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How to Write Headlines that Lure In Readers… Like Charlie Sheen to a Media Scrum

A good headline is critical. Its purpose is to captivate your readers' attention and entice them into your body text. If it fails, all your work will be for nought and you won't stand a chance of persuading your would-be readers.

You've only got one chance, so you've got to get it right. But how do you entice readers into your copy?

Most importantly, you have to offer a benefit to your readers. Indicate that if they read on, they'll get some kind of payoff.

But in most cases, you don't actually spell out the benefit in the headline. Rather, you engage the reader's curiosity by hinting at the benefit. Do this right, and readers will find it irresistible. They'll be hooked.

It's curiosity — fueled by the promise of a wonderful benefit — that makes a great headline. Below are some proven techniques for writing compelling headlines.

Make a surprising statement

A great way to rouse curiosity is to make an apparently bizarre statement, then leave your readers dangling. (Some social scientists call this “Optimal Level of Dissonance.”) The surprising statement could be a bold promise or guarantee. For example:

“Increase your sales by 25% overnight, or you don't pay.”

“If you don't agree that my granola bar is the best you've ever tasted, I'll eat the box it came it.”

Or it could be a statement that's apparently against your self interest. (Think of Volkswagen's famous “Lemon” headline.) Here are some examples:

“Why you shouldn't shop at my store”

“Why I'm the worst copywriter in Canada”

“Run Away Now. Dangerous Information Inside.”

“How To…”

People love to be told how to solve problems or get some kind of advantage. Headlines beginning in “How to” can be irresistible. For example:

“How to Write Headlines Your Customers Can't Resist”

“How To Increase Conversions by 10% Overnight”

Remember also Dale's Carnegie's famous book title, “How to Win Friends and Influence People”

Offer a helpful checklist or “Top Ten”

Like the “How To” trick, offering a list attracts readers by promising a solution to a problem (or maybe just a good laugh).

“Five Sure-Fire Ways to Save on Fuel Costs”

“Ten Great Reasons to Sleep in Tomorrow”

“Three Magic Words that Women Can't Resist”

Ask a Question

Another way to rouse curiosity is to ask a compelling question. (And, of course, hint that you have the answer.) For example:

“Ever Wondered Why…”

“Do You Know the Three Biggest Challenges in Email Marketing?”

“Are You Killing Your Sales with the World's Most Common Marketing Blunder?”

Writing great headlines isn't easy. To create one that truly engages readers, you really have to understand what it is that drives them. You've got to find a compelling benefit that will solve a problem, provide valuable information, or otherwise enrich the lives of your readers.

Like most aspects of writing, it's largely a matter of putting in the effort. If you haven't gone through at least 10 drafts of potential headlines, you probably aren't trying hard enough. Bash out another 20, then start winnowing…


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