Archives for March 2015

How to Write Headlines for Your Creative Business That Don’t Make You Cringe with Embarrassment (or, Why Great Headlines Beat Peanut Butter on Pancakes)

Formulas. Blueprints. Templates. Rules.

I tend to dislike most of these things. And so do most of the other creative business builders I’ve talked to.

But when it comes to writing headlines, templates and formulas can help if you’re experiencing a rough patch while trying to create magnetic headlines for your creative business, especially when you’re first starting out.

Besides, templates and formulas are just a starting point, a way to get the creative juices flowing. You use them to get something down on paper, then you tweak from there, depending on your personality and your business and service offerings.

So today I give you headline formulas, blueprints, templates and rules.

Because if you can train yourself to write attention-grabbing headlines (you can), then your content is much more likely to get read, shared and acted upon. Good news for you, right?

How Important Are Headlines?

Some well-known and uber-successful copywriters suggest that at least half the time you spend writing a piece should be spent on the headline; it’s that important. Agreed.

You may have heard the statistic that 8 out of 10 people will read the headline, but only 2 out of 10 will read the rest of the copy. The headline is there to get them to read the rest of that copy – that’s its sole purpose, in fact – so if it’s not compelling, you can bet the rest of the blog post or article or sales page you’ve just slaved over will, unfortunately, be ignored.

And we’re trying to run successful businesses that rely on writing and sharing content that moves people to act, so ain’t nobody got time to be ignored.

That said, the body content of the thing you’re writing, be it a blog post, a newsletter, a sales page or what-have-you also needs to be well-written and persuasive, and it must deliver on the headline. But you knew that.

Golden advice nugget: When writing headlines for your creative business, keep in mind what your audience is thinking, and that is, WIIFM: “What’s In It For Me?” 

Now then, let’s talk about a few headline formulas.

Promise a Benefit or Arouse Curiosity

Two of the most effective ways to approach writing headlines is to promise a benefit or arouse curiosity.

This is something I learned in my American Writers & Artists Inc. (AWAI) copywriting training. According to the fine folks at AWAI, a powerful headline does these 4 things:

  • Begins to develop a relationship with your audience/potential clients
  • Delivers a complete message
  • Compels readers/potential clients to read more
  • Grabs the reader’s attention

Examples of benefit-driven headlines from my blog:

:: For Photographers: The Simple Yet Powerful Website Copy Tweak That Will Win You More Clients (& How to Implement It) {Benefit: win more clients}

:: The Dreadful Client-Repelling Mistake That Will Keep You Broke (and how to fix it) {Benefit: how to fix a mistake that repels clients}

:: What a Personal Development Book from 1959 Can Teach You About Writing Web Copy That Sells {Benefit: write web copy that sells}

Pretty straightforward, right?

Using Curiosity in Headlines

Google will return over 14 million results when you search on the phrase, “creating curiosity in copywriting,” which tells you what a powerful concept curiosity is in persuasive writing.

If you want to arouse curiosity, one way to do it is to ask a question your audience/readers/potential clients want the answer to. If you pose a question that’s aligned with your audience’s needs and desires, they’ll want to read on to find the answer.

Examples of headlines that evoke curiosity from my blog:

:: What Can Chocolate Cake and Donuts Teach You About Selling More?

:: Can Copywriting Principles Work for Visual Artists?

:: Creatives: Are You Making These 3 Web Marketing Mistakes?

A site called Upworthy does the curiosity headline very effectively, by essentially creating that really annoying “clickbait” I personally don’t jive with. At all. But hey, it works for them.

You can read more about Upworthy and some background on why “curiosity-gap headlines” work here:

Upworthy’s Headlines Are Insufferable. Here’s Why You Click Anyway 

Follow Copywriter, Brilliant Marketer and Expert Business Strategist Dan Kennedy’s Lead

As a copywriter and marketer, I follow Dan Kennedy’s work, read his blog, subscribe to his email newsletter, and read the occasional book he’s written. And while he’s not for everybody, his advice works, if you feel comfortable following it.

In Chapter 3 of his book, The Ultimate Sales Letter: Attract New Customers, Boost Your Sales, Kennedy shares some fill-in-the-blank headline formulas you can use to get people to read your sales material. (He mentions the movie Gone in 60 Seconds and wisely says, “That’s what your recipients will be if you do not command their attention and literally drag them into reading.”)

Of course, the same formulas can be used to create headlines for your blog posts and subject lines for your emails as well.

(Caveat: If you spend any amount of time online you’ll recognize these formulas, because so many bloggers, copywriters and other business builders use them. For that reason I try to use them sparingly, because I don’t want my writing to sound like everyone else’s.)

Here are a few of Kennedy’s fill-in-the-blank headline formulas along with his examples of how to apply them:

Who Else Wants ___________?

Examples:

:: Who Else Wants a Hollywood Actress’ Figure?

:: Who Else Needs an Extra Hour Every Day?

How ___________ Made Me ___________

Examples:

:: How a “Fool Stunt” Made Me a Star Salesman

:: How Relocation to Tennessee Saved Our Company $1 Million a Year

___________ Ways to ___________

Examples:

:: 101 Ways to Increase New Patient Flow

:: 17 Ways to Slash Your Equipment Maintenance Costs

Two other formulas Kennedy mentions that I’ve personally used are the “Secrets of” and the “How To” headline.

Examples from my vault:

:: For Creatives: The Secret to Transforming Your Boring Lackluster About Page Into an Ideal Client Attracting Magnet

:: How to Create a Free Opt-in Offer Your Target Audience Will Love (and why you need to)

Check out three other effective headline formulas on Kennedy’s website here:

Three Killer Headline Formulas That Could Skyrocket Your Conversion Rates…

Use Specificity and Numbers

Let get real: we’re all crazy-busy trying to build our creative empires online, and the people we’re trying to attract are too. So you have to get their attention quickly.

One way to get straight to the benefit-driven point in your headlines and immediately hook your readers is to use specificity and numbers.

Why does this work so well?

Because specific details and numbers are more credible than general statements.

For example, which of these examples is more compelling and believable to you?

:: How to Make More Money Selling Digital Products

OR . . .

:: How I Made $6,557.68 Last Month Selling 2 Easy-to-Create Digital Guidebooks

And how about this . . .

:: Tips for Getting More Clients with Your Website

OR . . .

:: 7 Easy Website Tweaks You Can Implement Today That Will Double Your Client Enquiries

Here are two headline examples from my own vault that use specificity and numbers:

:: A Foolproof 6-Step System for Generating Dozens of Ideas for Blog Posts and Newsletters That Your Target Audience Wants to Read (in Under an Hour a Week)

:: How to Improve Your Small Business Website Content Today for Better Sales: A 7-Point Checklist

These kind of headlines reward the reader by letting them know the specific and compelling benefits of reading the article even before they’ve read a word of the body content. What a timesaver for your readers; they’re gonna love ya for it!

The Instant Clarity Headline Formula

The instant clarity headline looks like this:

End Result Customer Wants + Specific Period of Time + Address Objections

Obviously, to be able to make this formula work, you need to have a deep understanding of your customers and clients and their needs, wants and desires with respect to your offering.

I first learned this formula from a fellow called Dane Maxwell, and the example he uses to demonstrate the formula is this, from the real estate niche:

Recruit 2 Top Producing Agents Each Week Without Cold Calling Or Rejection

He goes on to share that using only the first item (end result) or the first and second together (end result + time frame) can also be effective, but using all three elements at once is the most powerful and persuasive.

The reason this formula works well is because it instantly telegraphs the benefits and results the reader (or client or customer) can achieve from reading the content or buying the product or service. It’s all about what important to the reader, client or customer.

So if you’re a wedding photographer for example, maybe your clients want candid, natural-looking shots in which they look relaxed and happy. And the time frame they want it in is their wedding day. As for objections, they may feel there’s no way you – someone they don’t know all that well – can capture their special moments without making them looking posed and stiff.

So using this formula, a wedding photographer could come up with something like this for a blog post headline:

:: The No-Fail Formula for Getting Candid, Natural-Looking Shots on Your Wedding Day Without Looking Posed, Uncomfortable or Stiff

Or let’s say an interior designer wants to write a blog post to help her ideal client – a busy young family on the go with a couple of small children and a dog – undertake a DIY design project to spruce up their home. The end result they want is a luxurious home that reflects their specific taste and design style, but it also has to be practical and easy to keep up. And they don’t want their lives to be disrupted in the process, so the DIY project can’t take more than a month.

So our interior designer could write a blog post with a headline like this:

:: From Chaos to Calm: 7 Simple Steps for Transforming Your Busy Young Family’s Home into an Oasis of Practical Luxury in 30 Days or Less

Now let’s talk about the “cringing with embarrassment” part. (or, How to Use Magazine Headlines and Book Chapter Titles to Craft Compelling Headlines Your Target Audience Will Love)

The headline formulas discussed above are time-tested and work well, which is why they’re used and shared so frequently. But sometimes the headlines that result can feel over the top for us sensitive creative types.

So one of the handy little tips I like to share with my clients when it comes to both getting ideas for content their target audience wants to read, AND brainstorming great headline ideas at the same time, is the magazine headline method and the book chapter title method.

Magazine Headlines

One of the best ways to practice writing headlines (and to spark ideas for blog posts your audience actually wants to read) is to grab a bunch of magazines in your niche and read through the headlines.

(I wrote more here about using the magazine method to find out what your target audience wants to read.)

Publishers do exhaustive research and spend thousands of dollars to figure out which stories will generate the strongest response among their readers, so why not piggyback on that research to gather headline ideas for your own blog or newsletter?

And to make it super-easy, you don’t even have to go to the bookstore, just sign onto Amazon online and go to the magazine section.

Once there, search for magazines in your industry or niche and read through headlines of 5-10 magazines there.

(Caveat: Don’t copy these headlines/ideas verbatim; instead, put your own creative spin on them, geared specifically to your business and your audience.)

For example, suppose I want to generate headline ideas for an interior design business. So I go through some magazines in the home design niche over on our good friend Amazon, and putting my own spin on what I find there, I come up with the following headline ideas:

:: How to Create the Perfect Beach House Décor on a Budget

:: How To Do Rustic Right

:: How to Create Big Style in a Small Space

:: Your Luxe Living Room: 12 Small Changes You Can Make Today for Big Impact

:: DIY Weekend Project: Create the Perfect Outdoor Retreat

From Magazine Headlines in the fashion industry, I came up with these headline ideas:

:: The Best _________ for Every Body Type (swimsuit, dress, etc.)

:: How to Look Like You Hired a Stylist (Even When You Didn’t)

:: Hot Trends and Amazing Accessories for Every Budget

:: 5 Minute Styling Tricks You Can Learn Today

:: The One Accessory Every Woman Needs Right Now

:: How to Dress for Your Body Type

Book Chapter Titles

You can use the same method to gather book chapter titles to use as headline templates. Here’s what you want to do here:

Search on your topic in the books category; choose a few books in your niche from the returned results.

Once you get to the list of books you want to check out, click on books with the “Look Inside!” option on the book cover image so you can get a look-see at what’s inside.

Once “inside” the book, cruise through the Table of Contents, specifically Chapter Titles of said book, and let the idea sparking begin!

(Again, you don’t want to copy these headlines/ideas verbatim; you want to use them to craft headlines that are geared specifically to your business and your audience.)

So let’s take our hypothetical interior design business and come up with some headline ideas from book chapter titles:

:: How to Decorate Like a Pro, Even If You’re Design-Challenged

:: 3 Investment Pieces Everyone Should Own: Which Pieces to Spend the Big Bucks On and Why

:: Home Design Basics: What You Need to Know Before You Get Started on Your Next DIY Project

:: The Ultimate Guide to the Best Decorating Resources Online

:: How to Build a Room Around a Signature Piece

Now let’s do the same for our fashion business:

:: How to Shop Like a Stylist

:: How to Go from Demure to Daring with a Signature Wow Piece

:: 3/5/7 or 2/4/6: Guide to Understanding Clothing Sizes

:: The One Must-Own Item That Complements Every Body Type

:: 10 Wardrobe Staples Every Woman Should Own

See, how easy was that? By spending just half an hour looking through Amazon, we came up with 21 headline ideas, not to mention, ideas for what to write about in the first place!

Now just for fun, if you’re completely stumped for a headline idea, head on over to Portent’s Content Idea Generator. Enter the subject you want to write about, and the generator will give you some headline ideas.

When I did this for the very article you’re reading right now, Portent suggested the following headlines:

:: Why Great Headlines Beat Peanut Butter on Pancakes

:: The 5 Best Resources for Magnetic Headlines

:: How Benefit Driven Headlines Are Making the World a Better Place

And my personal favorite:

:: Why Copywriting Will Change Your Life

Fun stuff, huh?

So there you have it. Tons of easy-to-implement headline templates you can start using today to get your content read, shared and acted upon. And for still more writing magnetic headlines goodness, check out the additional resources below.

Additional Resources

If you’re serious about learning to write great headlines, you can head over to Copyblogger at the link below and sign up to receive the free e-book, How to Write Magnetic Headlines. I’ve got it and it’s good. Seriously, you’ll find dozens of easy-to-implement headline templates in it, so go to town, my friend:

How to Write Magnetic Headlines

From Alexandra Franzen, here are 10 ways to write blog post titles, headlines & email subject lines that make people go, “whoa!”

And from Buffer, check out this in-depth post on how to write headlines for all the various kinds of content you’ll be writing as you build your online empire:

30+ Ultimate Headline Formulas for Tweets, Posts, Articles, and Emails

 

Comments? Questions? Other headline templates you’d like to share? Leave ‘em in the comments below!

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The Thing You Have to Understand Is That You Are Different

blog img_You are different

:: Not everybody wants to escape the 9-5 world. 

:: Not everybody who is deeply unhappy in the 9-5 world makes the leap to self-employment or any other kind of cubicle liberation. 

:: Not everybody wants to start a blog. Or launch a website. Or create an Etsy shop. Or write a newsletter for an audience of raving fans.  

:: Not everybody believes it’s possible to liberate themselves from unfulfilling work and build an online presence that sells their good and services, all while tapping into their innate talents and skills and abilities. 

:: Not everybody is comfortable sharing their art – whether that’s writing, graphic design, fine art, photography, business & marketing strategy, or any other kind of creative pursuit – in a public venue. 

:: Not everybody feels the fear and does it anyway. 

:: Not everybody chooses the friction of being visible over the much more palatable friction of being invisible. (Inspired by Mark Nepo

:: Not everybody chooses to feel utterly alive doing what they love to do, despite being terrified a crash and burn scenario could be imminent.  

:: Not everybody decides to take action on their dreams despite the naysayers who proclaim it’s not possible to do work you love and be well-paid for it.

:: Not everybody believes that creative sovereignty is a worthwhile and achievable goal.  

:: Not everybody keeps marching to the beat of their own quirky drummer when it would make much more sense to cave and get a job. 

:: Not everybody understands the liberating and undeniable joy of being unemployable. (I am full-time self-employed, but I consider myself unemployable.) 

:: Not everybody reads blogs like this one for marketing advice/how-tos/inspiration. (Thanks for that, by the way). 

:: Not everybody believes they have to ask permission from some kind of “gatekeeper” to do their thing, pursue their art, and sell it

The thing you have to understand is that you are different. Embrace it. Celebrate it. Revel in it. Fall in love with it. 

 

What would you add to this list? What do you believe/do/practice that goes against the accepted wisdom about how to earn a living or pursue your creative work? Please share in the comments!

Some Notes on What I Read This Week: March 1 Edition

What’s the good reading stuff round-up for this week? Here are a couple of things that made an impression on me this week.

What’s Your Lucky Number?

The best email I got all week was the 02/25/15 edition of Hugh McLeod’s Gaping Void newsletter, a daily missive of his quirky and smile-inducing cartoons, in which he shared this inspiring fact:

Five thousand one hundred and twenty-six failed vacuum cleaners.  

That’s how many prototypes it took for James Dyson to get it right.  

5, 127 was his lucky number. He’s now worth over $4 billion.  

It’s not about being brilliant, or about always being right.  

It’s about not giving up before you have the chance to succeed.

If you’re interested in getting a daily cartoon that will make you happy, make you think, and possibly make you question the status quo, you can sign up for McLeod’s newsletter here:

Gaping Void Newsletter

(By the way, in the video on that page, McLeod shares a great way to think about “marketing” that makes it feel genuine and natural; if you’re a creative trying to find a way to sell your products and services without feeling icky or uncomfortable, be sure to watch it.)

Stay Weird, Stay Different

Screenwriter Graham Moore’s Oscar acceptance speech for best adapted screenplay for the film The Imitation Game brought tears to my eyes, and I’m not alone. It was magical.

Here’s part of what he shared:

“When I was 16 years old, I tried to kill myself because I felt weird and I felt different and I felt like I did not belong. And now I am standing here. So I would like for this moment to be for that kid out there who feels like she’s weird or she’s different or she doesn’t fit in anywhere. Yes, you do. You do. Stay weird, stay different. And when it’s your turn to stand on this stage, pass the message along.”

I’m getting all teary again reading it now. What can I say? Despite my hard-candy outer shell, I’m an emotional softie on the inside.

Editing is a “Wifely Trade,” Marketing Plans in Book Proposals Are “Nonsense,” and Other Retro Reflections

I finished a book this week called, Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction – Stories and advice from a lifetime of writing and editing, by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tracy Kidder and his long-time editor, Richard Todd.

I loved reading about the years-long relationship between Todd and Kidder, as anything that delves into the realities of the writer’s life interests me, but there were a few passages in the book that left me scratching my head. And by “scratching my head,” I mean thinking, “you can’t be serious.”

Such as:

Editing is a wifely trade. This is a disquieting thought for editors, certainly for male editors, and in a different way for some female editors too, but editing does involve those skills that are stereotypically female: listening, supporting, intuiting. And, like wives, editors are given to irony and indirection. When male editors become bullies it may be because they resent their feminized role. (They shouldn’t take it out on writers. They need other avenues for their manly impulses, skydiving, Formula One racing, something.) However hesitant, timid, and self-doubting writers feel, they nonetheless remain the stereotypically male figures in the relationship, whatever their gender. Writers assert. Editors react.

And:

There are even book proposal consultants and book proposal formulas. Authors are advised to create ‘marketing plans’ to include in their proposals, and some dutifully spend weeks on the chore. Most of this is nonsense, and bad advice.

I am not making this up. And this book was published in 2013. 2013!!

And that’s a few notes on some things I read/saw this week. Feel free to leave a comment below about what you’ve been reading, or share reading suggestions. Thanks!