Over the years I have built quite a swipe file of headlines and other copywriting examples as a handy reference to inspire my own work.
One of my favorites is this list of headlines compiled by advertising pioneer John Caples. It has the added benefit of the extensive testing he did on them.
That makes it more valuable than just a list of clever copywriting ideas.
The words of your headline are the most critical words of any content you write. Caples said, “If you have a good headline, you have a good ad. If you have a poor headline, you are licked before you start.” Statistics bear this out.
On average eight of ten people will read a headline, while only 20% will go on to read the rest of your copy. On the Web, you have 3-8 seconds to capture the reader’s attention before they decide to continue reading or move on. With those odds, you need all the help you can get to pull readers into your blog.
This list should help. But first let’s take a look at why these headlines worked so well.
Three formulas for writing blog headlines that pull readers in
Over the decades of his brilliant career Caples tested every conceivable nuance of headline writing. In his book Tested Advertising Methods he shared the principles and techniques he learned through continuous testing.
The results are a treasure trove for content marketers. The principles contain the seeds of success for writing headlines that bring traffic to your blog. His formula for the most successful approaches can be boiled down to three classifications.
Of all headlines tested, those featuring a strong benefit had the greatest success. This is the timeless axiom “features tell, benefits sell.” It sounds simple, but it isn’t so easy to execute. It’s critical to know the distinction between feature and benefit. A feature is about your product. A benefit is what your audience gets from it. Adding emotion magnifies the benefit. Make your reader’s self-interest the focus of your headline and they will be interested in you.
Example: Get rid of money worries for good
This approach was the second-most successful of those tested. It works because it has the appeal of storytelling and immediacy. People respond to headlines that offer news. Combined with a benefit, this type of headline has a powerful one-two punch to engage readers. News oriented headlines frequently begin with:
- Introducing …
- Announcing …
- Now …
- New …
- At last …
- Finally …
Example: Introducing a new way to bridge the gap between what you’ve saved and what you’ll need during retirement
The third-most successful type of headline uses the element of curiosity. To be effective, curiosity must be combined with self-interest or news. One of the most revered and imitated headlines in advertising history is Caple’s classic:
They laughed when I sat down at the piano.
But when I started to play!—
The headline and copy brought together the perfect combination of curiosity and storytelling to capture readers’ attention for many generations.
Example: How I raised myself from failure to success in selling
Regardless which formula you use, the key is to write a headline that appeals to people’s self-interest or that gives news. Caples summed it up best: “Every headline has one job. It must stop your prospects with a believable promise. Times change but people do not change. These appeals worked 50 years ago. They work today. They will work 50 years from now.”
Here are 106 tested, top-performing headlines from John Caples. See if they don’t give you some ideas how to improve your blog headlines to bring in more readers.