Seven Secrets To Writing Headlines

Headlines are one of the most important part of any copy. Headline is what most of the time what gets people’s attention to stop what they are doing and pause for a minute, it’s what makes them curious.

In this article, we will discuss how to write headlines.

Headlines are the backbone of any good copy because, if it doesn’t grab people’s attention, they might not even read read of your offer/copy which could be really could.

You see – writing a good headline is critical if you want your copy to work. 

And unfortunately, most copywriters don’t. Most copywriters treat headlines as an afterthought, writing it either first (big mistake) or after finishing everything else (even bigger mistake.)


Because if your headline is not pulling cold traffic, you might as well write the rest of your copy in Klingon. 

Your headline is what looks are in a dating scenario. Or the front end of a store in a busy mall. It’s not everything, not even close, it may not even matter after a while, but it’s the point of first contact.

It makes it incredibly essential to your copywriting efforts.

So welcome, and join me for the rest of this article as we go through the psychology and the how-to of writing effective headlines that ACTUALLY pull attention and deliver results.

The Purpose Of Your Headline

You might be misconstrued to think that your headline is a sales device. 

If you announce your great product at the top of your page or, worse, announce your price, people will drop whatever they are doing, rush to the kitchen to pick up their wallet and place an order with you.


A headline is NOT a sales device. 

You don’t want to present your offer, main benefit, USP, or anything in between. It’s a one-trick pony. Please remember this. 

The purpose of your headline is to get attention and to get your prospect to read the following line of your copy. It’s eye candy. It’s a big sign yelling, “hey, you, stop whatever you’re doing and pay attention to me.”

Some of the world’s best headlines are in men’s and women’s magazines. I’m talking about stuff like Men’s Health and Cosmopolitan. The writers of those magazines know that they have milliseconds to get attention among tens or even hundreds of other magazines. So they write headlines that pull attention, making you pay for the magazine to discover the secret.

Seven Rules For An Effective Headline: 
Rule #1 – Keep Your Headline Short. 

Going back to the example of men’s magazines, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but they’re straight to the point.

  • “Build A Rig For Life: Change The Way You Look And Feel Forever.”
  • “49 Best & Worst Foods For Men In 2021”
  • “The Mental Cost Of COVID-19”

You may be wondering…

“Razvan, why are we talking about newspapers and magazines? I want to write sales letters.”

You make a fair point.

We’re talking about them because the sooner you understand the psychology of PULLING ATTENTION, the better you’ll do.

I don’t want to teach you how to write headlines per se. It’s not helpful to you. I want to teach you how to write hooks that get attention and get them to read the following line.

We design a sales copy to go from line to line. Your headline sells the readership for your deck copy. Your deck copy sells the readership for your lead copy. Your lead copy sells the readership for your body copy, and so on.

You are jumping from line to line until the copy is finished. 

And this means that the psychology of pulling attention applies to your ENTIRE sales page/video sales letter or whatever you’re using, not just your headline. You’re using the same psychology for every word of copy you’re writing.

Another critical point here – the headline’s purpose is to generate a question in the prospect’s mind. You must answer this question later in the copy (or as soon as the next line, but NOT in the headline). 

So keep it short. Please keep it to the point. Short headlines generally outperform long ones by a large margin.

Seven Rules For An Effective Headline:
Rule #2 – Leverage Curiosity

World-class copywriter John Carlton introduced a concept.

This is…

“The incongruous juxtaposition of sales elements.”

It means you should put stuff that doesn’t belong together to generate curiosity. An example of this would be a nerd that dates three beautiful girls simultaneously. Nerds don’t do that, so you want to find out more. You’re teasing a story.

You see, most people live on autopilot.

We’re so caught up in our Facebook feeds, TikTok, Instagram, etc, that we’re in a zombie-like state. Nothing interesting happens to them. They go to work. They work. They come back from work. They check social media or watch Netflix.

It is life for 90% of the human race. It’s a tedious slog, a ritual of repeating the same.

And then comes your headline. Your headline is like whispering to people, “Hey, I know something interesting that you don’t know. Why don’t you come and pay attention? Why don’t you come and read this?”

Your headline promises to take them out of the zombie-like state and, at least temporarily, provide them with some benefit that they desire.

It applies to all markets and all niches.

If you’re talking to investors, you have hidden information about the market that nobody knows about. If you’re talking to people who want to lose weight, you know of a diet used by the rich and famous that works every time. If you’re talking to people who wish to get copywriting clients, as you might be, I could teach you about a simple script that, if you use it properly, will close ANY client 24/7.

The game’s name is “I know something that you don’t know.”

John Carlton combined this with superb, extraordinary, best-in-class storytelling to build incredible hooks. In other words, he would come across some form of intrigue and build his copy around it, making it highly entertaining to consume his pieces.

(If you want to learn world-class storytelling in copywriting, look no further than the master himself…)

So what’s your takeaway here?

You want to be like the kid in the schoolyard who “knows something that others don’t… and everyone else wants to find out too.” To have an irresistible secret that people are willing, at a minimum, to read your copy to find it out.

Seven Rules For An Effective Headline:
Rule #3 – Make Your Headline Credible

I think there are very few if any, prospects that are not skeptical of your claims.

I don’t think there are people in this world that are at least a bit suspicious that what a sales letter promises is either false, overhyped, or blown out of proportion.

It is because we’ve all been burned or know someone who has been burned, or we automatically assume that all advertisers are liars.

So when it comes to headlines, the two most often reactions you’ll get are…

“Yawn” – your headline isn’t interesting enough.

“Yeah, sure” – your headline isn’t credible.

Of course, the reaction you want to get is, “tell me more.”

So how do you make your headline credible?

One way is through the spokesperson behind the sales copy. It doesn’t apply if you are unknown to the prospect, but if people know and love you, you must make clear who you are ASAP.

Many Internet gurus rely exclusively on this. They don’t need to do much to win the minds of those reading; putting their name on it is enough.

Another tool you can use is specificity.

The human mind tends to attribute credibility to whatever is specific and measurable instead of generalizations. For example, saying “Earn $134,490.94” is more credible than $134,000.00. It’s not a big trick, it won’t make or break our campaign, but it will help.

But the most prominent credibility element that you can use in your headline (and everywhere else) is your reason why. It is simply answering the question, “Why?”

#1 – Why should I believe you? (Because I’ve been in this industry for XX years and achieved this for my clients – a claim you can make in the deck copy)

#2 – Why is this important to me? (It can help relieve your most significant pain and move towards the desired outcome).

#3 – Why should I pay attention? (Because I promise I’ll make it worthwhile through an exciting story, helpful information that will change your life, or both).

Get into the habit of asking why. It will transform your copywriting skill overnight. 

And for more information on proof strategies that you can apply to your headline and copy, please keep your eyes open for a new article I’ll publish soon.

Seven Rules For An Effective Headline:
Rule #4 – If Your Market Is Right, Express A Benefit

Be careful with this strategy.

It works only sometimes, and it can backfire very quickly.

You see, most markets don’t want to be sold. You are telegraphing a sale when you express a benefit in your headline. You are saying, “I have this product that does X.”

But most people don’t want to be sold. It is a copywriting maxim you need to remember. People hate other people who want their money.

Yes, people love buying products and services that bring them pleasure and eliminate pain, but this doesn’t mean they want to be persuaded to do so.

So when they come across your ad, they want useful information, entertainment, or both. But they don’t want a product. The moment you reveal something for sale, UNLESS they’re actively looking to buy, you’ve lost them.

I’ll give you an example.

You have dental services. Most people looking to whiten their teeth are looking for advice. They want how-to information or tricks. But someone who is suffering from excruciating toothache wants a solution right now. They don’t care about stories or being entertained. They want to eliminate the problem.

It is said that if you put 100 people in a room, 20% will buy immediately. 20% will buy in the next six months. 30% will buy or not buy, depending on their mood, and 30% will never buy from you.

So if you’re appealing to the top 20%, who are ready to purchase now, you can express a benefit. 

If you are in such a market, you must also be careful to deliver the benefit they want. It is crucial because most copywriters deliver faux benefits. These are benefits that they think the prospect desire when in reality, they couldn’t be further from the truth.

Therefore you must ask yourself – what does my prospect want more than anything else? The more accurate you are with your assumption, the better you’ll do.

Before moving forward, I want to discuss the difference between process and outcome. I’ll give you an example, fittingly enough, in the copywriting field.

“To write copy” is a process.

“To deliver sales” is an outcome. 

Whenever possible, you want to promote outcomes, not processes. Prospects aren’t interested in how they’ll achieve the desired goal (except if it’s a USP or a unique selling proposition). They’re interested in the goal itself. So when you state the benefit, you want to say the outcome they’ll get.

Seven Rules For An Effective Headline:
Rule #5 – Use Persuasive Language.

It’s hard to define what “persuasive language” actually means.

Some people call NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) a persuasive, hypnotic language. Others refer to hyped, highly energetic writing. 

I believe that persuasive language is the language the prospect speaks and appeals to their self-interest. In other words, if you talk about what I want to hear, you can use the most boring words in the world, and I’ll still buy.

If you’re off-topic, fail to capture my attention, or keep my interest, then no amount of metaphors, similes, high-powered emotional words, and other devices will do the trick.

That being said, there is such a thing as an emotional word.

How you name something can change a lot how it is perceived. For example, which one sounds more powerful, “he broke the record,” or “he crushed the record,” or “he smattered the record beyond any belief.”

You want to use language that is moving the prospect emotionally but isn’t so hyped that it makes him dismiss your language as an exaggeration. It’s a hard barrier to consider, one most copywriters fail. 

But yes, whenever possible, look for a replacement for nouns, verbs, and adjectives that is more visceral. A thesaurus will do just great here. You want to convey an image as much as possible. And for God’s sake, avoid adverbs.

Seven Rules For An Effective Headline:
Rule #6 – Use The Market’s Level Of Sophistication.

I could (and will) write an entire article on this.

But for now, remember that markets go through stages of sophistication. And what you say at one step will not work on another. 

It’s a bit like dating.

You’ll accept claims a lot easier when you’ve dated no one before or just one person. But the more you’ve been in the dating game, the more skeptical you are. 

So are prospects. 

The more they’ve been in a market, the better job you have to do from a market sophistication point of view.

There are five levels to this.

Level #1 – When you are first in your marketplace. 

You want to be simple and direct. You want to say what it is and what it does.

“Our XYZ Nicotine Gum Helps You Quit Smoking.”

Level #2 – When you have some competitors. These competitors made similar claims and promises. You want to expand on your claim.

“Our XYZ Nicotine Gum Helps You Quit Smoking In Just 30 Days.”

Level #3 – Your competitors claim your benefit, and you can’t enlarge it. In other words, they’re making big claims about their products too. Here you introduce your mechanism, AKA how it is done.

“Our XYZ Nicotine Gum Uses An Innovative Chemical Called XYZ Which Helps You Quit Smoking In Just 30 Days!”

The chemical part is the mechanism. It’s how you deliver on the benefit.

Level #4 – Your competitors have introduced mechanisms too. Now everyone is trying to appear unique by delivering the benefit. You want to expand on your mechanism, or you want to demonstrate it. A good example here is mobile phones. As phones tend to be very similar to each other, they try to compete through the technological advancements found inside of them. 

“Chemical XYZ Suppresses The Chemical Pathways In The Brain Responsible For Addiction, Helping You Quit Smoking In Just 30 Days.”

Level #5 – Your competitors… as you’ve guessed, are doing the same thing. You can’t make a more significant claim, and you can’t expand on your mechanism. So far, it’s been playing catch-up.

What do you do here?

You want to speak to their frustration, pain, and desires. You want to connect with the prospect on an emotional level. And this is where most markets are. They’re a level 5 because all that could have been said, has been said. All that’s left is to make the prospect say, “yes, they make me feel understood,” and take it from there.

Here’s an example:

“If Your Ex Is Giving You These Three Signals, Then He’s Ready To Come Back To You…”

Here’s another one:

“How To Sell As A Copywriter Without Giving Up On Your Principles And Ethics…”

In the first example, I’m targeting curiosity and promising a benefit. In the second case, I’m targeting a fear that the marketplace has (that I must become sleazy in order to sell…)

So why am I telling you all of this?

In 90% of the cases, you’ll probably be in a level #5 marketplace, where you need to build a connection and not reveal that you’re selling anything. Remember when I told you earlier that it sometimes makes sense to imply a benefit? It makes sense when your marketplace is at that level of sophistication. But it doesn’t make sense when they’ve heard it all later.

It is why headline writing is so much about psychology and so little about formulas and templates. This entire post is about preparing you to write headlines at that level.

Seven Rules For An Effective Headline:
Rule #7 – Make Your Headline Targeted.

If you’re talking to everyone, you’re talking to no one.

Fortunately, there is a simple way to solve this.

You call out your prospect in the pre-head. You can say something like…

“ATTN: Business Owners Who Want To Increase Their Sales This Year…” (assuming this is your market).

But this isn’t all. You have to go back to the concept of congruency. The benefit you’re expressing (if any), the language you’re using, and the story you’re promising all must talk to your target market.

Think about it…

If you target financial advisors, wouldn’t you use a different language than someone wanting more dates? 

People must relate.

Don’t make the mistake of writing copy that talks to the wrong crowd. It doesn’t matter how good it is.

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