7 Proven Headline Formulas That Convert (And why they work)
My wife thinks I am weird.
More on this in a second.
First, understand that the Internet hasn’t changed everything. The headlines that David Ogilvy and other legendary copywriters wrote for print ads and direct mail in the 1950’s are found in 21st century Twitter and RSS feeds.
The art of writing headlines that convert survived the Internet revolution because it works. And it will always work, because good headlines tap into psychological triggers that are hard-wired into the human mind.
So, assuming the human psyche doesn’t drastically evolve any time soon, committing to learning how to write better headlines is a good investment of your time.
Teri Hatcher is compelling, and so are these headlines
When I see great marketing, I get excited. And my wife wrinkles her nose and furrows her brow. She doesn’t get it.
I’m always on the look out for great marketing, and I bet you are too.
My wife gets particularly concerned when I read and study headlines while standing in line at the grocery store. I know, it’s sick.
But you should try it. Headline writers for print magazines are the best in the world at getting you to take action.
It’s a fantastic exercise.
Consider the following seven headlines from Prevention magazine and the formulas that make them work.
Headline 1 – Shrink Your Fat Zones: Lose 7 Lbs in 7 Days
This headline makes a promise, as all good headlines do. It promises that we will receive a benefit. And it promises that we will receive a desirable quantity of that benefit in a desirable time period.
Get [desired result] in [desirable time period]
- Fix Your Poor Eyesight With a Simple 2-Hour Procedure
- How To Become Debt Free in 90 Days or Less
- Master the German Language in Record Time
Headline 2 – 8 Lies About Sunscreen: Believe Them At Your Own Risk
This headline poses a threat. It gets us to take action because we feel as though we may be putting ourselves or those we love at risk. It also implies that something we trust has misled us and may be dangerous.
X Lies About [Something Common]
- X Lies Real Estate Agents Are Telling About the Housing Market
- Is Your Veterinarian Being Honest With You About Canine Heartworms?
- X Questions That Will Make Your Accountant Squirm in His Chair
Headline 3 – Vegetarian Nation: Will These Women Change The Way You Eat?
This headline works because it (in a sneaky way) demonstrates social proof and then asks a question. Social proof provides someone making a decision the reassurance that others are already doing what you are considering. The term ‘Nation’ at the beginning of the headline indicates that there is an enormous amount of people that are vegetarians. Yes, it is indeed a crafty use of social proof.
Asking a question in the headline automatically makes us more engaged in the headline. If we read the question, we feel compelled to answer it. In order to answer it we must read the content.
[Provide social proof] [Ask a compelling question]
- Millions of Dollars Refinanced: Can You Afford To Ignore Changes In Mortgage Rates?
- Derek Jeter Trusts Us: Do You Know If You Are A Good Candidate for Lasik Surgery?
- Do You Know Why Thousands of Cancer Survivors Gather In Central Park Every October?
Headline 4 – The No Pill Pain Remedy Doctors Now Trust
This is a good headline formula if your audience is skeptical of the benefits your product provides. Your product might be new and unfamiliar to your audience. Or, it may have received poor reviews in the past.
The headline works because you are declaring that a trusted group of people now endorse the product.
The [previously untrusted or unproven product] That [authoritative person/group of people] Now Endorse
- The Emerging Trend In Skin Care That Julia Roberts Swears By
- A New Way To Talk Business: Why Every IBM’er Is Now Using Android Mobile Phones
- The Water Substitute Thousands of Fitness Trainers Are Using To Hydrate
Headline 5 – Vacation Perils & Pitfalls: Banish Bedbugs, Bach Strain, Belly Aches and More
This is another threat headline. It makes a promise that if we read the article we can avoid some of the awful things that can ruin a vacation. The headline also takes advantage of the idea that people will do more to avoid pain than to seek pleasure.
[Threat] + [Promise of a solution]
- 7 Legal Cheats That Keep The IRS Out Of Your Pocketbook
- Sidestep A Leaky Basement In 5 Easy Steps
- Insurance Nightmare: A Natural Disaster Checklist To Review With Your Agent
Headline 6 – Beat The Sunday Night Blues: Surprising Ways To Put The Fun Back In Your Weekend
This headline uses a word that will perk up your ears. Can you guess what it is?
The word surprising in this headline is critical because it communicates that these are not the ordinary suggestions we always hear about having fun on the weekend. These are new or, at least, new to us.
[undesired result] + [mysterious solution]
- How To Avoid Public Embarrassment: A Professional Speakers Secret Revealed
- 17 Little Known Email Hacks That Keep You Out of Productivity Hell
- A Misunderstood Home Remedy For Reducing Heart Disease
Headline 7 – Teri Hatcher: Her Shocking Struggle With Secret Pain
People like to hear juicy details about the people they admire and respect. This headline uses some very powerful words including shocking and secret. If we are even mildly interested in the person they are referencing, curiosity forces us to take a look.
It also exploits our desire for new information. Something we haven’t heard before.
[respected person/group of people] + [exclusive/new information]
- Steve Jobs Reveals All About Apple’s Revolutionary Design Process
- A Fresh Look At An Ancient Problem: How Los Angeles City Planners Overcame The Energy Crisis
- A Behind The Scenes Look At The Latest Technologies in Movie Making
Will you use your powers for good or evil?
Writing good headlines is not, in and of itself, manipulative. That being said, you don’t have to look far to find a great headline with nothing behind it.
There is no better way to alienate people than to make a promise in a headline and fail to deliver on it. Writing headlines that don’t deliver is not just ethically wrong. It’s also bad business.
Study great headlines. Put them (ethically) into practice for your business. You will find that your spouse thinking you are weird is a small price to pay.