Why Every Entrepreneur Should Be Able to Write a Killer Headline (and How to Do It)

You work hard on your content, whether you’re writing an email, a sales page, a direct mail piece, a blog post, or a job description.

But if you can’t write a magnetic headline for your content, your customers won’t read a word of it.

Copyblogger says:

On average, 8 out of 10 people will read headline copy, but only 2 out of 10 will read the rest. This is the secret to the power of the headline, and why it so highly determines the effectiveness of the entire piece.

Every headline has one critical assignment: draw readers to whatever content follows.

The word “head” appears in the word “headline” for a reason. Just like a person’s face, it is the main point of focus and communication for any piece of content.

Even if you don’t consider yourself a “writer,” you still need to be able to craft a compelling headline.

One of the fundamental frameworks for headline writing we like here at StoryBrand comes from a couple of guys named Michael Masterson and Bill Bonner. These “Four U’s,” as they’re called, outline four qualities our headlines should possess. If you want to take your headline writing to the next level, start here.

Be USEFUL to the Reader

Whatever content you’re writing your headline for, your potential reader is asking one big question: What’s in it for me?

Your headline is the first place they look to answer that question. So that’s why it needs to be relevant and useful to your customer. It needs to show how whatever follows will add value to their lives.

One of the major paradigm shifts we teach at StoryBrand is that your customer is the hero of the story, not your brand.

By writing useful headlines, we honor the perspective of our customers and the journey they’re on. It also allows us to become their guide, providing the information they need to succeed.

Let’s see how to do this with a few examples:

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There are lots of ways you can promise your readers value. (More on that here, actually.) You can say you’ll save them time or money. You can offer motivation or entertainment. Or, like this example, you can provide valuable insider access.

Give me 10 minutes, and I’ll show you how to double your leads this week

The value in this headline is specific and instantly clear: you can double your leads this week. Remember, the purpose of a headline is to motivate readers to keep reading or engaging. Show the usefulness they’ll get in return for that engagement.

Create a Sense of URGENCY

Say you’re watching an action movie and it’s the final, climactic scene. In order to save the village and the woman he loves, our hero has got to defuse the bomb. Fortunately, the bad guy gives our hero as long as he wants to do it, and two weeks later everyone is saved.

Urgency gets our attention in a story because it elevates the stakes. The same is true for our headlines and content.

That’s a terrible movie, right? Our hero needs a deadline. He’s got to defuse the bomb in 30 seconds or the whole movie falls apart.

Urgency gets our attention in a story because it elevates the stakes. The same is true for our headlines and content.

Let’s take a look at these examples to see how you might write headlines with urgency:

5 epic adventures you absolutely must experience before you turn 40

This is the easiest way to create urgency — with a time-driven deadline. If this content runs on a site that appeals to people in their 30s, there’s an instant sensitivity and “stakes” to this headline.

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Another way to create urgency and up the stakes of your headline is to imply that there’s a pitfall awaiting anyone who doesn’t know what your content reveals. If this headline appears to people who are actively searching job boards and applying for jobs, they’ll feel the urgency to avoid the pitfall by reading the content.

Show How the Main Benefit is UNIQUE

Attention and time are the scarcest resources we have. That’s what we’re asking for with our headline and our content: First, give me your attention, and then give me your time.

We have to make the case that it’s worth it. And with so much information out there, we have to show why our content is unique. Our readers are skeptical. From a survival perspective, they’re trying to conserve the calories their brain uses. They’re looking for any excuse to close the tab, delete the email, and ignore us. Subconsciously, they’re wondering:

“I get 200 emails a day. Why do I need to open this one?”

“I’m looking at a ton of landing pages today to request bids for my deck. Why should I fill out this form?”

“I’ve read a lot of articles about productivity. What makes this one different?”

Here are a couple examples of how to imbue a headline with uniqueness:

Exactly what to wear this month, based on your favorite Game of Thrones character

Fashion advice on the internet is pretty easy to come by. So I hear. But this headline points out what’s unique about the content: a pop-culture-specific twist that will probably entice fans of the show to spend their time checking it out.

7 recipes that prove eating vegan isn’t bland

One way to up the “uniqueness” factor is to contradict a popular opinion. A lot of people assume vegan recipes are just going to involve a lot of dry vegetables. This subject line differentiates itself — and hopefully gains more attention — by claiming the opposite. That’s its unique twist.

Do All of This in an ULTRA-SPECIFIC Way

Good headlines are specific. They communicate what the content is about, who it’s for, and why it matters — all in a handful of words.

Good headlines are specific. They communicate what the content is about, who it’s for, and why it matters — all in a handful of words.

This specificity is powerful for two reasons.

First, it’s your chance to connect with your readers and show you understand them. What kind of struggles are they facing? How does the content that follows your headline alleviate that struggle?

Second, it allows you to “qualify” who reads your content. If you’re writing a headline for a sales page that offers printing services to graphic designers, you can use your headline to call out that group of people. They’ll know the content is for them. If your headline could resonate with everyone, it won’t resonate with anyone.

Compare these two headlines:

How to Pay Your Quarterly Taxes
7 Reasons Why Freelancers Don’t Have to Dread Tax Season

The second one is stronger because it’s specific, both in terms of who it’s for (freelancers) and how it connects with a common pain point they experience (how unpredictable their tax payments can be).

A solid headline will check off at least two and ideally three of these qualities. Some of these qualities are more important than others, depending on the type of content you’re working on and where the headline appears. For example, the quality of urgency is key in sales headlines and email subject lines, but not as important for a blog post title, where being useful and unique are paramount.

Finally, I’ll leave you with some wisdom from copywriting pro Ray Edwards who told me, “The ultimate secret to writing really good headlines … is to write a lot of really bad ones. The point is not to stop with just one or two attempts; write lots of possible headlines for your sales copy, subject lines for your emails, and titles for your blog posts before you finally settle on one.”

I hope these guidelines make it easier to write magnetic headlines that get your content the attention it deserves.

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