These formulas will help you craft the perfect headline every time.
Writing copy for headlines and titles is a science as much as it is an art. These nine formulas cover the science of the craft.
Big and bold designs are good, but it’s the words that matter.
Titles and headlines are what grab readers’ attention then keep their eyes falling down the page.
Here, let me show you:
- Hey, Whipple, Squeeze This: The Classic Guide to Creating Great Ads
- Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content
- Save The Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need
- The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing: Violate Them at Your Own Risk!
- Wired for Story: The Writer's Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence
- Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die
This list accomplishes two things.
First, it shows you exactly what a good title and an accompanying headline should look like.
This article is a snippet from Content Marketing for Myth-Makers and Tellers of Tall Tales — a 10,000 word guide on understanding your customers, crafting great copy, and writing stories that convert.Get a copy.
Start with something interesting, intriguing, or exciting.
“Hey, Whipple, Squeeze This” has got you thinking well, who the heck is Whipple and what is he squeezing?
“Save the Cat!” gets your gears in motion. Better not let the poor little fella’ drop out of the cherry tree.
You get the point.
Each title is followed by a subtitle (which is a type of headline). These are generally a bit longer and do a really good job describing what the books are about.
In a nutshell that’s what titles and headlines do.
They get your attention, then describe what the following content will be about.
The second thing this list accomplishes is that it acts as a reading list.
These are all great books that will help you along your journey as a corporate myth-maker and teller of tall tales.
I encourage you to pick one or two and start reading them.
Okay, back to headlines.
Headlines and titles are as much an art as they are a science.
I prefer creative titles like the one I used for a recent article: The AI overlords are taking over!
It grabs your attention and gets you interested.
There are a couple problems with these types of titles though.
- In a digital space, they don’t tell the algorithms that serve up search results on Google and DuckDuckGo much at all. In fact, they’re horrendous for search engine optimization (SEO). That means you have to do more to promote the piece.
- You need to rely on a very strong subtitle to communicate what the piece is actually about. For the article above, I went with “How Spotify cracked the enigma of music curation and built robots that suggest songs you actually like.”
There are more tried and true types of headlines too.
Take “The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing” for example. It’s to the point and you know exactly what to expect.
It doesn’t give the reader everything (“what are these laws?”), but it gives just enough to entice them.
Still, the title is clear, clickable, and even uses an old psychology trick. It uses a strange number.
7, 12, 23 — These are numbers we see everywhere.
Use something like 22, 39, or 73 instead and you stop people in their tracks. That’s because they’re less common.
To drive the point home, here is another list.
9 headline formulas that grab readers’ attention every time
If you’re unsure about how to write a creative title or headline and you’d prefer to go with something that you know will be clicked, refer to these formulas.
1. The Clickbait
Numbers + Adjective + Target Keyword + Promise
Example: 3 Simple Tips to Manage Your Time Better
Buzzfeed made millions with headlines like these. Maybe you can too?
2. The Double Scoop
Adjective + Adjective + Keyword Phrase + Promise
Example: Tried and True Headline Formulas That Get Readers to Click
Like your favorite ice cream cone, this headline gives readers a little extra on top to whet their appetite.
3. The Tell-All
”The Secret” + Keyword + Promise
Example: The Secret to Creating Content That Converts
Everyone likes to be in the know. Whisper this headline in your readers’ ears for maximum results.
4. The Gossip
”Little Known Ways…” + Promise + Keyword
Example: Little Known Ways to Get More Readers
Some readers will think, “I probably already know them.” Others might say to themselves, “Hm… I wonder what he knows that I don’t.” Either way they’ll want to read the rest.
5. The Virtuous Student
“What Every” + Profession/Interest + “Should Know About” + Topic
Example: What Every Copywriter Should Know About Headlines
This headline screams: “If you consider yourself one of these, and haven’t learned this, then you’re probably an amateur.” It speaks directly to people’s egos.
6. The Expert
Number + “Lessons Learned” + Verb + Topic
Example: 27 Lessons Learned from Studying This Year’s Most Popular Super Bowl Ads
Something like this creates an instant connection with your reader and taps into their desire to learn something without doing the work.
7. The DIYer
“How To” + Verb + Keyword Phrase + Promise
Example: How to Create Award-Winning Copy in 6 Easy Steps
These can be modified / mixed-and-matched with the other formulas quite a bit.
8. The Dictator
Command + Topic
Example: Stop Writing So Much
Hit them with a follow up headline like “Do This Instead” to drum up some curiosity.
9. The Big Promise
”The Ultimate Guide” + Topic
Example: The Ultimate Guide to Writing Headlines
Replace with “The Beginner’s Guide” or “The Big List” as needed.
These headline formulas are forever at your disposal
Refer to them every time you come up empty-handed. Once you get comfortable writing headlines, try to do something a little more creative.
And don’t forget to test different headlines often to get a feel for what your readers’ respond to.
Before you know it, you’ll be a natural at coming up with the right headline every time.
— Mike Doane
P.S. Don't walk away empty-handed
Above the Fold is a newsletter about the power of marketing. Every week I send stories just like these straight to your inbox.