do You Want to Earn Five-Figures Monthly through Affiliate Marketing?”

The “reasons” approach

This is usually used if you have an article that uses a list to format its content. For example, the headline “Ten Reasons Why WordPress is Better than Blogger” will encourage surfers to read the whole of your article.

The command approach

This uses neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) techniques that attempt to plant in a reader’s mind what you would like him or her to do. By saying “Grab this Limited Time Offer Today,” the reader will be compelled to find out what the offer is about and hopefully make it more likely that they will purchase your product.

The testimonial approach

Name-dropping isn’t only a way to attempt to boost your social status, it’s also useful in online marketing. If someone reads the headline “I wish I had this product when I was just starting – [name of a well-known Internet marketing Guru goes here]” readers will surely want to know why this guru endorses your product, and will be impressed by the fact that he or she does. You should at least manage to grab the reader’s attention so you can continue to promote the product–the guru’s testimonial might even be enough to convince your prospect to buy your product outright.

Common pitfalls of headline creation.

Do not be ambiguous.

While wordplay is sometimes effective in headlines, make sure that subsequent statements quickly clarify what the customer is getting. Remember that you only have a few seconds to grab the reader’s attention. If you confuse your readers during those few seconds, they will leave.

Sell the benefit, not the feature.

Every good salesperson knows this rule. It’s a rule that also holds true for crafting a headline that sells. Since you do not have an actual salesperson online, your webpage acts as your salesperson. Instead of saying something like “Do you want to learn ad copywriting?” in a headline (speaking to a feature) it is better to say something more like “Do you want to save thousands of dollars on ad copywriting fees?” (speaking to a benefit.)

Use the right keywords.

For anything you’re pushing there is likely a number of other people out there online who are selling similar products. To give your headline the best chance of pushing your sales page to the first page of the search engines, be sure to sprinkle your headline with relevant keywords.


Professional copywriters hone their craft by continuously writing copy, testing the copy, saving what works and throwing out what doesn’t. While you may not be a professional copywriter (yet!), you can write your own ads by observing how the experts do it, and learning from their examples.

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17 Responses to “An Introduction to Crafting Headlines”

  1. Ben Waugh Says:

    I discovered your homepage by coincidence.
    Very interesting posts and well written.
    I will put your site on my blogroll. :-)

    Reply

  2. Money-Era Says:

    Please remember, that for blogging, the title of an article is your primary SEO tool. If you focus on your site promotion, think also in terms of positioning your site, not only the article itself.
    There are some plugins that hide parts of the title, but they ‘stay visible’ for Google (and appear in search results, too).
    .-= Money-Era´s last blog ..How much does 1 million e-mail addresses cost? =-.

    Reply

  3. Blogosh Says:

    Hey, these approaches are really helpful. In my case, I frequently used name dropping approach or the testimonial types. And so far, I’m getting quite a lot of followers of my blog. Thanks for sharing this.

    Reply

  4. GoBusiness101 Says:

    very well said! nice blog! congrats

    Reply

  5. Nhoel Says:

    VERY VERY INFORMATIVE.
    I NEVER THOUGHT THAT CREATING HEADLINE WILL BE THIS COMPLEX.
    NICE THOUGHTS…

    thanks,
    -Nhoel of http://keywordspeak.com
    .-= Nhoel´s last blog ..10 Most Common Grammar Mistakes =-.

    Reply

  6. Josh Zehtabchi Says:

    And Also don’t forget the SEO importance of the H1, H2 and H3 headings.

    Also, there should always be a call to action – I also read that giving a list or number such as “the top 5 things you can do to lose weight before the summer….”

    Just my two cents! Good post, though!
    .-= Josh Zehtabchi´s last blog ..About V2interactive: =-.

    Reply

  7. Ready Says:

    Using the right keywords really help. In my case, I don’t forget to use metatags.

    Reply

  8. Guess Says:

    These approaches are really hepful my man. I have to use it all for variety. Thanks for sharing them.

    Reply

  9. Homey Says:

    Only got a few seconds to grab the reader’s attention? Then do the direct approach. Readers want to know the topic of the post right away. Go get straight to the point.

    Reply

  10. Positive Says:

    The testimonial approach works best on me. So long as famous people or better yet credible are testifying!

    Reply

  11. David Says:

    Thanks much for sharing these approaches. I’d definitely use them. I would think reasons approach will be often used.

    Reply

  12. Aquino Says:

    I’d fall for the command approach! Love it when you command your readers!

    Reply

  13. Sam Diener Says:

    Great article. I wrote an article like this a while back for Dan Schawbel’s “Personal Brabding Blog” a while back. Yours definately puts.a creative and different spin on this idea. I think mine was called “Personal Branding: Your Content Doesn’t Matter!”. Keep up the good work.

    Reply

  14. Sally Tallis Says:

    I’m fascinated by the diverse range of views and opinions. Who’s your “go to” guy?

    Reply

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Making a Web Copy Blueprint | Adventory Blog - 19. Nov, 2009

    [...] For more hints and tips about crafting headlines check out our article devoted to the topic from September, “An Introduction to Crafting Headlines”. [...]

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