Today’s article is for copywriters, but it’s also for anyone that has to write anything persuasive, where the first few words you write need to capture your reader’s attention.
I’m taking off early this afternoon, so I’m going to keep it short — but I’ll give the topic all the space it needs.
Let’s talk about headlines.
Specifically, about a great place to go to be “inspired” to create breakthrough headlines.
And this is a source you may have never thought of — or been pointed towards — but it’s an incredible place to find market-tested headlines that are working NOW.
I’ll give you the recommendation in a minute, but first some context…
David Ogilvy liked to tout a stat along the lines of, “Ten times as many people read the headline of an ad as read the ad itself.”
Others have claimed that 90% of the effectiveness of an ad is in the headline — once you have the right headline (that gets readership) your most important job is to not screw it up.
I recall Jay Abraham repeating something along the lines of, “I once ran a test where the only thing different was the headline, and had 16 times as many people respond to one ad as another.”
While you may be able to contest the accuracy of any given statistic about how important headlines are, it’s hard to contest that they ARE important.
In fact, they’re one of the — if not the — most important elements in any ad.
Because readership of your ad almost always, in any circumstances, starts with the headline. And if you don’t hook ‘em with your headline, you’ve probably lost ‘em.
There are many different approaches to writing winning headlines…
Superstar copywriter John Carlton likes to write really long, dense headlines.
His most famous?
“Amazing Secret Discovered By One-Legged Golfer Adds 50 Yards To Your Drives, Eliminates Hooks and Slices And Can Slash Up To 10 Strokes From Your Game Almost Overnight!”
Now that invokes curiosity, drives home the benefit (pun noted), and starts a story you’ve just gotta read!
Other superstar copywriters are known for far less…
Joe Sugarman was a master of space ads that looked like articles, and his preferred format included just a two-word headline.
“Magic Baloney,” sold the Magic Thermostat.
“Pet Plane” sold his private plane.
“Vision Breakthrough” sold BluBlockers sunglasses.
And yes, there was a lot more copy to come — including rather compelling subheads that launched you right into reading the story he had for you in the body copy.
But when we’re talking headlines, they were miles away (or, 27 words away) from Carlton’s.
What gives? Well, in short, there’s a lot of ways to write a good headline.
Many copywriters follow the classic approach of headline formulas or swipe files.
When I was relatively novice at this craft, I once took a couple decks of 3X5 note cards, and wrote down a ton of headlines, headline templates, and good headline words on them.
I’m pretty sure I got the idea from Gary Halbert, and used some of his in this deck of cards. But also I pulled headlines and parts of headlines from John Caples, Vic Schwab, and many others.
For example, if I were to take one of my old ads and tear apart the headline, I might make this template…
“Collect [specific amount of money in a specific amount of time] ‘Back Door’ [field or industry] Income Starting Immediately… Without [common annoyance of other income sources in the industry]…”
That wasn’t an investment promo (it was for a business opportunity product). So let’s try to apply it to investments…
“Collect $2,385 Per Month ‘Back Door’ Stock Market Income Starting Immediately… Without Buying Or Selling A Single Stock…”
(NOTE: I’m making numbers up for illustrative purposes here, but I’d always want to base it on some real stat.)
Could we use it for selling online?
“Collect $5,936 Per Week ‘Back Door’ Google AdWords Income… Without Ever Having To Touch A Single Product, Or Deliver A Service…”
Again, that’s workable!
I’m not a huge fan of this level of swiping — which I consider to be, at best, unethical copying. (And, it doesn’t fly with the high-end direct marketers I typically work with.)
Though it’s clear that if you have a file of headline starters like this, you can quickly come up with some pretty rockin’ headlines.
Let’s talk about where to get breakthrough headlines…
I have a secret source for headline inspiration that shows me — today — what the market is doing and how it’s responding to specific copy that’s being put in front of it.
And while these headlines aren’t coming off direct response ads, they are coming from another medium where it’s these words that do the selling.
Best-selling books. Specifically, the Amazon bestseller list.
If you want headlines, subheads, and preheads that feel fresh and that match what the market is responding to today, the book market is a great place to go.
And it’s true — people DO judge a book by the cover. The design, yes. But also, the copy.
Now, you have to be careful. Because sometimes people do other things to get to the top of the list — like off-Amazon marketing. (But these are good marketers anyway, so their cover is probably worth learning from.)
Or, the author has a readership base they bring with them, so you have to include their name as one of the elements that is getting people to buy the book (just like any marketing’s effectiveness can be increased by having the right spokesperson).
But in general…
You can scan the bestseller list for books that jump out at you, and start to get great ideas for headlines…
As I write this, the #1 business best-seller on Amazon is How to Manage Your Money When You Don’t Have Any.
Importantly, there’s this credibility quote from Lifehack.org at the top of the front cover, “If you are looking to really change your perspective and get your finances right, this is the place to start.”
Now, I’m not going to translate all these into headlines for you, but let’s look at what’s going on here.
First, the title provides a compelling benefit (how to manage your money) to a core target market (folks who feel like they don’t have any).
And upon closer inspection, there’s a credible source adding weight to the claim of the title.
This is, no surprise, what I find to be the most effective formula for Video Sales Letter on-page copy right now. A compelling, short headline. Along with a quote to add credibility to the core message of the video.
Even better if you can do at least two of the three things I mentioned John Carlton’s headline did… Invoke curiosity, drive home the benefit, and start a story you’ve just gotta read.
What about health?
(You should start by looking at books aimed at your target market, if possible.)
The current top health book on Amazon is The Whole30: The 30-Day Guide to Total Health and Food Freedom.
I’m noticing in this title, there’s a very specific timeline promised, and a very big and overarching benefit.
But what about Whole30? Seemingly meaningless, it shouldn’t be written off. I’m finding a lot of successful promos recently having a single word (or very short phrase) that represent them. Just enough to intrigue you, in context, to read the rest of the title. I think Whole30 does that, for health-conscious readers.
I could go on, but you can do it yourself.
Navigate on over to the Amazon bestsellers list, and start clicking through to topics that would interest your target market.
Not only will you be inspired with copy (the titles and additional cover copy) that’s actually selling books right now…
You may also find that you’re discovering the core promises that your market is most interested in, what subsections of the market are hot right now, and a whole lot more!
That could be a really big breakthrough on your next project!
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,
Editor, Breakthrough Marketing Secrets
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