A Mini Master's Lesson in Writing Winning Headlines

To make a headline work, you have to make it specific enough to be intriguing but vague enough to provoke curiosity. The purpose of the headline is not to sell the prospect – it is to capture his attention and engage him in the selling process.

Following are nine frequently-used types of headlines. Pick up just about any successful sales letter and you'll likely run into one of them:

  1. The "How To…" headline. This is the most popular and most effective of the archetypes. A good place to start with any assignment. Many headlines aren't nearly as compelling if you remove the "how to." These two words act as a command for your prospect to carry out.

    EXAMPLES:

    • "How to End Your Money Worries Forever"
    • "How to Win Friends and Influence People"
  2. The Big Benefit Headline. This headline puts your biggest, most compelling benefit right up front.

    EXAMPLES:

    • "Earn $5,000 Next Weekend Without Leaving Your EasyBoy Recliner"
    • "Pay Zero Taxes Next Year!"
    • "Lose 40 Pounds in 7 Days Without Dieting!"
  3. The News-Style Headline. This refers to a headline that sounds like editorial copy. To make it work well, it is helpful to have some legitimate news to talk about. You might, for example, be promoting a new product. Or you might uncover some new facts related to an old product.

    EXAMPLES:

    • "New Natural Hormone Promises to End Cancer Without Chemotherapy"
    • "Dentists Are Outraged – New Book Reveals How to Get Free Dental Care!"
    • "Skinny School Teacher Gains 15 Pounds of Muscle With Miracle Meal"
  4. The Anxiety Headline. Scare your prospect into paying attention. Give him a problem and the hope of solving it.

    EXAMPLES:

    • "What Will You Do When Your Personal Assets Are Seized to Satisfy a Judgment Against Your Corporation?"
    • "Do You Make These Mistakes in English?"
  5. The Personal Revelation Headline. Offer an interesting admission about a topic your prospect should be interested in.

    EXAMPLES:

    • "They Thought I Was Crazy to Ship Maine Lobsters as Far as 1,800 Miles From the Ocean."
    • "The Lazy Man's Way to Riches"
    • "They Laughed When I Sat Down to Play the Piano … But When I Started to Play"
  6. The Question Headline. Ask a question that implies a promise, a benefit, or a solution. (But make absolutely sure you know what your prospect's answer will be.)

    EXAMPLES:

    • "Why Is Your Dog Eating Dirt?"
    • "Tired of Making Your Boss Rich?"
    • "Do You Close the Bathroom Door When No One Is Home?"
  7. The Testimonial Headline. If you've done your research, and have a convincing case history, this can be one of the easiest headlines to write … and very powerful.

    EXAMPLES:

    • "I Gambled with 3 Cents and Won $35,850 in 2 Years."
    • " I Couldn't Believe My Eyes When I Tore Open the Envelope!"
  8. The Story Headline. Everyone likes to read a good story.

    EXAMPLES:

    • "The Insult that Made a Man Out of Tim Riley."
    • "The Greatest Story Ever Told"
  9. The Guarantee Headline. When you are pretty sure your prospect wants your product – and you want to give him a reason to choose yours over the competition – this type of headline can be very effective.

    EXAMPLES:

    • "Play Guitar in 7 Days or Your Money Back!"
    • "The Most Comfortable Shoes You've Ever Worn, or Your Money Back!"

One way you can make your headline writing go faster and better is to write a half dozen or so headlines for each of these nine types. Six times nine gives you 54 heads to choose from. Not a bad start.

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Published: October 22, 2001

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