Do You Want to Write Awesome Headlines?

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    Copywriter of the Year Award winner Bob Bly
    Bob Bly Copywriter of the Year
    Image courtesy of awaionline.com

    Bob Bly Shows Us How

    Bob Bly is the author of more than 70 books including The Complete Idiot’s Guide To Direct Marketing (Alpha Books). Bob has been dubbed “America’s top copywriter” by McGraw-Hill and praised by legendary ad man David Ogilvy. With a 30+ year track record as a top freelance copywriter, when Bob writes, people listen – then they move on his Calls to Action.

    In his famous book, The Copywriter’s Handbook (Henry Holt & Co.), Bob shares, among many valuable things, his inside experience with over 100 top-notch clients: writing headlines that get attention – and then draw the reader into the body copy. The excerpts below are tips directly from this rich book.

    Powerful Headlines

    Bob quotes David Ogilvy, author of Confessions of an Advertising Man:

    “The headline is the most important element… It is the telegram which decides whether the reader will read the copy. On average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar. If you haven’t done some selling in your headline, you have wasted 80 percent of your client’s money.”

    The very same concept applies to Blog content. According to Bob, when readers browse headlines, they want to know: “What’s in it for me?” The effective headline tells the reader: “Hey, stop a minute! This is something that you’ll want!” As mail-order copywriter John Caples explains, “The best headlines appeal to people’s self-interest, or give news.”

    Good Headlines Have Very Specific Jobs

    Bob explains that your headline can perform four different tasks:

    1. Get attention.

    2. Select the audience.

    3. Deliver a complete message.

    4. Draw the reader into the body copy.

    Bob gives crystal clear examples of how headlines perform each of these jobs:

    1. Good Headlines Get Attention

    We’ve already seen how headlines get attention by appealing to the reader’s self-interest. Here are a few more examples of this type of headline:

    • “Give Your Kids a Fighting Chance” – Crest
    • “Why Swelter Through Another Hot Summer?” – GE air conditioners
    • “For Deep-Clean, Oil-Free Skin, Noxzema Has the Solution” – Noxzema moisturizer

    Another effective attention-getting gambit is to give the reader news. Headlines that give news often use words such as new, discover, introducing, announcing, now, it’s here, at last, and just arrived.

    • “New Sensational Video Can Give You Thin Thighs Starting Now!” – Exercise videotape
    • “Discover Our New Rich-Roasted Taste” – Brim decaffeinated coffee
    • “Introducing New Come ’N Get It. Bursting With New Exciting 4-Flavor Taste.” – Come ’N Get It dog food

    If you can legitimately use the word free in your headline, do so. Free is the most powerful word in the copywriter’s vocabulary. Everybody wants to get something for free.

    • “Free New Report on 67 Emerging Growth Stocks” – Merrill Lynch
    • “Three Easy Steps to Fine Wood Finishing” – Minwax Wood Finish
    • “How to Bake Beans” – Van Camp’s

    2. Good Headlines Select the Audience

    If you are selling life insurance to people over 65, there is no point in writing copy that generates inquiries from young people. Here are a few more headlines that do a good job of selecting the right audience for the product:

    • “We’re Looking for People to Write Children’s Books” – The Institute of Children’s Literature
    • “A Message to All Charter Security Life Policyholders of Single Premium Deferred Annuities” – Charter Security life insurance
    • “Is Your Electric Bill Too High?” – Utility ad

    3. Good Headlines Deliver a Complete Message

    According to David Ogilvy, four out of five readers will read the headline and skip the rest. If this is the case, it pays to make a complete statement in your headline. That way, the copy can do some selling to those 80 percent of readers who read headlines only. Here are a few headlines that deliver complete messages:

    • “Caught Soon Enough, Early Tooth Decay Can Actually Be Repaired by Colgate!” – Colgate toothpaste
    • “Gas Energy Inc. Cuts Cooling and Heating Costs Up to 50%” – Hitachi chiller-heaters
    • “You Can Make Big Money in Real Estate Right Now” – Century 21

    4. Good Headlines Draw the Reader into the Body Copy

    Certain product categories—liquor, soft drinks, and fashion, for example—can be sold with an attractive photo, a powerful headline, and a minimum of words. But many products—automobiles, computers, books, records, home study programs, life insurance, and investments—require that the reader be

    given a lot of information. That information appears in the body copy, and for the copy to be effective, the headline must compel the reader to read this copy. To draw the reader in, you must arouse his or her curiosity. You can do this with humor, or intrigue, or mystery. You can ask a question or make a provocative statement. You can promise a reward, news, or useful information.

    • “The $5 Alternative to Costly Plastic Surgery.” The reader is lured into the copy to satisfy her curiosity about what this inexpensive alternative might be. The headline would not have been as successful if it said, “$5 Bottle of Lotion Is an Inexpensive Alternative to Costly Plastic Surgery.”
    • “If You’re Confused about Buying a Personal Computer, Here’s Some Help.” You’ll want to read the copy to get the advice offered in the headline.

    Read more about Bob and see how he applies his own advice in examples of his own blog posts. Thanks, Bob, for mentoring us!

    For more resources, see the Free Management Library topic: Marketing and Social Media.

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    ABOUT Lisa M. Chapman:

    Lisa M. Chapman serves her clients as a business and marketing coach, business planning consultant and social media consultant. She helps clients to establish and enhance their online brand, attract their target market, engage them in meaningful social media conversations, and convert online traffic into revenues. Email: Lisa @ LisaChapman.com.

    Ms. Chapman’s book, The WebPowered Entrepreneur – A Step-by-Step Guide is available at: