Never Publish a Weak Headline Again (Here’s How)

by Team Caffeine · 1 comment

Strong Headlines

[Tweet “”All the world is a laboratory to the inquiring mind.” – Martin H. Fischer”]

In this article:

  • The easy way to be ignored
  • A stupid way to grab attention (it really works!)
  • How being an ordinary, boring person with ordinary, boring problems makes you a better headline writer
  • How to never publish a weak headline again
  • And… something fishy is going on around here

You Will Probably Skim Read This Article

But don’t beat yourself up for that. We all do it, and it’s Google’s fault.

It’s because of TMI.

We live in an attention economy. Before you can even think about selling your products or services to anyone, you must first get their attention. In a world where consumers are bombarded by information, grabbing attention is no longer easy. We’re all drowning in a sea of websites, blogs, email and apps. Attention is a valuable commodity.

It’s war, folks. And unless you’re willing to fight the good fight to get the attention you need, you’re set to lose this battle.

It’s Time to Wear Your Glitter Leotard

How can you command attention? The basics of internet marketing all help. Think SEO. Think Twitter and Facebook. Think branding. Think storytelling.

All these are vital for getting noticed and pulling in punters. On their own, they’ll work hard for you and help you step ahead of the crowd.

But none of them will really make you stand out from the crowd. None of them will send you roaring ahead of the pack.

What really works in grabbing attention? The answer might sound stupid, but bear with me.

Now, Here’s The Part About Tropical Fish

Are you ready for the stupid tip on grabbing attention?

Be attention grabbing.

I told you it was stupid.

In other words, make people sit up and take notice.

Of course, this leads to the question: how do you get people to jump to attention? Allow me to answer this question with a story.

Imagine you’re drowning in work, pumping the phones, slamming through email after email, putting out fires around every corner. You know, a typical day’s work for most of us.

Then your assistant comes in. “I know you said not to disturb you,” she says. “But there’s an exotic fish sales rep from the pet store here to see you. He says it’s really important.”

You hit the roof. Ticked off doesn’t come close. You’re infuriated, blood boiling. This clown has totally misaligned your chakras. Who does some fish salesman, of all people, think he is coming into a random office at this time of day, interrupting your workflow?

“I’ll deal with this,” you hiss at your assistant. She looks a little afraid.

You storm out of the office, steaming at the ears.

“Get lost, buddy,” you shout at the meet looking guy in reception, adding your own non-family-friendly touch to your outburst.

The sales rep whimpers away, head bowed. “And don’t come back!” you shout behind him.


Maybe you’re a tropical fish nutcase, and you visited the pet store in your lunch break to pick up supplies. The sales rep is sitting there with your wallet in his hands. Now he has your attention. Turns out, you left your wallet on the counter in the pet store. He found your work address inside and came to return it to you personally.

If this is the case, then your reaction would be entirely different. When your assistant comes into your office, you might be a little annoyed, but your curiosity would be perked.

Then, when you see the fish sales rep holding your wallet, relief floods through your body. The last thing you can afford to do is lose your wallet. You thank the guy, and offer to take him for a drink after work.

Superheroes Need Not Apply – This Job Requires Ordinary Folk

When a person or business has something you desire or need, then it’s easy for them to get your attention. When that happens, the tables are turned, and instead of giving a cold shoulder (as you do to most businesses yelling at you for attention) you want to listen up.

The example I used is an extreme one. It’s unlikely that you’ll get the opportunity every day to be a wallet-returning fish-selling superhero (though there might be a gap in the market if you’re looking for a new career).

But you can give people what they want.

To get attention, you have to know who you are talking to. You must know what they want. What are their hopes, fears and dreams? What would a perfect day look like for them? What constantly niggles at them? What keeps them awake at 3am?

When you know the answers to these questions, you know how to grab the attention of your audience.

Do the answers to these questions sound difficult to discover? I’m sure some of them are. You’ll have to do some serious research. Get to know your customers. Ask them questions. Get your hands dirty.

But, here’s the deal. You know a lot of the answers to these questions already, unless you’re a zen guru floating in the clouds (in which case, you can stop reading and get back to your floating). What are your hopes, fears and dreams? What would a perfect day look like for you? What keeps you awake at 3am?

The fact is, we’re all human beings. We’re all ordinary folk with problems and worries. And by tapping into what you already know from your own experience, you can get a good sense of what’s going on for other people.

But you’ve not said a jot about headlines!

Hold your horses, buddy. Just because we didn’t say the word headlines doesn’t mean we weren’t talking about them.

Headlines are the only thing we’ve been talking about.

Headlines are your front line soldiers in the battle for attention. They may seem easy to come by, at just 5-10 words, but unless they perform, you’re headed to lose-ville.

As the old sage of marketing David Ogilvy put it:

“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.”

Ogilvy was writing in a by-gone era when people had to read books, newspapers and magazines to find information. In today’s world, where most people hold a universe in their pocket, the odds are stacked against you even higher. These days, it’s more like a hundred times as many people who will read your headline as read your body copy.

Write weak headlines, and you’ll hemorrhage traffic. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that the web is chockablock with weak headlines, sloppy copy, and people writing stuff they just don’t care about or have any interest in. That means if you headlines that strike to the heart of your audience, you’ll stand head and shoulders above the pack.

How can you give your headlines a workout?

Let’s Take a Trip to the Headline Gym

Don’t sweat it. We won’t make you do weightlifting here.

I take it you’ve been to a gym. The weird thing about gyms is that you get lines and lines of people doing the same thing. You get the rows and rows of people on their exercycles. You get the iron pumpers. And the long distance runners on their treadmills.

When you actually think about it, it’s quite weird. That is, until you realize why everyone follows the same exercise routine.

It’s because it’s what works.

Quit Struggling, and Follow the Crowd

You’re a headline writing beginner. Maybe in the future, you will be an extreme headline athlete, and you’ll start forging your own path. Until that time, use what works. Steal from the world around you. Notice what grabs your attention – because that’s what will get other people’s attention too.

And, if you really want to make it easy for yourself, use templates. We’ve got plenty to get you started here. And if you want to find more, just hit the Google search bar.

But if everyone runs with templates, won’t they lose their potency? Nope. There’s two reasons for that. First, there will never be a time when everyone uses headline templates. Some people think it’s cheating. Some people think templates are beneath them. And most people won’t ever discover that there are templates they could be using. Second (and this is the big one), even if everyone uses the templates, they’ll still work. They work because they connect with something that matters to every human being.

We all want to know how to do things.
We all want to avoid mistakes.
We all like to be told a secret.

What’s The Real Secret to Never Publishing a Weak Headline?

If what you’ve read so far has made you dizzy, then you’d best stop and take a breather, because this is totally wonky.

The real secret to never publishing a weak headline is to write weak headlines.

We promised to show you how to never write a weak headline again. And if you start using headline templates today, you can live up to that promise. But just because you’re no longer writing weak headlines doesn’t make you a headline genius.

To be Einstein, you gotta do the math.

To write good headlines, you gotta practice. And sometimes practice means getting things wrong.

Mess things up. Don’t be afraid of failure. Sometimes, you’ll have to write hundreds of headlines before you land on one you’re happy with. Other times, the perfect idea will come to you right away.

To never publish a weak headline again, start by writing weak headlines.

Magical Ingredients for Your Headline Cauldron

Magic is a fickle beast. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. And there’s not always a good reason either way.

Headlines are pretty much the same. You can write a super-beefy headline, the kind that you’re sure could sell sausages to pigs, and it flops.

Othertimes, what you believe to be an awkward headline will break all records and be your best ever.

That’s why we share these ingredients with caution. They’re magical in the sense that maybe they’ll work, maybe they won’t. Use them with care.

  • Start with templates. Once you’ve collected enough templates, build your own swipe file of headlines you love.
  • Be relevant. Make sure your headlines touches what matters to your audience.
  • Show empathy. When you can see the world through the eyes of your audience, you’ll write better headlines.
  • Funny is money. But that’s no excuse for being obscure. If you insist on writing puns, make them obvious.
  • Deliver on your promises. The truth is, writing attention grabbing headlines is easy. How to make a million dollars overnight, guaranteed is always going to pull in a crowd. The only problem is, if your content fails to deliver on your headline, then you’ve lost the trust of your audience, and all that attention you get is worthless.
  • Smell what sells. What you believe will work isn’t always what will work. Instead, split test different headlines on your audience. They’re who really matters, and when you see what attracts clicks, you’ll write better headlines.

Related Reading

How to Write Headlines That Work

5 Quick Tips For Writing Great Headlines That Work

Headsmacking Tip #21: Write Better Headlines Than Anyone Else
The Moz Blog

10 Questions to Help You Write Better Headlines

How to Write Blog Headlines Your Readers Can’t Resist
Social Media Today

What did the fish say when he posted bail?

“I’m off the hook!”

From the moment you grab your audience with your headline, never let them off the hook. Grab ’em tight and reel ’em in. Hold their interest from beginning to end.

Now, I’m going to go against my own advice and let you off the hook. This article’s finished, but before you swim away, answer me one question.

Your Turn!

What’s the best headline you ever read? Share it in the comments.

[Tweet “”You don’t understand anything until you learn it more than one way.” – Marvin Minsky”]

Lori R Taylor is the founder and executive editor of Social Caffeine. In 2009 she started her own direct response focused social media agency, REV Media Marketing LLC, coining the phrase given by her young son, “You bring the rain, we’ll make it pour.” Follow Lori on Twitter.

David is our acting editor. He’s British, but we don’t hold that against him.

Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Google+ 

Book Cover Test

How much money are you losing because of poor website design?

Conversions are where websites pay off. You must see your site as your laboratory! If you're a blogger might want to gain more subscribers. If you run an ecommerce site you want more sales. Maybe you just need more leads for your business. Whatever the action you want people to take your job is to make it easy. Help them help you. This free report is the marketing glue you need to fix your funnel.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Mitch Mitchell November 11, 2015 at 11:52 pm

I wish I could remember the best headline I’ve ever seen but I just can’t right now; may be old age. lol I’m not great at writing headlines because I create them based on exactly what I’m writing about for the most part unless it’s a story type of post, in which case it’s more like a book title. It’s a talent I’ve never quite grasped; I don’t quite have the mind for hyperbole.

Still, this was an intriguing read; good job!


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: