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Headline formulas are like the holy grail of blogging, landing pages, opt-in forms, and quizzes.
Because more people see your headline than ever look at the body of your content.
If you use a poor headline, it does not matter how hard you labor over your copy because your copy will not be read. – John Caples
If your headline sucks then the rest of your message will never get a chance.
Conventional wisdom will say start with a seed idea or keyword, plop it into your headline formula, and voila – you have viral content in the works.
I wish life were so easy.
Headline formulas will save you time, energy, and skyrocket your conversions. If you use them too much then you’ll come off as repetitive and stale.
Instead, use a healthy mix of headline formulas and headlines from scratch.
In this post, you’ll be introduced to some of the most powerful headline formulas available. Though they’re called headline formulas, you can and should use them throughout your copy.
They remove a lot of the guesswork associated with copywriting.
Every time you sit down to write a blog post, lead generation page, sales page, or any other page on your website – consult this post. Add it to pocket or bookmark it right now. Hell, send it to your partner for safe keeping.
Yea, it’s that important.
Before we jump into the formulas, I want to equip you with the ability to make great headlines. That is, great headlines without a formula.
You need to know the rules before you can break them – right?
7 Elements of great headlines
A headline has a lot of moving parts. Not all of them are needed every time. You can focus on a few elements and get your point across.
Other times, you need to pull out the big guns.
At all times, you need to keep them in mind and make sure you’re ticking a few of the boxes.
Specificity is way more powerful than a few general statements. It lends credibility to your headline and the rest of your content.
Use numbers or references to invoke specificity.
In the above example, Bryan uses two numbers. A big one “10,000” to draw you in and a smaller one “5” to put it in perspective.
It’s perfectly ok to sell that as a short book on Amazon. You’ll learn how to write a short book in just five hours. Not a bad headline.
- Power Adjectives
Not all adjectives are created equally. Some are meh and some conjure strong imagery – visceral reactions.
Do your best to incorporate strong adjectives at all times.
In this post on my marketing blog, I used the word “explosive.”
It promised more than effective or useful. It let the reader know they’d get something that could change their writing permanently.
Here are a few resources you can use to find power words:
- Invoke Emotions
Emotions are the key to human interaction. Without them, we can’t make decisions or derive meaning from the world around us.
The more emotions you can invoke through your headline, the more likely it is to be clicked. Not only that, they’re more likely to read onto the next line.
Despite what people say, your headline only has one job, to be interesting enough to get people to read the body copy.
Yea, it’s not for SEO purposes, to convert, or any of one million other things.
In the above post, they won’t get any SEO benefits from the headline. They will and did get a flood of visitors to the post.
Because it touched on visceral emotions.
- Addresses a need or interest
In the end, it has to be useful or interesting. People want to be entertained or taught. Not much else matters.
It’s why the Kardashians are rich – they’re interesting to many people.
You’re on this website – this page in particular – because you want to learn something. That something, in general, is how to grow your audience and business. You’re not here for the hell of it.
You’re busy. We know that.
Your headlines need to be aware of that fact as well.
Don’t make the reader guess what the point of your article is. Tell them up front. Or at least give them an idea.
Have you ever seen those headlines that aren’t possible but you have to click anyway?
“Scientists rediscover the ancient secret of living over 100 years.”
You know it can’t be true because life expectancy has been rising for decades. If it’s rising, that means we’re living longer now than in the past.
Obviously, the ancients didn’t live longer than us. But there may be an interesting piece of research behind the claim. Ah hell, let me check it out.
Does that thought process look familiar?
Credible is different from realistic. You can say anything about anyone as long as it’s credible. Appeals to authority such as scientists, leaders, well-known-institutions all lend credibility.
Clarity is perhaps the most important aspect of a good headline. Before they’re helpful, credible, use power adjectives, or do anything else – they have to be clear.
Without clarity, nothing else matters. No one will understand your message.
How do you make it clear?
Chop of the first and the last word.
I’m serious. We tend to lie more at the beginning and the end.
If that doesn’t work for you, try this simple exercise. Give it to someone else to read. Ask them to tell you what they think your content is about.
If they get it right then you’re golden. If not then it’s back to the drawing board.
Clarity is king.
Man is a curious creature.
Every innovation, invention, and breakthrough happened because of curiosity. Your TV is here because someone was curious. The same can be said about the internet and even cars.
You can ignore it or tap into it. For your headlines, use it to your advantage.
The above headline from Copyblogger taps into curiosity and a need. Online, you have to keep people coming back. It’s the only way they’ll buy from you.
This headline promises to tell you about two skills to fill that need.
The headline formulas
The following headline formulas can be used in more than just title headlines. Use them to break up text, keep bullets interesting, and even write chapter titles.
1. [Product Name] is a [product category] that [different thing it does best]
This one is commonly used by TechCrunch. Nice and clear.
News Website: The Hustle is a news site that gives you news you actually care about.
Conversion optimization software: KyLeads is a conversion optimization tool that allows you to handle everything from one backend.
2. They All [Did Unpleasant Thing] When [Unexpected Thing], But When [Ideal Result of Using Unexpected Thing]!
Selling stationery: “They all looked at each other when I said I’d host the shower, but when they saw the invitations!”
Selling performing arts school: “My mom didn’t say a word when I told her I was going to performing arts school. But when she saw me on stage!”
Starting your own business: “Everybody scoffed when I applied for a patent, but when I made my first $100K!”
3. Who Else Wants [Most Desirable Outcome or Benefit]?
Fitness: Who else wants to look amazing on the beach?
Investment advice: Who else wants to double their investment in 12 months?
4. The Only [SEO Keyword Phrase] Made Exclusively to [Most Desirable Outcome or Benefit]
Skydiving: The only skydiving program designed to give you an unforgettable thrill without the risk.
Project management software: The only task management software made exclusively for remote workers
Conversion Optimization Software: The only conversion rate optimization tool made for small business owners.
5. The only [product category] that doesn’t [objection or anxiety].
Accounting software: The only accounting software that doesn’t come loaded with a hundred pointless features.
Conversion Optimization Software: The only conversion rate optimization software that doesn’t take months to learn and implement.
6. Now You Can [Do Something Desirable] [Counter to Expectations]
Email marketing software: Now you can sell to your list without “annoying” them
Family coaching services: Now you can raise a family without giving up your career?
7. Now You Can [Do Something Desirable] [Great Circumstance]
Email marketing software: Now you can sell to your list and keep them coming back for more
Family coaching services: Now you can raise your family and earn six figures without a traditional job.
8. We Promise You This: [Highly Desirable Result] Or [Consequence]
Marathon Training: We promise you this: You’ll run a half marathon in 3 months or we’ll pay for your all your gear and supplies.
Affiliate training program: We promise you this: If you don’t make $500 in the next 30 days then we’ll pay for your next affiliate training program.
9. Here’s the [Adjective] Way to [Solve a Problem]
House cleaning service: Here’s the affordable way to treat yourself to more free time
House cleaning service: Here’s the eco-friendly way to get your home squeaky-clean
10. [Eliminate pain in an unexpected way]
Tax preparation: File your taxes while sitting on your hands.
Teeth whitening: Get rid of coffee stains with your phone.
11. [Do desirable thing in an unexpected way].
Team chat: Complete more projects – faster than ever – by chatting online.
Fully electric car: Drive 3,000 miles without ever stopping to buy gas.
12. [Notable person] shows you how to [do notable thing like they do]
Boxing course: Mike Tyson shows you how to knock out opponents in the first round.
Sales Training: Zig Zagler shows you how to sell ice to an Eskimo and make them feel good about it.
Writing course: Stephen King shows you how to write bestsellers like he does
13. [Service name] is a [service category] that [amazing outcome for end users or decision-makers] without [objection or anxiety]
Buttocks Lift: Atlanta Butt Lift is a cosmetic surgery clinic that gives you the perfect backside without abnormal contouring or bruising.
Dental service: Pearlman Ortho is a teeth-straightening studio that gives kids confident smiles. Without fear of being “metal mouth.”
Specialty Beard Grooming Store: Real Men Groom is a beard care product retailer that’ll get your beard in tip top shape without hazardous chemicals or lengthy routines.
14. You’re tired of [objection or anxiety]. But you [desired outcome]. So it’s time you met [Product name].
Whitening Toothpaste: You’re tired of expensive procedures and unproven remedies. But you want that bright white smile. It’s time you met Purbrite.
Specialized pillows: You’re tired of groggy sleeping pills. But you need a good night’s sleep. So it’s time you met Cool Comfort body heat regulating pillows.
Running shoes: You’re tired of paying through the nose for name brand running shoes. But you need the comfort, support, and protection. So it’s time you met Ryko.
15. [Do something] like [world-class example]
Tennis training: Serve like Serena Williams.
Speech lessons: Command a crowd like Barak Obama.
Cosmetic surgery: Remain ever young like Madonna.
16. Are You Still Wasting Money on ______________ (Without Anything to Show for It?)
Conversion rate optimization software: Are you still wasting money on conversion agencies (with nothing to show for it)?
Accounting software: Are you still wasting money on an accounting firm (with nothing to show for it)?
Ergonomic Chair and desk: Are you still wasting money on a chiropractor (without anything to show for it)?
17. Have a / Build a [Desirable Thing] You Can Be Proud Of
Branding services: Build a memorable company you can be proud of.
Woodworking classes: Build furniture with your hands you can be proud of.
College recruitment: Build a career (and life) you can be proud of.
18. Get the [Unusual Adjective] Power of [Product Category] Without [Pain]
KyLeads software: Get the mindblowing power of conversion optimization software without juggling a dozen tools.
Search engine optimization service: Get the unfathomable power of Google search results without the confusion and uncertainty
19. Get Rid of [Problem] Once and For All
Legal document generator: Get rid of your Lawyer’s fees once and for all
Business coaching: Get rid of poor business performance once and for all
Health Supplement: Get rid of your fatigue once and for all
20. [Do Something Hard] in [Period of Time]
Business training: Become a successful entrepreneur in half the time it took Jeff Bezos
Teeth whitening: Whiten your teeth by ten shades in four weeks.
Programming course: Learn to code in less than 12 weeks.
21. 9 Out of 10 [Group Members] Can’t/Don’t ____________. Are You One of Them?
Software for writers: 9 out of 10 novelists can’t remember the birthdays of their main characters. Are you one of them?
Freelancer-matching service: 9 out of 10 marketers don’t like their freelancer’s attitude. Are you one of them?
22. Make Your First [$] in Just [Time]
Copywriter platform: Make your first $1,000 as a professional copywriter in just seven days.
Flipping websites: Make your first six figures before the end of this year.
23. How to Permanently Stop [Painful or Embarrassing Thing], Even if You’ve Tried Everything!
Botox injections for sweat: How to permanently stop wet armpits from ruining your day. Even if you’ve tried everything!
How-to-negotiate course: Permanently stop feeling underpaid and underappreciated, even if you’ve tried everything!
24. [Known Competitor] [Does This Undesirable or Unimpressive Thing]. [Your Brand Name] [Does This Highly Desirable or Impressive Thing].
Vacation Rental Platform: AirBnB has expensive homes and safety is questionable. Nomadfinder allows you to stay with thoroughly vetted locals for free.
Laptop computers: HP computers are prone to catch viruses and slow down. AceWin vets every program before it can run on our OS – no more viruses.
25. Can your [current solution] pass the _______ Test?
Writing software: Can your writing software pass the Nanowrimo Test?
Dating app: Can your dating app pass the Kid Sister Test?
26. You are [comparative] than you think
College: You’re smarter than you think
Fitness training: You are fitter than you think
27. Let [your product] work on your [noun] for just [time period]
Teeth Whitening: Let Purbrite work on your teeth for just four weeks
Deodorant: Let Temp work on your body for just 20
28. Overcome the [Unexpected Culprit] That Keeps You [Unpleasant Thing]
Weight-loss book: Overcome the body chemical that keeps you fat
Debt counselling: Overcome the social pressures that keep your credit cards maxed
29. Is it worth [low price] to you to [get outstanding result]?
Marketing book: Is it worth $5 to learn the secrets of getting people interested in your business?
Analytics software: Is it worth an hour of your time to get access to all the metrics you need to grow your business.
30. [One word.]
Urban clothing line: Badass
Botox Injections: Youth
31. [Objection.] But/And it works.
New type of car stereo: Strange. But it works.
Teeth whitening: Tedious. But it works.
Marketing mastermind retreat: Expensive. And it works.
Bonus headline formulas for use on lead-gen pages, marketing Ebooks or blog posts.
The following headlines are effective in certain circumstances and appear out of place in others. For the most part, use them in Ebooks, blog posts, and lead generating pages.
They can be applied in other places, it’s your call.
- The Ultimate Guide to (Good, Bad or Desirable Thing).
- What Everybody Ought to Know About (Good, Bad or Desirable Thing).
- X Lessons I Learned from (Person or Unusual Experience)
- To the (role) who will settle for nothing less than (world-class outcome)
- Break all the rules and (world-class outcome)
- How Your (Service Provider) Is Ripping You Off. And What to Do About It Right Now.
- I Found a(an) (Adjective) Way to Get Incredible Outcome
- See why we have an (adverb adjective social problem) in just short time.
- (Influencer or celebrity) emotional reaction to (thing that basically the whole world already understood)
- Is this the world’s first (Good, Bad or Desirable Thing?)
- How to Survive Your First (Good, Bad or Desirable Thing)
- How I found out that (unexpected thing) is the best medicine
- Let me show you the secrets of (powerful group)
- (What Group or Celebrity) Can Teach You About Unexpected Thing
- (David-type addresses Goliath-type). Result. (Facebook vs Dribbble. Dribbble wins.)
- How to Make $ With Your ________________,
- Step-by-Step The complete library of (large # free and low-cost desirable resources)
- Behind the Scenes of a _____________
- Person does X. Another person’s reaction. Result: priceless.
- Is (Trending Topic) a Scam?
Headline formulas are a great way to jumpstart the creative process. Use them as a tool to aid you, not as a lifeline to save you.
There are dozens of headline formulas in this post. Any one of them will turn into a great headline. That notwithstanding, it’s your duty to mix in the headline formulas and the ones you’ve created from scratch.
If you don’t, your jaded visitors will tune you out. Either they’ll see it on your website or the wider web. The result is the same. Your headlines cease to do their job.
There’s nothing new under the sun. All we do is rearrange the ingredients to make something unique.
Let me know the bits and pieces you’ve combined to make your own headline formulas in the comments and don’t forget to share.