Three Proven Headline Formulas and Why They Work

magazine headlinesFriday, I gave some examples of killer headlines that grab your attention.

Sure, they’re formulas. They’ve been used over and over since the days of John Caples and Eugene Schwartz.

The question is, why do these headline formulas work so well? What makes us keep reading (or clicking)?


Some of these formulas work by arousing your curiosity.  They make you wonder how something could possibly be true, or what the connection between two unrelated things might be.

For example, “How a Pebble on the Beach Changed my Life.”  We expect a new job or a move or other big events to influence our lives, but not a pebble.  The only way to find out what happened here, and how it happened, is to keep reading.

Other headline formulas work by setting up a contradiction.  The headline “Eat More and Weigh Less.” doesn’t sound right.  We all “know” that to weigh less you have to eat less, right?  Or do we?

Sometimes the headline asks a question, such as “Do you make these common marketing mistakes?” The only way to find out what those errors are, and whether you are making them, is to read more (or click).


Other headline formulas offer an easy solution to a tough problem.

If your readers are struggling with their weight, or setting up a blog, or getting rid of weeds, a headline that offers to fix those things (and even fix them easily) can be very powerful.

If you’ve got bugs, a headline that says, “Get Rid of Bugs Forever in Just One Step” is going to definitely attract your attention.

Promises and inside information

Another proven formula is a headline that makes a big claim or promise.  The lure of learning secrets or inside tips can be nearly irresistible.

Headlines such as “Retire Early Without Being Rich” or “Secrets the SEO Experts Don’t Want You to Know” promise access to information that other people don’t have. And, it’s information that can help you earn more, be more comfortable, and happier.  That’s a powerful inducement to read or click.

Who wouldn’t want to know how to do those things?

What makes you stop and read a headline?

Image thanks to:  Robert Couse-Baker

How to Write Great Headlines Your Readers Can’t Resist


reading the newspaper

I can’t read the text, but that newspaper must be pretty interesting if he wants to read it while swimming. If you’d like your readers to be as hooked as he is, you’ll need a great headline to start your sales copy.

Here are some tips for writing great headlines for your posts, your ads, or your emails.

Make them curious

Curiosity is bad for cats, but good for people. Write something odd, or unexpected, and your readers will want to find out more about it.

One way to do this is to put two or three things together in a new way. Or, combine subjects that don’t seem to belong together at all.

The Yogi Berra Marketing Guide
The only way to find out what in the world Yogi Berra has to do with marketing is to read the post.

The Pajamas, The Lizard Brain, and the Employee Manual. Certainly a strange combination.  The only way to find out what it’s about is to click the title.

Ask a question (without a clear answer)

Are You Reading These Blogs?
Do You Make This Common Marketing Mistake?
Why Are Clients Like Fish?

Asking a question that the reader can’t immediately answer arouses both interest and curiosity.

What are those common marketing mistakes anyway?  If you don’t read the post, you’ll never know.

And what the heck do clients have in common with fish?  There’s only one way to find out.

Make a big promise

The Number One Marketing Secret You Need to Know

What is this secret?  And how will it help me earn more or grow my business?  Tell people you’ve got secret, long-lost, or inside information about a topic of great interest.  Appeal to their desire for knowledge that most people don’t have. This makes people curious, and they’ll click through to satisfy that curiosity.
Try This Timeless Copywriting Technique

This promises another secret.  In this case, it’s a copywriting trick that you may not know, but that has been working for a long time. This lends credibility to the idea. If it’s timeless, it’s proven to work for others, and can work for you too.

Revealed: Why Clients Want to Make the Logo Big

Graphic designers and businesses have been fighting over logo size since the beginning of advertising. If you want your audience to read your article or post, use a headline that addresses something that really bothers them (and offer a solution).

The Truth About CAN-SPAM

Many marketers misunderstand the FTC CAN-SPAM rules.  Getting it wrong can be an expensive mistake. This article has valuable information that will keep you from making those mistakes.

Appeal to self-interest

Earn More Money by Giving Free Gifts

This headline sets up what seems to be a big contradiction. How can giving something away for free lead to more money? The only way to find out is to click the link.
15 Tips for Writing Emails That Make Money

This one appeals to a strong, common desire.  In this case, to earn more money from your marketing emails.  Who wouldn’t want to earn more money, especially if it’s from something you’re already doing.

Get Record-Setting Results in a Recession

This headline appeals to the desire to beat the odds.  We want to earn more, and we also want to know how we can do that when the economy is poor and it’s harder to get clients or sales.

Try these on your own posts. You’ll get headlines so good, your readers will want to take your work everywhere—even swimming.

Photo compliments of: inju