9 tips to crafting effective headlines

daves pen

David Ogilvy said many things that have gone into the marketing lexicon, one that is particularly relevant to the ways we are communicating today:

On the 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”. 

It is disturbing for me to sped several hours creating a blog post, and then to have just a few people read it, and I find that following the rules below, my readership increases markedly.


  1. Lists always work,” 6 ways to build a better backhand”
  2. “How to” headlines always work.  “How to build a better backhand” If you can actually find a way to combine a “How to” with a “list”, well, off it goes. Like “How to leverage these 6 ways to build a better backhand”
  3. Highlight the benefit, a WIFM (what’s in it for me)  headline. “Having a great backhand increases your chances in doubles”. Sometimes a  bit of innuendo or double meaning goes a long way to making a headline better “linkbait” to the body of the article or email.
  4. “Free” is good, “Free e-book on how to build a forehand Federer would love”
  5. Evoke curiosity, then deliver in the body. “How many more sets would you win with a better backhand?’
  6. Draft several headlines, and give considerable thought to which is the best to use in  the context of the audience, and what it is you are trying to convey.
  7. Length, SEO experts tell me that about 60-70 characters is the limit, as the search engines cut off the subject lines at about 70.
  8. Learn from what others are doing. About the best source of effective headline writing lessons is in the local newsagent, spend a bit of time browsing the magazine section, there are SEO killer headlines effectively selling stuff that nobody in their right mind should buy
  9. The final consideration is that while it is the headline that gets people in, it is the value you deliver through the information in the body of the message that keeps them there. There is just so much content out there, so many opportunities to spend your time, that the real value is in delivering sufficiently good information and ideas to induce people to read the whole post, then  return, again and again.  The headline is just the icing, it is the cake that people consume.

There are many formulas, that claim to make writing good headlines easy, just like those above. However, like most things that can be broken down into a formula, you end up with some degree of repetition, a “sameness” with others,  it may work, and usually has to date,  it may deliver the outcome, but it is still the outcome of the same formula your competitors  are  using. So be different, add some humanity to the message, nothing is as good as a bit of humanity to connect to your audience.

That is really hard.




About strategyaudit

StrategyAudit is a boutique strategy and marketing consultancy concentrating on the challenges of the medium sized manufacturing businesses that make up the backbone of our economy. The particular focus is on their strategic and marketing development. as well as the business and operational efficiency improvements necessary for day to day commercial survival. We not only give advice, we go down "into the weeds" to ensure and enable implementation.
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