Would You Pay $5 million for a Headline?

Of course not. But the headline got your attention, which is what headlines are supposed to do. But get the headline wrong, and you’ve lost an opportunity to gain a new reader or customer.

Your Grabber

Your headline is your grabber, but it doesn’t work for a new hair salon in my neighborhood. Here is a sign outside the shop advertising “Blow Dry $50” that is designed to lure in customers.

But the headline is all wrong.

how to write a headlineIf you read the brochure shown on the right of the sign, you learn that the blow dry includes a HAIRCUT, plus a scalp and shoulder massage. Now in my Manhattan neighborhood that is a real bargain, plus the salon caters to a Japanese clientele, another differentiator. The brochure includes testimonials from customers who followed the hairdresser from another salon. He could have used one in a testimonial headline (see below).

I don’t claim to be a master headline writer but here is my point: your headline in a blog, ad, magazine, newspaper or billboard must pique the curiosity of a reader to want to learn more.

How it Could Be Better

First, the beauty salon should ditch the $20 offer for a deep hair conditioning. Doubtful someone would stop in for just that service. Use the entire space to tout all the services you get for $50.

Only $50!

Haircut, Shampoo PLUS

Shoulder and Scalp Massage

Please Come In and Visit Us

Enjoy a Cup of Tea!

The salon is new and, unfortunately, on a side street that doesn’t get a lot of traffic. So it needs to try extra hard with compelling headline and a call to action. Note that you’re not pressured to actually come in for a haircut. Just stop by for a nice friendly visit and enjoy a cup of tea.

Types of Headlines

Headlines fall into a few tested formulas. Copyblogger writes in-depth about headline writing in this post How to Write Magnetic Headlines. Taking our cue from Copyblogger, we will start with the:

  1. How to headline. How to Win Friends and Influence People…by Dale Carnegie, author of the best selling book and Dale Carnegie Training, founded in 1912.
  2. Teaser headline. They Laughed When I Sat Down at the Piano But When I Started to Play…by John Caples in 1926 ad to solicit correspondence course students for the U. S. School of Music. One of the most famous direct marketing ads of all time and still being imitated today.
  3. News headline. Ford to New York City, Drop Dead…New York Daily News headline reporting on President Ford’s denying federal assistance to spare New York from bankruptcy.
  4. Question headline: Do you close the bathroom door even when you’re the only one home?…Famed copywriter Bill Jayme for Psychology Today.
  5. List headline: 10 reasons why list posts will always work… from Copyblogger.
  6. Statement headline: The 97 pound weakling who became the “world’s most perfectly developed man”…iconic advertisement for body-builder Charles Atlas’s “Dynamic Tension” workout program.
  7. Benefit headline: Discover the best social media marketing techniques from the world’s top experts…Social Media Examiner promoting its social media marketing world conference.
  8. Testimonial headline: I get more internet inquiries through Super Lawyers than my firm web site or any other internet source…from Super Lawyers rating service.

I hope the beauty salon succeeds because I peeked in and it looks quite nice. But I’ve walked by several times and have yet to see a customer. Maybe I’ll stop in and suggest the owner change his headline.

Do you have suggestions for other types of headlines? Let me know in the comment box below.

Leave a Reply


  1. One issue I have with some clients is cutesy headers for posts. Part of my job is to optimize their articles for the SEO, but if the article has no sign of the keywords in the title, it’s not helpful at all. One client agrees – she tries to get the writers to use the cutesy titles as subtitles instead of the main title. In her case, it’s not only the search engines that don’t know what the article is about, it’s potential readers as well.

    • Leora — it isn’t always easy to get the keyword in the headline, especially at the beginning where it counts more in SEO. But you still have to write for the reader and not write tortured headlines just for SEO. If search engines don’t know what the article about that’s even more problematic.

  2. Boy howdy… a headline can make or break a promotion, post for ad if not well thought out or doesn’t convey the proper message. A blog Post headline is no exception. I do better at my headlines then others, but I do try. I could write a book on this subject but will spare you that… LOL.

  3. Cheryl — You’re quite right, if the headline is boring then you can’t get them into the content. I love the examples, too!

    • According to ProBlogger, you should always write the headline first. For me, it depends. Sometimes I’ll come up with an idea and the right headline simply springs to mind. Other times I will write the headline afterwards. I think it’s a matter of personal writing style.

  4. I’ve been working on my site’s SEO, and have been re-thinking some of my headlines because of trying to get the main key word first. Your article has given me a few ideas as well as I continue to tweak old posts. It’s good practice to write headlines first. Now that I use Yoast’s WordPress SEO plug-in, I like how it guides the user to incorporate better SEO practices.

    • Jeri — I’m glad m post was helpful. I haven’t done that myself but it is a good idea to go back to old posts and change the headline if it could use some tweaking to boost your SEO. Yoast is a great plugin.

  5. Great examples Jeannette. I agree with your comment to Joyce about whether you write a headline first. A copywriter from an ad agency I worked with years ago when I worked in marketing said something similar and he mentioned get the idea or concept right then write. He also said he always tweaked headlines even after writing. The one type I find that seems to work for me are the question headlines.

    The other thing which I don’t always do is to write a headline for the readers when they land on your site and do the SEO for the search engines.

    • Susan — I often tweak a headline more than once. If I do start with a headline, I may find after I’ve written the post that the headline sort of changes by itself. The same with the copy. I always let it sit overnight and when I come back to it, the edits are just so apparent.

  6. So wish I saw this a couple weeks ago! Gotta admit I used to be very bad at this. Getting better — still needs work — but hey, progress is progress. Gave me some ideas, thank you!

    • Thanks for visiting, Daniel. I just read your post, liked your headline and overview of CrossFit training and left you a comment.

  7. Jeannette,
    I really enjoyed this article. Your example was great and you’ve touched on most of the formulas that I’m familiar with. I have had a lot of success with how to headlines and list headlines too.

    As for which do you write first, the headline or the article, I think my style is similar to yours. I jot down a headline just to help organize my thoughts but as the article forms, I’ll get better ideas. I always try to incorporate a good SEO key phrase too – as Leora mentioned.

    • Thanks, Sherryl. It was fun writing it, too, and recalling all those iconic headlines that have been imitated over the years because they are so compelling.

  8. Bethany – I struggle with headlines, too! Everyone does. You want to be faithful to your article and not write a tortured headline just for the SEO benefit. Your readers come first. If you search the web, you’ll find lots of articles about headline writing with “fill in the blank” examples. You may find them useful in learning how to structure your headlines. Thanks for sharing the article with your LinkedIn group!

  9. Once upon a time started out as a journalist and learnt how to write headlines. They have one purpose only – grab attention. If it doesn’t, who will read the article?:-)

    • Catarina — I started out as a journalist and editor, too, so learned how to write headlines under deadline pressures. It’s when you suffer over a headline too long that it becomes so tough.

  10. It was a very good reminder to see the list of different types of headlines (as I am only taking advantage of about 3). Thank you for taking your time to write this. 🙂

    • You’re welcome, Levi. I’m glad the list was helpful. Using different types of headlines also offers variety to the writer and helps to keep your content fresh.

  11. Great list of headline ideas Jeannette. There’s a website that I use regularly to test the headlines in my blog posts and ezine: it’s by Advanced Marketing Institute (your comment section won’t take the direct link) It evaluates the emotional appeal of a headline. If you change just one word you can often increase you score by 10 or 20 points.