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How to Write Head-Turning Headlines - Part 2 (of 3)



“When research reported that the average shopper thought Sears Roebuck made a profit of 37 percent on sales, I headlined an advertisement 'Sears Makes Profit of 5 Percent'.
This specific number was more persuasive than saying Sears’ profit was ‘less than you might suppose’ or something equally vague.”

- David Ogilvy, On Advertising

In Part 1 of this trilogy, you read about the principles of the 80/20 headline rule, developed by David Ogilvy and tested tirelessly to prove its efficacy. You also read about the 12 most powerful, impactful words a headline can have.

You also learned that length matters – well, as long as it’s backed by rhythm and power.

Now, on to Part 2:

If You “F” It, They Will Come

If you’ve never studied the copywriting and marketing adfolks of the early 20th Century, you’ve missed the principles upon which nearly everything in marketing today is built – including and especially social media and digital marketing.

And if you aren’t taking advantage of the following principle

— Regarding/demonstrating how people read content on their computers and other electronic devices –

Then your bottom line is suffering.

Experts in writing persuasive copy do know this principle – and they know how to take advantage of it.

Research has found that webpage readers read or scan in the following ways:

  1. They read all the way across the top of a page where the headline goes
  2. They scan down until a bold, prominent subhead catches their eye
  3. They scan directly down the left side for what grabs their attention

If you close your eyes and imagine the pattern this makes…

Make an imaginary line across the headline at the top of the page…

Make another one as you scan down the left side to a bold subhead…

Make a final one down the left side (until you see something attention-grabbing)…

This is called an “F” pattern…

Write your headlines and subheads with this in mind – in other words, don’t spare the best, concise, most persuasive words possible in each head or subhead.

That’s why, in terms of words, 8 may not be enough to satisfy your prospect.

12 or longer not only is eye-catching but also, if used correctly and purposefully, it makes the reader yearn for more…

The Power of U

We’ve already talked about being personal – talk to your reader by using “you”.

This, however, refers to “u” (times 4): urgency, useful, unique, ultra-specific.


Your prospect is bombarded daily with solicitations. Each ad is begging for action. Each product or service regales the reader with its benefits.

Still, even if your prospect needs or wants your offering, they’re numb. Their eyes have glazed over from the overwhelming number of ads, emails, letters, and texts.

You need to stand out. Establishing urgency is step 1.

Otherwise, your prospect deletes or ignores your ad. You’ve not given them a reason to take action immediately.

So it passes from their minds within minutes – and you’re empty-handed.

Add urgency. Give your prospect a reason not to put off ordering.

How? It’s pretty simple, actually. Use words and phrases that instill urgency:

  • Act Now
  • Your Last Chance
  • Today
  • Now
  • One time only
  • Get In Before July 1
  • 12 Hours Left

Take a look at an example:

Become a Founding Member of

the Trader X Society by March 1st

And Get a Lifetime Membership

at 20% Off the Regular Membership Price

This is an altered version of a headline written recently for a client. He had created a membership service and the purpose of this landing page was to attract long-time memberships.

However, there was a 10-day period to take advantage. While the above was not the main head, it was a subhead. And it was strategically placed in several more subheads.

Makes sense, right?

Now that you’ve put urgency in your headline and subheads, don’t forget to add…


This should be a no-brainer, but too many copywriters defer to creativity instead of to usefulness.

Creativity is death to a bottom line, particularly when it’s simple for the sake of being so at the behest of the copywriter’s ego.

If you’re trying to win an award for creativity, let your client know. This will allow him or her to make one of the following two possible decisions:

  1. Stick with you and go broke, OR
  2. Fire you and go with someone who makes them money

To make your headlines useful, add things that will do one or more of the following:

  • Add value to your prospect’s life
  • Solve your client’s problems
  • Detail your client’s opportunity  
  • Help change your prospect’s life

Take a look at another example from the sales letter referenced above:

The Trader X Society Will

Teach You Key Trading Principles and

Help You Identify Winning Trades

With the Proprietary “XX Technique”

By reading this subhead, prospects knew exactly what they were getting: knowledge.

Specifically, knowledge of two crucial aspects of trading. For a trader or investor, who wouldn’t want to learn new principles or techniques that could make them money?

By now, the prospect is thinking two things: I can use this, but I don’t have much time to get it at this price.

Here are two more real ones that are frequently referenced for their usefulness:

  • 5 Simple Steps You Can Take Today to Avoid the Nation’s Number One Killer
  • These 18 Sensational Sight Savers Can Help Halt And Even Improve Vision Loss

By implementing urgency and usefulness, your headline is getting stronger.

Yet, it can be stronger – by simply adding


In the Trader X subhead above, not only did it tell you that you’ll acquire money-making knowledge (i.e., something useful) but it also told you that you’ll be using one-of-a-kind technology (i.e., something unique).

To be successful, a headline or subhead must proclaim how your product or service is different from everything else. You must tell them that how your solution is better than other ones.

Find a unique benefit that you offer over your competitors, position it in your head or subhead, and watch yourself become a force in your industry.

The final step to making an irresistible headline? Make it…


Do your headlines look like this:

Some Possible Ways to Clean Up Your Desk

Live Comfortably Overseas

With vague claims or ambiguous benefits?

Then you’ve hired a lazy or wrong copywriter.

(By the way, those two are purposeful butcherings of the following two famous and very successful headlines):

Top 10 Ideas to De-clutter your Drawers

Retire Overseas on Just $19 a Day!

(See how much better?)

Believe it or not, prospects smell skullduggery or cheap tactics with unspecific claims. They look at vaguely-written benefits with disinterest. Rough estimates are dismissed as proof of nothing (except laziness and no sales).

Avoid “some”, “approximately”, “possible”, and other words that leave room for doubt in the reader’s head.

Don’t make ambiguous statements that mean nothing:

  • The Greatest Breakthrough Opportunity in a While
  • A Bit of Honey for Your Health
  • Save More Money

None of these arouses curiosity in your reader. No emotions are stirred. The reader does not feel compelled to continue reading.

And you know what that means.

Be specific. Ultra-specific. Tell the precise benefits. Give exact numbers, figures, facts, details, and specific benefits.

Here’s one spin on the above 3 ambiguous heads and subheads:

  • The Last Time an Opportunity This Certain Appeared Was 2007—When $1,000 Returned $36,350 within 2 Years
  • Bothered by Rough, Dry Skin? Try 3 Drops of This Honey for Soft, Supple Skin
  • Save $58

Without context, that last one is not a good subhead, per se, but it’s still more specific than “Save More Money”.

Ignore at Your Own Peril the Scientific Principles of Writing Headlines That Convert

Learn and implement the science and psychology of headlines—they still work despite technology’s constant advancement.

However, be careful—if you don’t make your intentions clear, you may come across as a tease.

To find out more about this, go to Part 3 of this trilogy.