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How To Write Headlines That Sell

Your headline is the first opportunity to capture a prospective buyer. After recently reading Brian Clark’s comments about headlines I decided to add my $.02 and make this the second part in my Copywriting 101 series.

According to David Ogilvy, your prospects will generally spend 6 seconds deciding if they want to read your ad or not. Those 6 seconds are spent reading the headline and will determine if the reader makes it to the body copy, and ultimately to conversion.

For this reason, a great headline must serve at least 4 purposes:

  1. Get attention. Your headline must capture attention. 75% of Ads in the Sunday newspaper are skipped because they don’t grab the reader’s attention.
  2. Select the audience. A great headline should call out to a very specific audience. If you’re selling life insurance to people older than 65, there’s no sense in generating inquiries from young people. In the same way, an ad for a $55,000 sports car should shout out “This is for rich people only!”.
  3. Deliver a complete message. According to David Ogilvy, 4 out of 5 people will read a headline and skip the rest of the ad completely. If this is true, it pays to make a complete statement in your headline. That way your headline can do some selling to the 80 of readers who read headlines only.
  4. Draw the reader into the body copy. Most prospects require a lot of information before they make a purchase. That information appears in the body copy, and for the ad to be effective, the headline must compel your prospect to read this copy.

Beyond these 4 functions, your headline must promise something to the reader that’s valuable enough for them to take the time to read your ad and more importantly, deliver on that promise.

In one of my favorite books The Copywriter’s Handbook, copywriting extraordinaire Robert Bly sets forth eight additional time-tested headline categories that compel action and rake in sales:

  1. Direct Headlines go straight to the point with no hidden meanings or wordplay. Bly gives an example of Pure Silk Blouses - 30 Percent Off as an example that states the selling proposition directly. A direct blog post title might read Free 14 Steps to Internet Marketing eBook.
  2. Indirect Headlines make the point in a roundabout way and arouse the reader’s curiosity. Double-meanings are often used to raise a question in the reader’s mind that’s answered in the body copy. Ten Million To One - We Can Mix It is an example that initially reads like a wager. After reading the body copy you’ll discover that it’s an ad for a chemical company illustrating their ability to mix two chemicals.
  3. A News Headline is one that announces news in capturing the reader’s attention. A new product, feature, or enhancement could all make compelling news headlines. Introducing The First Ever Organic Lawn Care Formula With Bacteria-Eating Enzymes!
  4. A How To Headline is the flagship headline for advertisements because it works like magic. According to Bly more than 7,000 books in print have the words how to in their titles. Many advertising writers believe that if you start a headline with the words how to, that you can’t write a bad headline. Want an example? See the title of this post.
  5. A Question Headline poses a question that arouses the curiosity of your reader and lures them into the body copy for the answer. A famous example written bythe great ad man Claude Hopkins reads Do You Make These Mistakes In English?
  6. A Command Headline gives your reader a direct order. Generally, the first word in a command headline should be a strong verb commanding your prospect to do something like Subscribe to My Newsletter Today!
  7. A Reason Why Headline is a good choice is your body copy consists of an ordered list of product features or tips which you then incorporate into the headline. An example might read 200 Reasons to Subscribe to My Newsletter Immediately.
  8. Finally, a Testimonial Headline can be highly effective because it proves to your reader that you’re offering a quality product or service. With a testimonial headline, you let your customers do the selling for you. Make sure to use a natural conversational tone to add to the believability of your testimonial headlines and try not to change your customer’s original words. An example might be “I Read Justin Schultz’s Blog Every Morning,” admits John Scott.