How to write a headline

By: Richard Michie

Learning how to write a headline is one of the most important skills you can have as a marketer. It’s also one of the hardest to master.

A great headline will give your reader just the right amount of interest and intrigue to read all your carefully crafted copy. If the headline doesn’t grab your reader’s attention, all the time you spent sweating over your beautiful copy or art direction will have been for nothing.

And yet, most people spend very little time writing headlines.

A lot of time is spent designing websites, emails, social media and print ads, crafting the offers and content so it speaks in the right tone and positions the offer perfectly.

But most people spend seconds on the headline, and this is a massive error.

The purpose of any marketing piece is for the recipient to read it, and the headline is the gateway to success. If it doesn’t hit the mark, your marketing campaign is toast.

When we at The Marketing Optimist craft blogs, social media posts, or subject lines for emails, we spend at least 20% of our time writing headlines. We come up with a list of at least 20, and then cull them back to 5 well crafted, to the point, killer headlines. Then we’ll ask the team, our clients, friends, family, and the dog, for feedback.

This will bring us down to the strongest two, this is generally the headline that both we and the client love. 

This is where the skill of a copywriter really comes in. They know which words will grab attention and draw the reader in to find out more. If we can combine this with a great designer, who brings images and graphics in to help, we should have a great piece of content that gains readers and makes them take action.

How to write a headline when you are stuck

Writing a headline or a subject line for an email can seem daunting. The only thing for it is to start writing! Writing with a deadline is even more effective.

Our 10-point headline writing process goes like this:

  1. Open a new word file/google docs/piece of paper
  2. Set a 10-minute timer
  3. Write as many headlines as you can in 10 minutes
  4. Make a drink and don’t read them
  5. Return with your coffee, tea, water whatever and read what you have out loud
  6. Cross out all the rubbish and you should have at least 3 headlines you like
  7. Show them to your team, friends, the dog and get feedback
  8. Ideally, you’ll test all three, but if you can’t you should have a clear favourite
  9. When you have that see if you can edit it to work harder

The masters of headline writing

The undoubted masters of crafting headlines are newspapers. Day after day they take their journalists’ copy and create headlines that make you read. They have very few words at their disposal to draw you in, so they make sure every word counts.

How to write a headline

How to write a headline

If you’re writing headlines for SEO, emails, social media or ads, you have a similar role to a sub-editor in a newspaper. Each of these marketing tactics has restrictions on the length of your headline, so choose your words very carefully or they’ll lose their impact.

Interested in speaking to The Optimists?

Right from the beginning of our time working with The Marketing Optimist, they’ve taken the time and effort to get to understand Sharp Consultancy as a business and not just a client. We’ve seen a huge increase in the effectiveness of our social media strategy, particularly on Linkedin and we’re delighted with the impact it’s had on the business.

Jamie Caulfield

Regional Director, Sharp Consultancy

It was a pleasure to work with The Marketing Optimist on this project. It felt like a true collaborative effort on the day and they made the interviewee's feel at ease whilst talking about their journey on our RISE programme. The final video was professional and engaging, we have received great feedback around the quality and creativity of the case study. Including the video in our presentation made it come to life, with real humans sharing their stories, so thank you to the Marketing Optimist!

Hannah Prole

Impact Manager, Better Connect Limited

Case Studies

MultiplyNYorks

Marketing for Local Government

Moresby Hall Hotel

Hotel Rebranding

Sharp Consultancy

B2B Social Media for recruitment

The Edit LDN

Managing advanced eCommerce SEO

Better Connect

Digital PR and video production for events

Tango Networks

Marketing support for a global telecoms business

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