How to Write Ridiculously Captivating Headlines

How to Write Ridiculously Captivating Headlines

Between headlines and subject lines, by now you may think I have more than a bit of an obsession.

And you would not be wrong. 

In fact, I recently took part in a headline-writing contest within a copywriting group purely for the fun (and practice) of it.  

I won two of the five categories.

I’m not telling you this to brag, but it’s great to have this validation from people in the business. It was their votes that landed me in first place.

I’m telling you this because I want you to know I have a handle on this puppy.

I’d like to share some tips that may help you, too.

Before I get into my 10 tips, here’s why you need to nail your headlines, whether it’s an article title, subject line, editor pitch, blog post or what have you… 

Most readers don’t make it past the headline

Your headline is the gatekeeper. 

Unless your reader makes it past the gatekeeper, your email may as well be whatever your cat types when she walks across your keyboard.

It’s like that scene in every crime mystery movie where the hero storms into an office and demands to see The Big Shot.

The receptionist shouts, “You can’t go in there without an appointment!” 

He rushes past her and bursts into the office anyway, disrupting an important meeting. Big Shot shouts, “What’s the meaning of this?” 

The difference between this approach and your headline is a good headline makes people want to let you in.

No barging in necessary.

It’s always up to you to write stellar body copy that backs up the trust you earn by your headline, however.

It’s a challenge to come up with a good one

Your headline needs to sum up the benefits of what you’re saying in a way that the reader gets a sense for what’s in it for me? 

It’s a matter of distilling down some of the main points and repackaging them. 

Your reader should:

  1. feel it’s about him/her
  2. be curious (“what’s this all about?”)
  3. believe they’ll gain new knowledge or acquire something else of value

Otherwise, why bother? It’s easier for them to hit delete and go back to scrolling Reddit.

My headline winning strategies

In the headline challenge, we were all given information on fictitious businesses and offers. We were only told the main offer, target audience, promise, etc. 

The headline was to reflect the company’s purpose and message.

One was a company marketing cricket protein-based foods (yes, the insect, not the sport) as a way to help fight world hunger.

Honestly, the gross-out factor made this a struggle at first (cricket protein is a real thing, by the way).

But once I got past that, here’s what I did… I

  • highlighted all the key phrases in the description of the product itself and any key points or word
  • briefly researched the background of cricket protein
  • brainstormed as many headlines as I could for 15 minutes
  • took a break
  • went back to my list, pulled out the best and tweaked the ones I thought sounded best

After all that, this ended up as my winning headline: Help Solve World Hunger One Chirp at a Time

I did the same for the second headline winner. 

This was for a (again, fictitious) company that produces documentaries of ordinary (not famous) people’s lives. 

You’d hire them if you wanted to create a movie for future family members. They’d sit around in the year 3000 and watch it like we watch Jurassic Park today (“Whoa… They still used the phones back then?).

I won with this headline: Once upon a time… there was you. Tell your story as only you can

Headline formats proven to work

Now for 10 quick headline hacks to help your brainstorming sessions…

Keep in mind you must know your audience first and foremost. The minute they think you’re sending out messages willy nilly they’ll ignore your emails, at best.

Or mark them as spam, at worst.

With this in mind, the following are 10 headline formulas proven to increase open rates and spark curiosity…

I’ve used many of them in one form or another:

  1. What everybody should know about [good, bad or desirable thing]
  2. Break all the rules and still [great outcome]
  3. X Lessons I learned from [person or experience]
  4. How to survive your first [audit, zip-lining, etc.]
  5. Behind the scenes sneak peek at [something]
  6. The secret of [desirable thing]
  7. I stopped doing [x]. Here’s what happened next.
  8. How to [get incredible result] and [do surprising thing]
  9. Do you still believe [common belief]? 
  10. The ultimate guide to [x]

How’s your headline game? Will you try one or more of these tips? Leave me a comment below and let me know…

Other posts you may like:

How to make your copy conversational… so people actually read it

Email Subject Lines that Win Every Time (includes a valuable resource you’ll want to bookmark)

How to Create Writing Topics Out of Thin Air

Write on…

P.S. Need help with your copy? If your website copy could do better at sales, opt-ins, leads or other conversions, I may be able to help. Please fill out THIS FORM and I’ll get back to you shortly.


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