An Open Letter to Anyone Who Writes Headlines for a Living

An Open Letter to Anyone Who Writes Headlines for a Living

Reader Comments (49)

  1. “Later never comes.”

    You hit the nail on the end. I have dozens of things bookmarked and saved for me to read but just never actually got around to doing. If I can’t make time to read it right now the odds of me coming back to it are pretty slim. Sometimes it’s just bad timing so even the best headline in the world won’t get me to read it right then and there but plenty of times a great headline has sucked me in enough that it’s worth pausing whatever else I am doing to read.

    • I’m the same way, Nick. I have good intentions of returning to things I save, clip, bookmark … but if there isn’t a good reason (like I need to refer to it in an article I’m writing) then it goes untouched.

  2. This is just what I needed today. I am forever putting “to read later” posts on my bookmark, but I haven’t gone back to a single one. HOwever, if the headline is powerful enough, I will leave the post up on my tab till I go back and read it before deleting it. ANd I really like your exhortation to go after the few I can really help – not everyone. Thanks again, Amy

    • Yep, your conversions will go up and costs down when you pinpoint exactly who you need to talk to … And they’ll love you for it, too. They’ll understand you are talking directly to them.

  3. Brian let you write a post without subheads?

    Guess you can break the rules when the content is good enough.

    Great message on specificity, one I will apply over the next few weeks.

    • Haha, that was my wife’s first comment, too. We have to upset expectations on occasion to get attention and make a point. Hopefully it worked. 😉

  4. Nice article Demian, and in fact a great headline that caused me to stop what I doing and click on it when it popped into my inbox!

    I was discussing this very thing at a party on Saturday night with a personal trainer who runs online fitness courses. I was telling him about the importance of creating a great headline (backed up of course with exceptional content) and he was agreeing and saying how when he sees something pop up on his facebook like ‘5 foods you must eat to lose 3 stones in a week’ he just can’t help but click it, even though he knows it’s probably a load of nonsense. He just has to know what the 5 foods are!

    I drive my girlfriend crazy these days (and she probably worries about my masculinity…) as I am always pinching her copy of Marie Claire or Cosmo to browse for headline inspirations. The best ones go into a spreadsheet for later ‘re-purposing’ 😉

    Anyway, totally agree and best get back to what I was doing before your headline made me stop. Damn you magnetic headline!

      • haha, I think she’s worried she’ll come home from work one day to find me prancing around in her underwear! Must compensate by eating copious amounts of t-bone steak and downing excessive quantities of beer to build my man points back up…

  5. There seems to be two parts to the issues you’ve addressed. One is knowing who you wish to reach and the other is crafting a headline or banner that speaks to the people that we want to reach.
    These struck a chord with me: ‘Know your audience’ and ‘Try to strike a chord with that percentage.’ For my own experience, considering that subscribers have already endorsed my message, product or service by offering giving me their contact details, it makes sense to address these like-minded individuals. Then there’s the effort of communicating to my subscribers and readers briefly and succinctly my inspiration or interests. Only when I fully understand the benefits of what I’m offering are headlines are not so much of a problem or a chore to create. Thanks Demian for your post.

    • You bring up a good point … writing great headlines doesn’t stop once you’ve got them on your list or membership site. Your job is a little bit easier since you created an environment where they know like and trust you … but if you want conversions in that space, you still need to focus on that percentage.

  6. Thanks for the post. I have learned so much from Copyblogger about the importance of headlines. But, most of what I have learned relates to sales copy.
    I have a question.
    My sites goal is spreading compassion for all animals. Sometimes my posts are educational (about animals), sometimes they are informative (the poaching crisis), and sometimes they are guiding the reader on how to help animals.
    So, the headlines are difficult for me when I try to add the ‘advantage to the reader’ words. Do you have an suggestions for compelling (advantage to the reader words) for educational headlines?? Thanks.

    • Teaching people how to help in some capacity is educational: how to adopt exotic, endangered animals for less than $100 … 10 Places to Volunteer Caring for Helpless Animals … Best Countries Caring for Their Exotic Animals … Most Animal-Friendly Countries … 21 Trust-Worthy Organizations Who Will Spend Your Money Wisely. And so on.

      That make sense?

    • You are the best. That’s why they pay you the big bucks. 🙂
      Thanks so very much. I have already basicly written the content for most of the titles you just gave me. Thank YOU.

  7. “…create advertisements that communicate WHAT it will be worth to your prospects if they set aside time to read your promotion. And do that with your headline.” Best lesson I’ve learned to date.

    Your headline is the key that opens the door for your ideal customer to your business.

  8. I have to say that by following what you are teaching here on Copyblogger in the way of headlines has really helped increase readers on my blog. Just simple tweaks and a lot more visitors.

    I heartily agree – Headlines are extremely important, not just for sales copy, but also for blog posts, book titles, etc.

    • We love hearing this sort of comment … very encouraging to see people’s businesses/blogs growing from the advice we provide. We are confident it will … because we know it works … you just have to put it into practice. Glad to hear you are. 😉

  9. By accident I learned my audience is obsessed with “networking” – that’s the biggest pain. A headline about networking moves the needle

  10. I am not a copywriter by nature or by previous career path, but the more I have gotten into online marketing, the more I find myself studying ads in offline publications (magazines, newspapers, the babysitting brochure of the kid down the street, etc). I now study the cigarette ads in Field & Stream more than the article about where to catch lunker trout!

  11. Dang Demain your good.

    I got to this point in your post, “create advertisements that communicate WHAT it will be worth to your prospects…” and stopped. I didn’t have to read any further. I knew what I had to do. That little part of that sentence summed up your whole point. It the old cliche from the reader’s point of view, “what’s in it for me.” If we make the reader feel it is useful, they click.

  12. I thoroughly agree to your point here, headline is the first parameter which comes out when anyone reads a post.

  13. Perfect. So much truth in this post.

    As you mentioned, its more important to know your target audience and connect with them than it is to get hits from anywhere…

    I know a small business in Texas that signed up with one of these big online marketing firms… and paid them a bunch of money. They increased hits and “leads”.. but they all came from Saudi Arabia and China. How is that even helpful? They’re a small shop in Texas operating in like a 150 mile radius… if that.

  14. Demian,

    I know content creators have differing opinions Seth Godin’s “Just Ship It” strategy of getting your art out into the world…

    It seems like what your saying above is that you have to put your work out into the world or you’ll never know what hooks world on your audience and which don’t.

    Am I looking at this correct?


  15. Great post, Demian! I’ve been involved in my own startup odyssey (MyLocalReporter) and now face some of the toughest obstacles. I constantly go back and forth between wanting to keep at it and just hanging up the entrepreneurial dreams. It’s good to get another person’s perspective. Sorry it didn’t work out for you but I hope another opportunity comes your way soon.

  16. Hi Demian,

    Yes, you are an expert salesman. That is abundantly clear. A profession that hasn’t fundamentally changed over the centuries, however much you capitalize on the fact that the context has indeed changed. Dramatically.

    You know what’s very striking about people who sell stuff for a living? The telling use of the words ‘they’ and ‘them’ when referring to the people you sell to. It multiplies when salespeople are talking to other salespeople, like you do here. The reason is that salespeople love the sell much more than the pesky people they sell to.

    What would happen to selling if salespeople started to *really* care about the chronically depressed, self-loathing teenagers or the worrying retirees, in stead of exploiting their needs and psychological makeup with what in essence is manipulation?

    Would you like to have a thousand chronically depressed people at your doorstep, asking you to help them? No? Well, why do you pretend then that your product can *really* help them and fullfill their deepest desires?

    It’s about the sell – it’s not about people.

    One final note: it’s not my intention to be cynical or sarcastic. Yet I can’t help but feeling bad about this new age. For the first time in history we can get scientific about the exploitation of people’s needs, and bring the dishonesty to a whole different level of manipulation.

    Oh, and I am a business owner myself, and yes, I have to sell too.


    Bart van der Griendt

    • Bart, I’m sorry you need to be so negative about copywriting. It really bothers me.

      I’m not the expert here, but I would guess sales people that really care about their customers do much better. And using what you call “manipulation” is in the best interests of their customers.

      I would also guess true manipulation won’t get the copywriter anywhere.

    • Also, I’ve bought just about every product Brian offers at Copyblogger. In no way do I feel manipulated. In fact, I’m truly grateful for all the education that his copy has provided.

    • Bart, you might enjoy this:

      I would not want chronically depressed people crowding my doorstep … unless I thought I could truly help them. 😀

      I wouldn’t mind, however, people who wanted to be writers crowding my doorstep … I love writing, and I love teaching people how to write better.

      The best salesman hands down are those who are zealous about people, a cause. If you are not zealous about the cause, sell something else.

      • Reading your answer, I find myself smiling at my own misjudgment.

        I guess the art and science of persuasive writing is a tool.

        And, as my father used to say: the house is not in the hammer, it’s in the carpenter’s mind.



  17. “Ignore the rest.”- my new mantra.

    Cute photo, I’ve always liked Missouri.

    Thanks for the real talk, even if the sales rhetoric was a little beyond me.

    I’ve always wanted to sail to St. Croix…


  18. What an interesting post: right on the money.

    The first thing I notice is the headline: everything else follows or builds up from there.

    The headline should be eye candy: attention arresting, making you want to learn more about the product or service you are trying to sell.

    I appreciate your timely reminder and keep up the great work you are doing on this fabulous blog. Cheerio.

  19. I agree.. You do do have to test and tweak with you headlines. Just a few extra tweaks on my landing pages could mean a big difference in conversions. Add in relevance and understanding your prospects better than they understand themselves.. and your golden..

  20. Great Article Damien!

    I write headlines for a living, mostly for PPC ads and landing pages and focusing on the my “best customers” has been the trick that changed it all for me.

    At first I was trying to make my ad or landing page headline match every different type of customer expectation. it worked, but not as well as I wanted it to.

    Now what I do is write for my best customers, those that I think have the highest potential for buying my product.
    It allows me to use jargon words and speak directly to their problems and needs.

    Since I started doing that I am seeing better conversion rates than ever.

    Testing of course is the way to get there, it’s rare that the first headline I write is the best one. It usually takes 3-4 headlines until I hit the jackpot.


  21. ‘Try to strike a chord with that percentage. Ignore the rest.’


    good thoughts – thankyou.

    When I first let myself loose on copy – I did so with the verve of a sweaty manic preacher seeking to convert everyone to my cause. The only qualifying factor required in the audience: a heartbeat.

    The results were understandably mediocre.

    The more time I spent identifying markets and creating messages specifically for those markets, the more I saw my results consistently improve.

    Funny that. . .

  22. Great article, Damien, and the headline itself is very inspiring. The tactics you describe don’t apply to outbound sales strategies only. In fact, they are probably even more important for inbound marketing where the aim is to capture readers’ attention rather than the attention of their wallets.

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