Great Copywriters Write Great Headlines

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You might be a terrific copywriter, but if you can’t write great headlines, no one is ever going to know. Why? Because it is a headline that stands out that leads to content being read. Boring headlines that blend are almost always skimmed over, whereas great headlines get the reader’s attention, and they stop to find out more by reading the content.

Think about this for a minute. Which of these are you more likely to read?

  • Man jumps from 20 storey building.”
  • Man launches himself from a 20 storey building and survives through ingenuity.”

The second one right? That’s because the first headline is boring and mundane. There’s nothing that makes you want to read further, whereas the second heading grabs your attention – he launches himself – what does that mean? And ingenuity – what does he do to survive – you want to know.

This isn’t news – those who have been writing sales copy have long known the power of a heading and that making their heading work for them was tied directly to the success of the sales copy. This applies to all writing actually. Give it a good heading and the reader will appear.

One technique to making a good headline is to use keywords in the heading that are relevant to what the content will be about. That will help your writing place better in the search engines and that means readers interested in your specific topic will have a much easier time finding what you have written.

You can be an amazing copywriter but if your writing is not placing well in the search engines, no one is going to be able to find you and so your writing will not get read. That’s definitely not what you want to happen. So not ony should you tweak that headline with your keyword, make sure you have about a 2% keyword density throughout your content to help you place well in the search engines.

While our example used an overly long headline, it is actually best if you can keep your headline on the shorter side. That’s because shorter headlines are easier to read and easier to grasp, especially online where readers are spending most of their time skimming and spot reading.

But you might be asking what does a solid headline look like? As it turns out, John Caples (one of the most famous copyrighters of all time) put together a list of 35 headline formulas in his eternal classic Tested Advertising Methods, which was first published in 1932. The principles he laid down and the formulas he created then are relevant and valid even today.

The man, who wrote what may be the best known, most-quoted ad of all time, They laughed when I Sat Down at the Piano, But When I Started to Play!, created 35 formulas for writing headlines that grab and sustain attention.

  1. Begin your headline with the words How To (How To Get A Better Position)
  2. Begin your Headline with the word How (How This New Invention is Revolutionizing the Concrete Construction)
  3. Begin your Headline with the word Why (Why Your Feet Hurt?)
  4. Begin your Headline with the word Which (Which is the Best Battery Value For Your Car?)
  5. Begin your Headline with the words Who Else (Who Else Has Hair That Won’t Stay Combed?)
  6. Begin your Headline with the word Wanted (Wanted. A Few Good Men. This has been the recruiting slogan for the US Marines for many years)
  7. Begin your Headline with the word This (This is the Quietest Dishwasher in America)
  8. Begin your Headline with the word Because (Because Your Pet’s Quality of Life is Important to You)
  9. Begin your Headline with the word If (If You Savor Growth and Security, We Give an EDGE)
  10. Begin your Headline with the word Advice (Advice to Brides)
  • Headlines that focus on Benefits
  1. Use a Testimonial Headline (Why I Cried After The Ceremony)
  2. Offer the Reader a Test (Can Your Kitchen Pass the Guest Test?)
  3. Offer Information in Value (Straight Facts on When to Take Profits)
  4. Tell a Story (They Laughed When I Sat Down at the Piano)
  5. Warn the Reader to Delay Buying (Don’t Buy Car Insurance Until You Have Read These Facts)
  6. Let the Advertiser Speak Directly to the Reader. Write the entire ad in the first person and speak directly to the reader. (I’ll Train You At Home For a Good Job in Computer Programming)
  7. Address Your Headline to Specific Person or Group. Address your target group. (We Take Heart Cases Other Hospitals Won’t)
  8. Have Your Headline Ask a Question (What Good Are Frequent Flyer Programs If the Miles Take Off Before You Do)
  9. Offer Benefits Through Facts and Figures (Because We Recycle Over 100 Million Plastic Bottles A Year, Landfills Can be Filled With Other Things. Like Land, For Instance)
  • News Headlines
  1. Begin Your Headline with the Word Introducing. (Introducing the All New Ford Taurus)
  2. Begin Your Headline with the Word Announcing. (An Important Announcement to Homeowners)
  3. Use Words that Have an Announcement Quality such as Finally, Presenting, Just Released, etc. (Presenting the New 36” Ballerina Doll)
  4. Begin Your Headline With the Word New (New Method of Keeping Your Personal Finance)
  5. Begin Your Headline With theWord Now ( Now in Paperback)
  6. Begin Your Headline With the Word At Last (At Last! A Steam Iron with a ‘Magic Brain’)
  7. Put a Date Into Your Headline (You Can Speak French by October 15)
  8. Write Your Headline in News Style (Better Hearing is Suddenly Here!)
  • Price Related Headlines
  1. Feature the Price in Your Headline (Killer $500 CD Player!)
  2. Feature Reduced Price (Less than Half Price….Stainless Steel Kitchen Sets)
  3. Feature a Special Merchandising Offer (30-Day Supply of Vitamins for $2.65)
  4. Feature an Easy Payment Plan (No Money Down… Easy Payments When You Buy Cyclone Fence)
  5. Feature a Free Offer (Free Trial Lesson)
  • One to Three Word Headlines
  1. Use a One Word Headline. Advertisers, who run small ads are sometimes able to find a single word that can serve as a headline. (Corns)
  2. Use a Two Word Headline (Diaper Rash)
  3. Use a Three Word Headline (Burn Fat Faster)

Follow this final advice of Caples on headlines: Remember, if you create a good, attention-grabbing headline, your task is more than half completed. It will be relatively easy matter to write the copy. On the other hand, if you use a poor headline, it doesn’t matter how hard you labor on your copy, because it won’t be read.

A career as a copywriter can be very rewarding, and pay well, but the competition is high so you are going to need to be ‘the best of the best.’ Remember it all begins with a good headline – well at least that’s a good place to start.

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