How to Write A Good Headline

January 31, 2012 in Essays

This is about headlines, particularly headlines for materials that sell health supplements, but there are lessons here for every headline writer. The headlines I’m going to quote come from Mike Pavlish, a successful copywriter who claims that they made him “$4 million in royalties.”

Mike correctly says that headlines are critical. He alludes to John Caples, a famous dead copywriter, who claimed that headlines “can pull 19 times more response than another headline with no other change in the copywriting or offer.”

“Without a great headline,” Mike says, “you are like the person who brings a knife to a gunfight – defeated before you even start.”

That said, let’s take a look at 10 of Mike’s headlines that performed very well…

  • Natural Discovery Helping Men Over 50 Enjoy “A Second Youth, Perform Better Sexually, And Enjoy The Better Health They Had 10-20 Years Ago!

This is not a headline that I would have expected to pull much of a response. But it worked… so that means it is a good headline. Why did it work? It hits all the mandatory hot buttons for selling potency products to men over 50: The product is natural (not synthetic), it improves sexual performance, and it somehow rejuvenates as well. These are the three key promises that must be made whenever you are selling a potency product. I don’t think this headline would work today because the health supplement market is full of much better (more intriguing and more specific) headlines. But it shows you that you have to make the basic promises.

  • The Great Antioxidant Hoax! Here’s Why Today’s Popular Supplements Are NOT What You Need To End Your Health Problems, Feel Better And Live Longer

Busting popular ideas is always an effective way to grab the prospect’s attention. Antioxidants were the hot topic for many years but eventually lost their effectiveness (largely because the products themselves weren’t very effective). By attacking a trend that was dying, Mike created hope in his prospect that he had something new to say.

  • This Amazing New “Cell Rejuvenator” Discovery Can Help End Your Pain, Improve Your Memory, End Your Fatigue, Restore Sexual Youth, Shield Your Heart, Help You Live Longer

What I like about this headline is the “cell rejuvenator.” There is something immediately believable about cellular rejuvenation. And that is a characteristic of many great headlines: They propose something that seems to make instant sense. The other thing to notice about this headline is that the supplement it’s selling (presumably a potency pill) promises to do all sorts of great things. This seems to be a motif with Mike: He makes the basic promise but he also makes secondary promises that may make the headline “stickier.”

  • SPRINKLE YOURSELF SKINNY!

    New “Food Crystals” Shut Down Your “Hunger Center” So You Are Guaranteed To Lose Up To 7 Pounds Every Single Week! 

This headline borrows from a headline Gene Schwartz once wrote about “rubbing” your stomach fat away. The idea that you can “sprinkle yourself skinny” is almost the opposite of instantly believable – but it worked because the image was new. Also note that the promise (that you can lose a pound a day) is very strong.

  • Amazing “Amazon Berry” Proven To Cleanse Your Heart, Help Prostate, Burn Fat, Add Energy and Boost Your Sexual Performance!

When I taught headline writing, I would say that every headline should have  the Four U’s – i.e., that they should be unique, ultra specific, urgent, and useful. The usefulness of this headline is obvious. It not only boosts sexual performance but also cleanses the heart, helps the prostate, burns fat, and adds energy. Again, Mike is adding benefits to the core benefit. Notice also that the “amazing Amazon berry” gives the promise some level of specificity and uniqueness. The reader is being told that he will learn about the benefits derived from a particular berry from South America. That is just enough detail to persuade him to read on.

  • The Amazing Sex Secret Of The Most Satisfying Male Lovers In The World!

    Here’s how you can perform the best sex of your life, regardless of your age or current problems! This amazing secret “For Men Only” is dramatically changing men’s (and women’s) lives literally overnight… 

Mike once again borrows again from a classic headline here (I can’t conjure it up, but take my word for it) with the promise that this pill will elevate the prospect’s sexual performance to such an extent that he will then belong to an elite group. This headline does not make any promises other than sexual performance. But Mike supports the first line of the headline with secondary promises (“regardless of your age or current problems” and “literally overnight”).

  • Here’s Why 99% Of Prostate Supplements Do NOT Work Good Enough

    I call it “The Great American Prostate Pill Rip Off!” 

With this headline, Mike is attracting attention by targeting a problem he knows his prospects have: not prostate enlargement but the fact that most supplements for that condition don’t work very well. By attacking them, he creates credibility for his product.

  • How This Colon Cleansing Can End Your Fatigue, Pain, Constipation and Other Health Problems… While You Gain More Energy And A Flatter Stomach.

    More than 65 different health problems are caused by a toxic colon.” – Royal Society of Medicine of Great Britain 

Here he goes again, making a load of promises in a single headline. Apparently Mike believes that adding these secondary promises is a trick he can rely on. Note also the reference to the Royal Society of Medicine of Great Britain. Anytime you can put a credible source in the headline it is helpful. (We call this the “halo” effect.)

  • Announcing A Major Advance In Natural Health For Men 50 And Over… Amazing New “Testosterone Release Supplement” Skyrockets Sexual Performance, Removes Excess Weight, Gives Energy To Spare, Ends Prostate Problems, Strengthens Heart…Now You Can Feel And Perform Like You Did Up To 20 Years Ago! 

    HARVARD MEDICAL SCHOOL, JOHNS HOPKINS, UCLA and others have reported on the safety and remarkable health benefits of increased testosterone in mature men

You can see the pattern: lots of secondary promises and credible sources.

  • The NEW Solution For Fast Joint Pain Relief

    Joint Pain And Stiffness Reduced By 84.1%: Important News For People Suffering From Joint Pain In Their HAND… KNEE… NECK… ELBOW… HIP… WRIST… SHOULDER… ANKLE… BACK 

What works in this final headline is Mike’s specific reference to the hand, knee, neck, elbow, etc. This is so much better than saying “joint” pain, which is what most pain formulas say. Again, specificity is key.

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