How to write copywriting headlines that are
strictly designed to sell stuff.
A lot of this stuff is pretty counterintuitive, so listen up:
What Are “Headlines” and Why Are They So Important?
Take a famous ad, and look at it with your eyes blurry. That’s essentially how people see your advertisements.
Most people are not paying that much attention.
Those commercials for Dial soap, those magazine ads for Ford trucks, those Facebook ads for student loans……..these are things most normal people don’t spend a huge amount of time looking at.
The job of a headline is to get people sucked into your ad/article in the first place. For example, look at this brilliant envelope from the archives of my Swipe File.
A normal envelope would probably just go into the trash bin…..but the headline emblazoned across this envelope would probably make most people at LEAST a tad bit curious to open it:
(the most opened envelope for Boardroom Reports for 3+ years)
The famous copywriter Joseph Sugarman would always say the job of a headline was to act like “A slippery slope” in which the person would be:
- 1st sucked in by the headline
- ….then sucked in by the 2nd line
- ……..then sucked in by the 3rd line
- …………and so forth.
Your headline should be at the top of the slide like this:
The typical format of a lot articles that follow the slippery slope is like this:
1.) A nice big headline.
2.) A relevant image.
3.) The copy.
Headlines aren’t just for copywriters. Here’s How You Validate Product Ideas with Only A Headline:
A whole bunch of people think product headlines are JUST the domain of nerdy copywriters.
Oh no no no.
The Business Bro that “wants to do a startup” better get damn good at headlines also, because you can avoid lots of failed ideas BEFORE EVER BUILDING ANYTHING simply by seeing how people react to the “headline” of what you’re building.
One of the main creators of PayPal, Elon Musk, talks about how the initial idea of PayPal didn’t actually catch on very well. Every time he would tell someone about it, they wouldn’t get excited:
But then they stumbled upon a small feature within PayPal (which Elon said was like the EASIEST feature they built), and it started taking off: “Sending money to an email address!”
In 1999 “sending money to an email address” super resonated with people, and till this day that’s what PayPal is known for:
So by paying attention to what “headline” people resonate with, they could move the company more in that direction.
So being able to formulate a nice little headline can have a huge impact on what business you create!
Copywriting Headline Examples:
Let’s take a peek at some of the famous and kind of “cliche” ads with great headlines that sucked people in.
Here’s a famous ad by John Caples in the 1920’s that did extraordinarily well. The combination of headline and picture immediately draw someone in. If someone was THINKING about playing the piano, this would be a hella interesting ad!
(The famous John Caples ad)
This is a more modern example of a web landing page for a product called Zero To Launch by Ramit Sethi. Right off the bat there’s a pretty damn powerful headline that sucks you in.
If you felt “trapped” by your job, then this headline will sure as hell trigger an instant reaction. Watch how the first part of the page leads you “down the slippery slope” and gets you curious to see the rest of the page. A masterful piece I must say:
Personal Sounding Headline Examples from Kopywriting Kourse email list
The emails I personally write to my email list are often extremely personal sounding. Whilst the emails go out to 17,000+ people, I try to write them in a tone where it seems the email is coming directly from me, ONLY to them.
For this reason I use “Personal Sounding Subject Lines” for my emails. This means I write the subject just like I’m sending it to a a close friend.
This is a list of 125 emails that went out within the last 6 months, and their corresponding open rates. All the case-sensitivity has been retained, and you’ll notice I frequently don’t capitalize some words so they appear more personal:
Out of the 11 headlines that made it over a 30% open rate, pretty much all 11 of them have an extremely “personal sounding” tone for the subject line.
A friend of mine who has been on my email list for years tells me, “Sometimes I’ll be reading an email from you for a while before I realize it’s not ONLY to me!”
Here’s some examples of how my email appear in the inbox with these personal sounding subject lines and copy:
Basically if your email copy is very personal sounding, it’s not a huge leap to think the subject line should also be personal sounding.
I’ve personally had a lot of success using “Personal Sounding” subject lines for emails in particular.
Writing Headlines That Sell & Get Results
It’s important to remember what the ULTIMATE job of our headline is:
The headline is there to SELL. Everything in your copy should be there to sell. And the key to a good sales headline is:
Headlines that SELL are relevant.
A lot of people will try stuff like trying to get people to click no matter what, like this:
Yeah yeah yeah……I bet like 90% of the people who see this will be tempted to click that damn button……but in the end it’s a gimmick, not a selling tactic.
Why is it just a gimmick?
Because it isn’t relevant.
If you are selling something, ESPECIALLY if you are paying for an ad, you only want to attract quality people who are interested in buying whatchya have to offer.
By putting out one of those classic “Do Not Press” advertisements out there, you are potentially throwing away hella money on crappy clicks.
Making an ad relevant isn’t hard at all. What if we wanted to make that “Do Not Push” ad relevant? It would only require a few words to be added:
You see, this ad might get few OVERALL clicks, but it will get a more specific person who is only interested in folding bikes.
So the headline is already working for us in that it’s attracting ONLY the right customers.
Ads that sell might unapologetically drive away non-qualified buyers.
Back in the early days of internet you would have to use the “Spray and Pray” method of reaching people. But nowadays you advertise to specific groups of people with shocking accuracy, so people no longer have to do tricky clicks like this.
So now let’s get into different methods of conjuring up great headlines:
The “Brain Dump” method to writing headlines
You’re gonna make a couple of subject lines and start filling them in. At first your subject lines (or headlines….whatever) will suck. That’s ok. That’s what PRACTICING is for.
Checkout how I wrote some headlines for this article:
I just made a blank list like this:
Subject 1: s
Subject 2: s
Subject 3: s
Subject 4: s
Subject 5: s
Then we started filling them in with just a stream-of-conscious:
Subject 1: How to write headlines (sucky)
Subject 2: How to write headlines that sell (alright)
Subject 3: How these 2 weird headlines sell $10,000,000 of product every year (whoa!)
Subject 4: Use this headline to (possibly) double your sales (not horrible)
Subject 5: My all-time highest selling headline (good)
See how they go through varying degrees of greatness? Some of these practice headlines suck, some of them are super attractive.
Unfortunately these posts are just pure speculation until they are TESTED. That’s what we’re covering next…..
The “Steal from Amazon” method to writing headlines:
Lookout Jeff Bezos, we’re about to rob you…..FOR HEADLINE IDEAS!
Us copywriters are a lazy-ass group. We sit on a computer all day and move our fingers across a keyboard. Not a very athletic activity eh? And since we’re such lazy asses, we like shortcuts. And using Amazon is a great one:
There’s literally millions of reviews on Amazon (good and bad) that are up-voted and down-voted by other Amazon users everyday. Fortunately for us, this means we can look at similar products to ours, and figure out what got up-voted by the most amount of people.
From this we can extrapolate our own headlines that are “proven by the masses” already!
For example, let’s say I wanted to figure out some good headlines for SEO (Search Engine Optimization) services I have. Or an SEO course. Or an SEO product. Whatever.
The first step is to slap the term “SEO” into Amazon and see what comes up:
I like browsing through the customer reviews (they’re all over the page), and watching the language people use to describe the book in either a GOOD manner or a BAD manner:
The real power however is finding the most socially up-voted reviews for the product.
Sometimes these are just reviews that fawn over the author, so they’re not that helpful. But what I like the most is these little quote-bubbles that Amazon extracts from some of the best reviews, check it out:
Now from those we can DEFINITELY steal get some gold from those!!
Extrapolating from those quotes I can pretty instantly think up some new headlines (or product angles) I want to promote:
“This book outlines everything you need to know about SEO.”
Headlines we can make out of this snippet:
- Everything you need to know about SEO, in one book.
- Get everything about SEO in one book.
- All the SEO knowledge is crammed into this one book.
- The ultimate SEO book.
- The only SEO book you will ever need.
“If you are new to SEO, it will take time and study to implement the information. But if you follow even some of the steps you should see results fairly quickly.
Headlines we can make out of this snippet:
- SEO is hard. Follow this book step-by-step and you’ll see results quickly.
- Follow this book step-by-step and get to the first page of Google.
- Getting to the first page of Google is hard, but not if you follow this guide.
- Step-by-step instructions to boost your blog’s SEO.
- 7 step system to make sure you’re SEO’d properly.
“It is a very well written book, easy to understand for non-technical people.”
Headlines we can make out of this snippet:
- This book is easy to understand for non-technical people.
- The SEO guide for non-technical people.
- SEO for non-technical people.
- SEO for people who aren’t “computer people”
- The best SEO guide for non-nerds.
The “Socially Proven” method to writing headlines:
Let’s say we just downed a full Papa John’s pizza, have a tummy ache, and don’t feel like being creative. What’s the easiest way to come up with a proven-to-be-clickable headline??
Just browse social sites for some awesome headlines!
Lets say we’re trying to sell leather wallets and we need some good headlines that have been socially proven to be “grabby”.
We’re gonna hit up 3 different sites for this exercise:
Using Digg.com for interesting headlines:
Some of these headlines are actually pretty good.
Using Quora.com for interesting headlines:
Hmmm……the results on this Quora search didn’t really garner anything really mind blowing. Those two headlines can make decent articles, but that’s all we got.
Using Reddit.com for interesting headlines:
Wow!! A gold mine of great angles on a leather wallet!
These articles have been socially proven by being up-voted so many times, so you can have a higher confidence than the headline and article are very interesting.
This is exercise for finding socially proven headlines works even better if you type in more popular topics like “SEO” or “Social Media Marketing” or “Programming”.
Writing Headlines Through “Lenses”
Watch this video (of yours truly hopped up on Red Bull) and it’ll explain how to create headlines that appeal to specific audiences.
Cool way to think about writing headlines eh?
(This is a totally random side note, but if you wanna see how many edits I made in Camtasia to make the above video, click to enlarge):
Here’s a breakdown of the lenses:
Imagine you’re hopped up on caffeine and writing to a guy who has way to much muscle for his height. That’s the tone you want to convey when writing through the “Competitive” Lens:
- Beat the competition!
- A-type personalities!
You will be coming up with headlines that show dominance and power over their peers:
- “Beat the HELL out of your friends on your next round of golf”
- “Dominate the search results, and leave Page 2 of Google for your competitors”
- “There’s a losing team, and a winning team. Which do YOU want to be on?”
I personally enjoy writing in this tone because it’s fun. I will say this attitude will appeal more towards men than women (about 80% men and 20% women in my experience).
“Benefit Driven” Lens:
Just show them what they get by using your product. Pretty straightforward form of messaging. Will appeal to:
- Analytical people
- Rational-minded people
- Methodical people
You can use a lot of statistics, testimonials, or feature comparisons.
This Lens is helpful to wear when selling a software product. It’s usually just best to SHOW them the benefits the software or service will provide for them.
- “81% faster than any other WordPress host”
- “Use InfusionSoft and it will handle your entire sales funnel”
- “By viewing your page as a heat map, you can instantly tell what your customers are clicking”
“You can do this too!”
With the “Inspirational” Lens you want to show what’s possible for someone if they buy your product:
- “Even non-computer nerds can have a WordPress site with zero technical knowledge”
- “You can write headlines like a professional copywriting in the KopywritingKourse“
- “Get the job of your dreams delivered to your email inbox”
You can also share a personal story of yours or someone else, as people will learn by analogy and think, “I could do this too!”
Now lets move onto some formulas…….
Copywriting Headline Formulas
Sometimes you need a little “assistance” to get your brain juice going. These formulas will jog your brain in the right direction. FYI these are examples taken directly out of my KopywritingKourse:
[End result they want] + [Time period] + [Address the objections]
- [How to make amazing tacos] + [In 10 minutes] + [For under 5 bucks]
- [Make a landing page] + [By tonight] + [With zero experience]
- [Increase walk-in traffic to your restaurant] + [This month] + [Without paying for advertising]
But formulas can be BROKEN or SHIFTED!! Let’s be bad little monkeys and change the formula to something like this:
[Take this action] + [Specific Time Period] + [End Result]
- [Consult with me] + [For 1 hour] + [And I’ll improve your eCommerce site sales]
- [Talk to just 3 of your customers] + [For 5 minutes] + [To laser-target your sales pitch]
- [Put this liquid in your fish tank] + [Wait 1 hour] + [And you’ll never have to clean it again]
I want to pause here a moment to tell you something about headline formulas:
I like the idea of them, but I rarely use them.
Headline formulas are great for coming up with headlines every once in a while, but if you get TOO formulaic when creating content, it doesn’t come out great.
Don’t become a robot that writes articles only constricted to a formula. Use that human brain of yours and think outside the box!
….but if you wanna get the creative juices flowing, checkout these headline templates:
Copywriting Headline Templates
Using a formula to make a headline is like doing a math equation.
But using a headline template is like cheating off the Asian kid next to you in class ;)
Here’s a fantastic reproduction of some headline templates collected by Chris Garrett:
With templates we can just pop our product into the blank slot. These are more just like a brain-jogger to think of cool headlines. I’ll often review a list like this to come up with content ideas:
Get What You Want Templates:
- 10 Money/Time Saving Tips for ______
- The Secret of Getting the Best Price for Your _______
- How to Find the Best _____ Deals on the Web
- Top Gadgets for _____
- Are _____ Worth the Money?
- Everything You Need to Know About Getting Cheaper _____
- Top 10 Tips For Hassle Free ______
- Best ____ For Under [Price]
- Unusual but Achievable ____
- 5 Ways to Boost Your ____ Without Spending More _____
- Ways to ____ on a Budget
- 5 Ways to _____ and Profit!
- 21 Audacious and Creative _____ Ideas
- Who Else Wants to ____?
- Now You Can ____ for Free!
- How to Get _____ in Half the Time
- 10 Stars and their ____
- _____ Life Styles of the Rich and Famous
- How to Look and Act ________
- Now You Can Have Get More and Better ____ With Less Effort
- ______ like a Movie Star
- 9 Ways You Can ____ Better Than You Deserve
- How to ____ in 10 Seconds
- Have a ____ You Can Be Proud Of
- 21 _____ Conversation Tips
- Finding Your Perfect _______
- Plan a Perfect ______
- What ____ Really Want
- 7 Signs You Are/Can _______
- Get ____ Now
Crystal Ball and History Templates:
- The History of _______
- How _____ Will Impact _____ in [Year]
- _____ Then and Now
- 40 Predictions on the Future of ____
- The Modern Rules of ______
- ___ Lessons from History
- The _____ Story
Problems and Fears Templates:
- Are _____ a Dying Breed?
- How to Beat the Fear of _____
- 10 ____ Scams and How to Avoid Them
- How Secure Are Your _____?
- 7 Most Frightening ____
- Top 10 Scary _____ Facts
- Outrageous _____ and How they Could Impact You
- Get Rid of Your _____ Once and For All
- Could Your ______ be a ________?
- What Your ____ is Not Telling You About _______
- Beware ______ and How to Spot them
- 10 Good Ways NOT to ______
- How to Safely _______
- The Unseen/Biggest Dangers of _____
- ______ Do’s and Don’ts
- 21 Ways to Screw Up _____
- 10 Reasons Not to _____
- 7 _____ Danger Signs
- 7 things _____ Should Never Do
Fact, Fiction, Secrets, Truth and Lies Templates:
- What Everyone Ought to Know about ______
- ____ Personality Test: What Your ____ Says About You
- _____ Lies and How to Spot them
- _____ Facts and Myths
- The Real Truth About ______
- 21 Secrets the _____ Experts Don’t Want You to Know
- 101 Most Popular _____ Myths
- 10 ______ Facts You Need to Know
- The Secret of Successful _____
- Little Known Ways to _____
- Truth and Lies in _____
- All You Need to Know about _______
- 10 Lies We Tell Our _______
- 101 things Not to tell _______
- Revealed: Why _____
- How to Spot a Fake ______
How-To Tricks of the Trade Templates:
- When is it Smarter to ____ or ____?
- Little Known Ways to ________
- 10 Reasons it’s Better to ______
- How to Plan the Ultimate _____
- How to _____ Like a _____
- ____ Jobs You Can Do Yourself
- Here is a Method That is Helping _____ to _____
- Here’s a Quick Way to _______
- 7 Creative Ways to ______
- How to be a _______
- 9 Surprising Things You Can _____
- _____ Like an Expert in 10 Easy Steps
- 21 Expert ____ Tips
- 5 Reasons You Should ______
Best and Worst Templates:
- Top 10 Worlds Cheapest/Best/Most Expensive _____
- The Worlds Best _____ You Can Actually Afford to Buy
- The Worlds Worst Ever _____
- The World’s Most Unusual _____
- Funniest ______ Stories
- Sexiest _______ in the World
- The Top 10 Best and Worst _____ in the World
- Top 19 Most ____ Friendly ____
- 100 Useful or Beautiful ____
- 5 Reasons _____ is Better than ______
- The Worlds Top 10 Most Important ______
- Top 20 Clips About _____ in Films and Television
- 10 ____ We Don’t Want to See ____
- 21 Most Hilarious _____
- The Worlds Worst _____ Advice
- 10 Reasons ____ is the Worst _____
Other Headline Formulas From Around The Web:
- Crazy Egg headline formulas
- CopyBlogger headline formulas
- BufferApp headline formulas
- Chris Garrett headline formulas PDF
Blog Headlines scraped (aka stolen ;-) from sites with confirmed 100,000+ email subscriber lists:
One of the best ways to get inspiration is to look at what other successful people are doing. So we got together some web-scraping software and gathered all the data from websites we know have over 100,000+ email subscribers.
OkDork.com (Noah Kagan’s marketing blog):
These are the 20 top performing headlines from OkDork. (Based on Facebook Shares, Facebook Likes, Comment Count, Tweets):
- Why I got Fired from Facebook (a $100 Million dollar lesson)
- Why Content Goes Viral: What Analyzing 100 Million Articles Taught Us.
- Are things happening to you or are you making things happen?
- The 6 Step Guide to Getting Free Press for Your Startup
- We Analyzed Nearly 1 Million Headlines. Here’s What We Learned
- How to attract the best talent in the world
- A (Proven) Freelancer’s Guide to Growing Your Business
- We Analyzed the 3,000 Most Successful LinkedIn Publishing Posts
- How to Create Great Content That Drives Traffic
- How to get your first 100 email subscribers
- How to get an eBook to #1 on Amazon
- What I learned spending $2 Million on Facebook Ads
- SEO for Beginners – Everything You Need to Know
- Funny Out of Office Messages: Top 13 Ideas for Your Out of Office Replies
- The 18 Books that Changed my Life
- How Not to Feel Guilty about Charging For Your Time
- How to Hit #1 on Amazon’s Bestseller List
- A Guide to Grow Your Blog (or Any Blog) 10X
- Create Your First Marketing Plan
- 6 Steps to Writing Great Cold Emails
*An interesting thing to note is that MOST of these headlines have some sort of specific number in them.
Download all these formulas and templates for keeps:
This would be a great little addition for you to keep on your own computer desktop. Whenever you see a catchy headline or grabbing image…..just snap a quick screenshot of it. On a Mac –> (Shift + Command + 4) to save a screenshot to the desktop.