Do you know the REAL secret to writing great headlines? … And that once you have it, it makes writing million-dollar copy so, so much easier?!
We’ll get to that in a moment.
For now, I have to remind you that it’s Monday, and that’s a GREAT thing. Because it means I get to dig into the ol’ mailbox, and answer YOUR questions.
If you want to have your question answered in an upcoming issue, send it to Roy@RoyFurr.com.
Now let’s get into how to write headlines that literally suck the reader into your copy and force them to read!
I have yet to get the hang of writing Headlines. As a newbie copywriter, I must learn how to write great Headlines … If I plan on writing compelling copy.
I’d love any tips you can give.
But wait, what’s all this hype about writing “million-dollar copy”?!
Don’t you just hate when cocky copywriters just pour on the hyperbole and start talking about “million-dollar this,” and “six-figure that.”
Well, I did the math on one of my promos. One that launched in early spring, 2015 — about a year ago. And according to my royalty reports, it sold in excess of $1 million worth of backup solar generators.
And that’s only the latest.
I have a handful of promos over the last few years that have each grossed over that, each earning me very substantial royalties!
I even just got word from another client today that I beat their control on a direct mail piece!
Yes, this is bragging, a little bit. But it’s worth remembering that if people are giving you advice, you want to know that they can do what they promise.
So, with that said, let’s talk headlines.
The first big thing your headline needs to accomplish if you want a winner…
I take a rather unconventional approach to headline writing. In part, because I’ve internalized so many of the old-school copywriting rules, that they come naturally to me and so I don’t have to think about them anymore to get them to show up. But also, because I know that your copy has to feel DIFFERENT if you want it to be engaged with by your reader.
That’s a big thing that a lot of novice, me-too copywriters forget. A lot of early-career copywriters read old books like Tested Advertising Methods, Breakthrough Advertising, etc., etc., and start to copy headline formulas. And I did that too — so I can’t totally knock it. But if your copy starts to read as being overly-formulaic, it won’t look or feel different to your reader, and so it will not be read.
So rule #1 is that it has to feel somehow different, unique, unlike anything your reader has ever seen before.
They have to have a feeling, going in, that their thirst for novelty will be quenched. Our minds are masterful computers that are constantly judging whether something is a new stimulus, or if it’s same old. And for the most part, what is same old gets ignored. This was the secret to survival in the jungle — it’s how we picked out predators and prey camouflaged in all the intricate detail of a forested backdrop.
Here’s something the prospect must feel like they’re going to get by reading on…
Not only does your headline have to feel different, it has to promise something. Implicitly or explicitly, it has to tell your reader that they’re going to get something by diving in. Especially if you write the kind of extended, long-form direct response copy I write and my clients pay so handily for.
You have to convey a sense of value. From the headline on, your reader must believe they’re going to get information in the copy itself that will make their life better. There has to be a benefit not just to responding to the ad, but to simply reading it.
But do you know what else you really need to do in your headline?
There is a feeling you want your prospect to have, as soon as they finish reading the headline. Intellectual hunger. Curiosity. You have to open a question in their mind that they simply must have answered before they continue their day.
To be unique and different and promise a benefit is good, but that doesn’t do the trick on its own. You must stimulate their imagination with a secret, a question unanswered, a story unfinished.
Throughout, your headline also benefits you if it accomplishes this goal…
“SEX. Now that I have your attention…”
That headline has been used far too often, by far too many rookie marketers. It succeeds in getting attention, but little else. Most folks who are reading will not be the target market, unless you are actually selling sex. And of those who are the target market for what you’re selling, many will simply ignore it and move on, oblivious to an offer that may have been right for them.
A good headline not only accomplishes all these other goals, it does it in a way that it attracts the right readers, and repels the wrong ones. It calls out members of the target market, and says, “What I have is for you.”
Finally, you must do it all with total believability…
Here, specifics help. Be careful about the size of claims, while also whetting the emotional appetite. Include credibility where at all possible.
You must maintain believability in a world full of lies. You have to convey truth in a world full of unreliable marketing claims.
If you do it right, here’s what your reader will do…
Your main goal of your headline isn’t to sell your product. It’s not even to set up the sale. It’s not to make the offer (in most cases). Very little of that matters in your headline itself.
The goal of your headline is to thrust your ideal readers — members of your target market — straight down into the body of your copy. It’s to get them to read the subhead. Then the first line. And on, and on. Until they find themselves having consumed the entire sales message, and now salivating for what it is you offer.
Recap, before a few tactical recommendations…
As you probably know by now, I like to focus on the THINKING more than the tactical details. Because if you get the thinking right, you will apply the tactics much, much better.
So, if you get the thinking right behind your headline, it will…
— Feel like something new and different to your reader…
— It will convey that they’ll get value by reading…
— It will stimulate curiosity that can only be quelled by reading…
— It will do this all in a way that calls out YOUR target reader…
— And it will do it all with total believability…
— So that your reader won’t be able to help but keep reading your copy…
With that in mind, here are some very tactical ways to get better at writing headlines that do this…
First, collect good headlines. Some of these can come from classic copywriting books. That’s fine. But I recommend “living” headlines as even better options. Pay attention to your reaction to headlines. If one gets you to click (even if it’s just a story headline) or read an ad or article, save it. Write it on a 3X5 note card. Do this with enough headlines, and you’ll really start to have a collection of good examples. Bonus points, write on the back of the note card how it accomplishes all the goals above. (You can include the subhead too, which can be a fertile ground for accomplishing all those goals.)
Second, copy good headlines. Since you’re collecting them, you’re starting to get a nice sense of what influences you. Now, internalize these by writing them, by hand. You can sit down with your stack of note cards, and go through, card by card, copying the headline onto a sheet of paper. You can also type — although many people I know swear by handwriting, and there is scientific research to back up its power.
Third, model good headlines. When you have a project, you can flip through that stack of headlines, and use as many as you can to write alternate headlines for your project. How can you model what they’re saying to accomplish the same goals but not sound like blatant copying?
Fourth, do this over and over and over again. You can improve a lot in a short period of time by doing the above, but remember that any skill development takes time and practice. Know that the more you do, the better you’ll get. And while you can shortcut it by doing the above, you can’t totally replace experience. The good news is that everything above can start getting you winners, even before you are “great” at it.
Fifth, forget everything. The ultimate goal is to quit following formulas. It’s not they’ll never show up in your writing. In fact, I have a lot of formulas that come naturally when I write headlines. But great writers almost never use the kind note card swipe files I’m talking about on a regular basis. You internalize it, then trust yourself to come up with the best options based on experience and the material you’re drawing from. This is how you create a distinctive voice, which is an enormously powerful but often neglected secret of the world’s best copywriters.
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,
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