The Art of Writing a Headline

Every copywriter and every journalist knows the importance of a powerful headline, and that awareness has spilled into the business blogosphere, where everyone is a bit of a copywriter and a bit of a journalist.

Despite that, many still underestimate just how important headlines are. So here are some anecdotes, facts, and guidelines that can help you write even better headlines (and also let you know how much you should focus on them).


According to some of the best copywriters of all time, you should spend half of the entire time it takes to write a piece of persuasive content on the headline. So if you have a blog post that is really important to you or your business, one that you really want people to read, you should downright obsess over your post title.

Advertising legend David Ogilvy knew the power of headlines, and how the headline literally determined whether the advertisement would get read. He rewrote this famous headline for an automobile advertisement 104 times:

“At 60 miles an hour, the only thing you hear in the new Rolls Royce is the ticking of the dashboard clock …”

Master copywriter Gene Schwartz often spent an entire week on the first 50 words of a sales piece — the headline and the opening paragraph. Those 50 words are the most important part of any persuasive writing, and writing them well takes time.

Even for the masters.

The 80/20 Rule of Headlines

Here are some interesting statistics.

On average, 8 out of 10 people will read headline copy, but only 2 out of 10 will read the rest. This is the secret to the power of the headline, and why it so highly determines the effectiveness of the entire piece.

The better the headline, the better your odds of beating the averages and getting what you’ve written read by a larger percentage of people.

Writing a great headline doesn’t guarantee the success of your writing. The benefit conveyed in the headline still needs to be properly satisfied in the body copy, either with your content or your offer.

But great body content with a bad or even marginal headline is doomed to go largely unread.

How to Write a Great Headline

Last time, we looked at the different categories of headlines that work. This time, we’ll look at analytical techniques for producing great headlines.

The copywriting trainers at American Writers & Artists teach The Four U’s approach to writing headlines:

Headlines, subheads and bullets should:

  1. Be USEFUL to the reader,
  2. Provide him with a sense of URGENCY,
  3. Convey the idea that the main benefit is somehow UNIQUE; and
  4. Do all of the above in an ULTRA-SPECIFIC way.

In a recent issue of the Early to Rise ezine, superstar copywriter Clayton Makepeace says to ask yourself six questions before you start to write your headline:

  1. Does your headline offer the reader a reward for reading?
  2. What specifics could you add to make your headline more intriguing and believable?
  3. Does your headline trigger a strong, actionable emotion the reader already has about the subject at hand?
  4. Does your headline present a proposition that will instantly get your prospect nodding his or her head?
  5. Could your headline benefit from the inclusion of a proposed transaction?
  6. Could you add an element of intrigue to drive the prospect into your opening copy?

Makepeace’s six questions combined with the basic structure of The Four U’s provide an excellent framework for writing spectacular headlines. And you’ll note that just about any headline that satisfies the framework will fall into one of the eight categories you learned last time.

Additional tips

  1. Make your headline simple and straightforward. Fancy headline writing will tend to confuse readers.
  2. Avoid “label” heads. Make the headline tell the news-with action.
  3. Don’t try to put too many facts in your headline. This will confuse readers.
  4. Stick to the facts in your story. Additional material can be confusing and possibly libelous.
  5. For interest, writhe the feature as well as the news into a headline when possible.
  6. Don’t express your opinion in any headline. You can use opinions of others provided you indicate the source.
  7. Don’t use the past tense in a headline and don’t use present tense with a statement of a past event.
  8. Use active instead of passive verbs in headlines.
  9. Try to avoid beginning a headline with a verb because you get a weak beginning that is often confusing where responsibility for an act is not pinned down.
  10. Try to avoid beginning with an infinite. i.e. “To break ground for new school addition next week.”
  11. Watch out for headlines with double meaning.
  12. Don’t use the articles “a” or “the” to begin a headline.
  13. Avoid repeating words used in sub-headline that were used in the main headline.
  14. Watch out for headlines that attempt to be funny but are actually distasteful.
  15. Abbreviate when necessary, but only when the abbreviation is completely clear.
  16. Avoid repeating the lead in the headline.
  17. Use an active voice whenever possible.
  18. Spell check!

It takes work and focus, but the effort will pay off.

One thought on “The Art of Writing a Headline

  1. Ezine Advertising is one of the most powerful ways to market and promote your products and or services. There are literally thousands of electronic newsletters on the Internet with millions of people who subscribe
    to them. Placing ads in online newsletters is an inexpensive way to reach your target market quickly – especially when you compare it with other
    forms of advertising principal when you include on headline.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *