The headline is the most important part of your sales letter or space ad. You could have the best advertising copy and the best product, but it doesn’t matter IF the reader doesn’t get past the headline.
Changing the headline can make a huge difference in your response rate, even if you don’t change one word in the rest of the sales letter. And, you only get so many words so you have to make them count!
When starting to write a sales letter or print ad, advertising legend John Caples recommended spending hours just writing headlines. Or even spending days writing headlines if necessary. If you can come up with a good headline, then you can most likely write a good sales piece.
In writing a headline keep in mind that you have only a few seconds to get the attention of the reader.
And remember that your reader’s Number One question is “What is in it for me?”
The purpose of the headline is to be an “advertisement for the advertisement.” In other words, it has to sell people on reading the rest of the sales letter. Why should they spend the time to read further?
It’s always a good idea to lead with a huge key benefit or intriguing question in the headline. I always suggest putting your biggest benefit in the headline. Not the entire sales pitch, but the biggest benefit to the reader. OR, base the headline on the key question that will be answered in the sales letter.
You want the reader to stop and think, “This letter applies to me. There might be a something in here of value to me.”
One way to do this is to say that the message is only for a special group of people. Readers see that they fit into the group, and they think that this sales letter is for them.
You can put a “qualifier” in the headline that really doesn’t exclude anybody, but makes readers feel like they are part of a group, and that the sales letter is directed to them. For example,
- For women who would like to lose 10 pounds in 10 days.
- Attention Drivers who drive less than 37 miles a day (which is about everybody).
- Car Owners: Save 2 Gallons in Every 10!
Almost everybody is a car owner, but people skimming through their mail think “Wait, I’m a car owner!” and they stop and read the sales letter. For the sales letter that used the last headline above, the addition of the two little words “Car Owners:” in front of the headline increased the response by 22%!
As you can see, little changes can make a huge difference!
You can use your headlines to attract people who are the most motivated of the group. For example, one advertiser tested headlines for a baldness cure. One headline was “For Bald Men” and the other was “Do You Suffer From Baldness?” The headline with “Suffer” in it pulled better because it attracted men who thought that baldness was a problem.
Specifics increase the power of a headline. For example, in an ad targeting real estate brokers, saying “I gained 9 new real estate listings in 2 weeks” is better than “I gained more listings.” And, if you are using big numbers to which some people cannot relate (for example, when describing potential income gains), you might test using a more realistic number with which the reader can identify; or break it up into weekly or monthly amounts.
If you write long copy in brochures, break up the text with subheads between long groups of paragraphs. Many people will skim through a brochure to decide whether they want to read it further or not. If they see something interesting in a subhead, then they will stop and read that part. If that part is interesting enough, they may go back to the beginning and read the entire brochure.
If you are writing copy for both direct mail and the Internet, you may need to write different headlines for the web. In direct mail, you are “talking” directly to the reader. On the Internet, you also have to take into account there are key words that are more easily found by an organic search through Google.
To learn how to write good headlines, keep a swipe file of all the control sales pieces you receive. This means you need to:
- Make sure you are on a bunch of mailing lists.
- Track the sales pieces you receive so you know which ones are the control. The control is the piece that is mailed most often by a company.
Get on a large number of direct mail mailing lists, and study the mail that you receive. Believe it or not, many top copywriters read The National Enquirer to see examples of good headlines. The National Enquirer may not report a lot of “real” news, but they certainly know how to write headlines that grab people’s attention!
Copywriter Gary Halbert suggested putting your prospect’s name in the headline, such as “Craig Simpson Improves His Mailing Response by Knowing This One Secret.” It’s hard for someone to ignore reading something with his or her name on it!
In addition, Gary recommended the following rules and examples:
- Put news in your headline.
- Promise a benefit in your headline.
- Do both of the above in the same headline.
Here are some good words to use in headlines:
- At last
- Now, at last
- How to
- Here are
- 17 Ways to
- The art of
- The secret of
- A startling fact about
And so on. Now, here’s a headline that combines both news value and the promise of a benefit:
(Example from Gary Halbert)
At Last! Scientists Discover New
Way to Look Younger in Just 17 Days!
There’s much to be learned in the 13 words above.
At Last!: Boy, that sure suggests something we’ve been waiting for has finally happened, doesn’t it?
Scientists: Not just anybody; not some know-nothing man living in the streets; not some marketing consultant or copywriter. No. No. We’re talking about a select, objective, hard-headed, analytical, totally honest group of folks who validate our headline.
Discover: Wow! It seems to indicate research laboratories and maybe a scientific breakthrough.
New Way: We’re all questing for new ways continually, aren’t we? New ways to grow hair, get thin, make more money, etc.
To Look Younger: Ah, who is there among us over the age of 40 who wouldn’t welcome the achievement of this almost universally sought-after benefit?
In Just 17 Days!: More validation because it’s so specific. Claude Hopkins said it: “Generalities fall off your readers like water off a duck’s back.” Or something like that. Anyway, the specificity of the number is very important.
17 Days makes our headline more believable, more easily understood, and somehow, more interesting.
As you can see, there is A LOT you can do with your headline. It is extremely important that you get it right the first time!