The Art (and Science) Behind Neck-Snapping Headlines

I’ve already broken a major rule of copywriting…

… and I should know better. Because as a professional copywriter – with seven figures of sales for clients – I know the secrets to crafting irresistible headlines.

But this one breaks a rule. And it’s a biggie.

I’ll explain that rule in a minute, but we need to make a deal first. I’ll explain the broken rule – and why I broke it – if you promise to read this entire post without skipping ahead.

Do we have a deal? Good.

Neck Snapping Headlines Require Three Ingredients…

John Caples – along with Joe Sugarman and Eugene Schwartz – is considered one of the best copywriters ever.

Not only was John Caples a gifted writer, he was also an avid tester. He routinely tested assumptions (notably headlines) to see why some worked… and others fell flat.

He then wrote a book about it: Tested Advertising Methods. And guess what? He dedicates four whole chapters to headlines.

As Caples once famously said:

If the headline of an advertisement is poor, the best copywriters in the world can’t write copy that will sell the goods.

Caples explained great headlines have three ingredients:

#1. Self-interest.

These headlines explicitly tell your reader what’s in it for them.

For example:

  • “How to Write Better .”
  • “How You Can Get Your First 1,000 Subscribers”
  • “The Secret to Great Copy”

#2. News.

These headlines announce something “new”, which draws your reader in.

For example:

  • “New Writing Technique Doubles Your Productivity!”
  • “Announcing Apple’s New Fan-Boy Favorite For Writers!”
  • “New Study Finds Writers Block Is A Complete Myth (and How to Break It)”

(Note:  These headlines sound newsworthy, but they also include self-interest. The combination makes them stronger).

#3. Curiosity.

Curiosity is extremely powerful online. Your readers may have seven tabs, chat windows and god-knows-how-many social platforms open.

Curiosity grabs their attention and pulls them into your copy. The first few paragraphs should build suspense and arouse curiosity (notice how I did that with the opening paragraphs here?)

For example:

  • “What American Idol Can Teach You About Writing Well”
  • “Why Getting Arrested Made Me A Better Writer”
  • “How Two Teenagers Turned A Bicycle And A Hundred Bucks Into A $53 Billion Dollar Company” (yes, this one’s true – which was it? Let me know in the comments below!)

The more of these “ingredients” you include in your headlines, the better.

How To Write Irresistible Headlines Right Now

Luckily for you, there are plenty of proven headline templates available. Some have worked for decades… and will work for decades more.

Why?

Because these templates use the elements of self-interest, news and curiosity that John Caples swore by.

So to get you started, here are…

10 Proven Headline Templates

#1. “Reasons Why _________”

Example: “7 Shocking Reasons Why Your Headlines Fail (And What To Do About It)”

#2. “How To…Without…”

Example: “How To Land A Book Deal Without An Agent”

#3. “The Secret to….”

Example: The Secret to Writing Well

#4. “Why Haven’t You…”

Example: Why Haven’t You Used These Writing Hacks Yet?

#5. “The ______ Guide To….”

Example: The Stephen King Guide to Writing Fiendishly Good Books

#6. “Are You Making These ______ Mistakes?”

Example: “Are You Making These Common Grammar Mistakes?”

#7. “Why ______ Is Wrong”

Example: “Why Ernest Hemingway Is Wrong For the Internet” (you could write a post like this one explaining why “literary” writing is not a good fit for the web.

#8. “Don’t Read This If…”

Example: “Don’t Read This If Your Writing Already Wins Awards.”

#9. “Common Mistakes…”

Example: 37 Common Mistakes New Writers Make (And How To Avoid Them)

#10. “Cheat Sheets” or “Blueprints”

Example: “A Cheat Sheet for Powerful Writing”

And if you want some to get started, I’ve created a list of 101 headline templates which you can use right away.

WARNING: Don’t Use These Templates
Until You Read This…

A great headline is a promise.

A great piece of writing delivers on that promise.

So before you run off with these templates, make sure your content delivers what they promise. For example, a 1,000 word post on grammar is unlikely to be “The Ultimate Guide to Grammar”.

It’s just not big enough.

And if your headline promises to reveal “The Hidden Secret to Writing Faster,” it better not be painfully obvious (e.g. “Just write continuously.)

Of course, these templates can be used elsewhere, too…

5 Uncommon (But Extremely Powerful) Places To Put Your Headlines

#1. Your email subject lines.

Powerful subject lines mean higher open rates and engagement with your audience.

Most autoresponders let you split test your subject lines to see what works. For example, let’s say you have 10,000 subscribers. You could send two different subject lines to 2,000 subscribers, see which works better, then email the winner to your remaining 8,000 subscribers.  Cool, huh?

#2. Twitter.

Use proven templates to craft your Tweets. Like email, it leads to higher clicks and engagement. This also works well for social bookmarking sites like Digg or StumbleUpon.

#3. Your sub-headers.

Notice the sub-headers in this post? They kinda look like headlines, don’t they? Sub-headers break up your content into easy-to-digest nuggets… and compelling headlines keep your readers hungry for more.

#4. Bullets.

People love reading bullets –  so make sure to include proven headlines there, too!

#5. Product names/Presentations.

“How To Double Your Traffic With An Editorial Calendar” sounds so much better than “Getting Started with Editorial Calendars,” don’t you think?

Revealed: The “Broken Rule” And Why I Broke It…

As I mentioned before, your content must support your headline.

No matter how amazing your headline is, it will FAIL if your content doesn’t deliver.

For example, if your headline promises “7 Ways To Lose Belly Fat Without Dieting” and you only list five (and mention dieting in one of them)…

You’re screwed.

Which is why I took a risk here. This post’s headline, “The Art (and Science) of Neck-snapping Headlines” does not mention art.

Know why?

Because there is no art in copywriting. Only science (specifically psychology and statistics) are needed to write eye-catching headlines.

I included “art” in the headline for two reasons:

  • First, it’s a commonly known phrase (e.g. “The Art of War”)
  • Secondly, some people believe headlines are an art form, and I’d love to hear their opinion on this.

What do you think? Is there room for art in writing great headlines? Or does science rule?

Let me know in the comments below (and feel free to post some of your headlines, too!)

About the Author

Adam Costa is is the co-founder of Travel Blogger Academy and Trekity.com. Grab his 101 headline templates and start writing irresistible headlines today!

 

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