Stumped for headline ideas? Struggling to create something snappy and concise? Check out these formulas below and see your articles and blog posts pop off the page.
Headlines. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, you can’t live without ‘em. I’m almost obliged to mention the much-cited quote from David Ogilvy on the subject:
“On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.”
It’s the same whether you’ve got a website, brochure, newsletter, landing page, email, blog, advert or press release. At the top of every page or section, you’ll need a headline (and probably some sub-headlines) to connect with the reader and get them to read on to the next part.
Let’s repeat that, because this is the main function of any headline: to get your audience to read the next line (which should then make them read the next, and the next, and so on…)
A headline is all about grabbing attention, making an impact and enticing the reader to continue. You might do this with humour (‘Another Blatant Pitch For Easy Networking’), with shock value (‘We Have Your Nude Photos’), or with a disarming honesty (‘If You Read This, You’ll Change My Life’) – but whatever you do, you’d better be genuine. Nobody likes clickbait.
How can you easily create good headlines?
In the absence of anything snappy coming to mind, or being immediately obvious, then it’s very useful indeed to have a structure to fall back on. And why waste hours starting from scratch when you can reach for a formula?
In this post, I put all my favourite headline hacks in one place. Full disclosure: none of them are original. They’ve come from various sources that I’ll list further down, unless they’ve been forgotten in the mists of time.
And if I find or think of more, I’ll add to it!
So, without further ado…
Useful Headline Formulas
The most important thing to remember is a headline works best when it implies benefits for the reader (after all, it’s about them, right?).
Simply plug in the right words to these and you’ll have the beginnings of a functioning headline you can adapt or customise to suit your project.
Many of these are best for landing pages or emails, while others are better for blog posts or articles. If in doubt, try out a few for size and get a feel for which will be the best fit for your offering.
[Problem?] Get my [free item] and see [results]
E.g.: Can’t find clients? Get my free ebook and watch your pipeline fill up!
[end result customer wants] + [special period of time] + [address the objections]
E.g.: A fulfilling new job offer within 2 weeks, or your money back
Get the [unusual or rare adjective] power of [what product does] without [pain]!
E.g.: Get the nurturing power of effective menopause relief without harmful drugs!
[adjective] and [adjective] [what you are/SEO keyword phrase] that will [highly desirable promise of results]
E.g.: Effective and personalised financial advice that will ensure a comfortable, content retirement.
We Promise You This: [highly desirable promise of results]
E.g.: We Promise You This: You’ll Pay Less Tax and Keep More Money in Your Pocket
[Known competitor] [does this bland/unimpressive thing]; [Your brand] [does this highly desirable or impressive thing]
E.g.: Bobby’s Floors will clean your carpets; Ace Cleaners will make them shine and smell like new again.
The Only [SEO keyword phrase] Made Exclusively to [highly desirable outcome or benefit]
E.g.: The Only Mortgage Broker in Suffolk Working Exclusively to Ensure People With Poor Credit History Can Own A New Home.
What would you do if you [had specific benefit of your product] using [skills already have/without problem]?
E.g.: What would you do if you could create a large second income for your family using skills you already possess?
The [X/number] mistakes that prevent people [highly desirable result]
E.g.: The 7 mistakes that stop people passing their driving test
The Only Way to [Do Something Desirable] Without [Something Undesirable]
E.g.: The Only Way to Learn To Drive Without Paying Through The Nose or Using a Simulator
How To [get highly desirable result]
E.g.: How To Make Sure Your Conference or Event is Ready For Any Crisis
Many of the above were featured in this informative article on Unbounce. Others were swiped from an article on the excellent Copy Hackers website here (in fact, if you love formulas for copywriting, that article will blow your mind).
Other Headline Types
These are commonly taught on many copywriting starter courses. I think I picked up this list from the Writers Bureau Copywriting Course a few years ago.
They’re much more straightforward than those above, and I’ve stuck with the ever-popular ‘weight loss’ sector for all of them. Yes, I know we’ve just had that first one in the last list, but I’m keeping it here for the sake of completeness.
How To Loose Weight And Keep It Off!
Do You Want To Loose Weight?
Loose That Pesky Weight!
The Secret To Loosing Weight
Order This Weight Guide Within 24 hrs and Save 50%!
Free Trial For Your Weight Loss Program
‘I lost so much weight following this program!’
‘Worth the wait’
Finally, The Weight Loss Program You Were Waiting For
‘Don’t be left out’
Who Else Wants To Loose Weight?
The Lazy Boozer’s Way To Loose Weight
I’m really just scraping the tip of the iceberg here and for every ‘10 Best Headline Formulas’ list, you’ll find another 10 more. But these are good ones to either get you started or unstuck quickly.
Keep asking ‘Why?’ or ‘So what?’
I covered this technique a while ago in this blog post, but it’s worth re-visiting, as it can provide perfect motivational material for your headlines, for most circumstances. It’s one of my favourites.
The trick is to take the action you want the reader to do and ask ‘Why?’. And then when you have the answer, ask ‘Why?’ again, and keep asking ‘Why?’ until you reach a core motivation for the desired action. It might take 3 or 4 rounds, or it might take 9. But don’t go too far – you’ll simply end up questioning reality itself.
Here’s an example for some accounting software:
‘Why do you want to get trained in Xero?’
– To understand how to do accounting better.
‘So, why do you want to be better at accounting?’
– To be valuable at work, and get things done.
‘Why would you want to get things done better and be valuable?’
– To score brownie points with the boss.
‘Why would you want to score brownie points with your boss?’
– To get a promotion or a raise.
So, there’s our line…
‘Get yourself first in line for promotion with our training.’
‘Make yourself more valuable with our training.’
Let’s try another example with a sports management app:
‘Why would you want a motivational team sports app?”
– To keep track of my stats, compare myself to others and get rewards.
– So I can see I’m improving and getting ahead of the rest.
‘Why would you want to see improvements and how you’re ahead of others?’
– To know my effort pays off; that I can be the best.
‘Why do you want to know your effort is paying off and you can be the best?’
– So I know I can beat challenges and obstacles.
– So I can be a kind of hero!
And all this led to…
‘You’re The Hero. Take The Challenge. Be The Best.’
Putting it in quotation marks
Making a headline look like a spoken sentence is sometimes very effective. It doesn’t have to be a direct quote – it can simply be something somebody with the issue you’re trying to solve might say. When a reader from your target market sees it, they’ll be likely to stop and think, ‘Oh yeah, that’s what I think too.’
One example from my own site is:
“The design is amazing. But what do we write for it?”
or you might think of a more emotional situation:
“I’m not sure what I’ll do if I fall over when I’m alone in the house.”
The implication here is in social proof – the reader will relate to these words as something they might say themselves. Consequently, they might feel less pressure to take an action because they feel they are not alone in wanting or needing to use your solution.
The key thing to bear in mind
Try to make your headline sound actionable, and make sure you show a benefit. Make the reader see what’s in it for them, and imply the first easy step they can take…
Looking for further headline formulas?
There are plenty in various posts online. As well as those mentioned above, here are just a few more:
I’d be happy to talk over any problems you’re having with headlines, web pages, ads or brochures. Why not drop me a line?
Head over to the Contact Page to send a message or get my phone number…