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Create headlines that pull, pursuade and propel!

When writing direct response copy, there are a few things that can maximize the responsiveness of your message. The first and most important element that can turn any website, salesletter or ad into an action-generating mechanism is the headline.

A headline is meant to do two vital things.

First, it needs to grab your reader's attention. Realize that people surfing the web are click-happy. They tend to scan web pages quickly, even many of them simultaneously. Your site is but a blur. So, your headline must be prominent and effective enough to stop them.

Second, your headline needs pull the reader into the copy and compel her into reading further. To do that, it must cater to a specific emotion or a relevant condition -- one to which the reader can easily associate. Here's a list of "triggers," coupled with actual examples I used in the past:

  • Curiosity ("Revealed! Closely Guarded Secrets For ...")
  • Mystery ("The Five Biggest Mistakes to Avoid By ...")
  • Fear ("Over 98.4% of People End up Broke When ...")
  • Pain ("Suffering From Needless Back Pain? Then ...")
  • Convenience ("How to Increase Your Chances With ...")
  • Envy ("How Fellow Marketer Pummels Competitors By ...")
  • Jealousy ("They All Laughed When ... Until I ...")
  • Sloth ("Slash Your Learning Curve By 57% When ...")
  • Love, Lust ("Make Her Fall in Love With You With ...")
  • Shock ("Finally Exposed! Get The Dirty Truth On ...")
  • Greed ("Boost Your Income By More Than 317% When ...")
  • Pride, Power, Ego ("Make Fellow Workers Squirm With ...")
  • Assurance ("... In Less Than 60 Days, Guaranteed!")
  • Immortality ("Reverse The Aging Process With ...")
  • Anger ("Banks Are Ripping You Off! Here's Why ...")

By the way, most of these headlines were enormously successful for my clients, not because they were tested and tweaked (and most of them were), but because they were actually stolen from other, equally successful ads or salesletters. All "great" copywriters do this. They steal. They recycle. They copy. They model. They swipe.

And they adapt.

Of course, they must not be copied literally. (There's a big difference between plagiarism and modelling.) But they can be easily adapted to fit the market, the offer and the message. I have a large swipe file that contains copies of ads, websites, direct mail pieces and salesletters I come across. I then turn them into templates or "fill-in-the-blanks" formulas.

Study and model successful copywriting as much as you can. Dan Kennedy, my mentor and a hugely successful copywriter, teaches his students this exercise: buy tabloids, such as The National Enquirer, on a regular basis. Of course, the publication may be questionable for some, and it may not necessarily fit with your style or cater to your market.

But here's the reason why.

Ad space in tabloids is excruciatingly expensive. If an ad is repeated in more than two issues, preferably copy-intense ads or full-page advertorials, common sense tells you that the ad is profitable. Rip out the ad and put it into your swipe file. (If you don't have one, a shortcut is to copy someone else's, such as http://successdoctor.com/partners/tools/swipe.htm or http://successdoctor.com/partners/tools/headlines.htm.)

Then, copy the headlines into a document. They can be easily converted into "fill-in-the-blanks" formulas. And believe me, they work well with almost all markets. I've tried these types of headlines on both low-end and high-end clients, from simple $10 products to six-figure investment opportunities. And they worked quite effectively in both situations.

The cosmetics of a headline is equally important if not more so. The type must be bold, large and prominently placed, even written in a different font or typestyle. It must "scream" at your readers. Don't worry if it's too harsh or too long. (My experience tells me that the longer headlines pull the most, even for professional clients or in conservative situations.)

Specificity is also quite important. The more specific you are with your headline, the better the response will be. Use odd, non-rounded numbers because they are more believable and pull more than even, rounded numbers. (In its commercials, Ivory Soap used to say it's "99.44% pure." Of course, that number is more believable than "100%.")

Whenever possible, be quantifiable, measurable and time-bound. For example, you're promoting some "how-to" marketing program. Don't say, "increase your income" or "make money fast." Words like "income" and "fast" are vague. Be specific. Say, "How six simple sales strategies helped me stumble onto an unexpected $5,431.96 windfall -- in less than 27 hours!"

The bigger the numbers are, the greater the impact is. If you say "five times more," replace it with "500%" (or better yet, "517%" or "483%"). Don't say "one year," say "364 days." The brain thinks in pictures, not numbers or words. Both "terms may mean the same thing, but one looks bigger.

Using some of the triggers mentioned at the beginning, here are some examples of being specific with your headlines:

  • "Nine Jealously Guarded Techniques That ..."
  • "Here Are 17 of My Most Prized Recipes For ..."
  • "How I Made $42,791.36 in Only 11 Days With ..."
  • "Boost Your Golf Drives By 27 Yards When ..."
  • "A Whole New Way to Lose 45 Pounds in 7 Weeks With ..."
  • "Marketing Toolkit Contains 35 Powertools That ..."
  • "Follow These Eight Magical Steps to ..."
  • "Read This 22-Chapter, 376-Page Powerhouse ..."
  • "The 10 Commandments of Power Positioning ..."
  • "Chop Paperwork By as Much as 47% When ..."
  • "Slash Your Learning Curve By Four Weeks With ..."
  • "... And Start Using Within Only 33 Minutes!"

My favorite headline formula is the "gapper," which is based on the pain-pleasure principle. In sales, it's referred to as "gap analysis." (Dan Kennedy calls it "Problem-Agitate-Solve." That is, you start by presenting a problem, you agitate your audience by making the problem "bigger," more significant and more urgent, and then you present your solution in the offer.)

With the "gapper," there's a gap between a prospect's problem and its solution (or a gap between where one happens to be at the moment and where that person wants to be in the future). But many prospects either do not know there is in fact a gap or, because it is one, naturally have a tendency to ignore it. It's simply human nature.

So, a headline that communicates the presence of such a gap -- or one that widens it (which can also be accomplished through other components, such as a surheadline, subheadline, "lift" copy, sidenotes or opening statements) -- will likely appeal to those who can immediately relate to it (i.e., people within that specific site's target market).

By opening the gap or widening it helps to reinforce a sense of urgency in the mind. After the headline, visitors will want to know how, by browsing further, they can close that gap. And the wider the gap is, the greater the desire to close it will be. Why? Because it appeals to stronger motives.

Abraham Maslow, the famous psychologist who developed the hierarchy of human motives, stated that the foundation of all human needs is our need to survive. Once satisfied, the next one is our need for safety. Our need to be with other people is next, followed by our need to feel appreciated. Finally, our need to be challenged is at the top.

The "pain-pleasure principle" states that people either fear pain (and try to avoid it) or crave pleasure (and try to gain it). When given a choice between the two, however, pain is a superior motive. Our need to survive and feel safe, which are at the bottom of Maslow's pyramid, rule over all other needs.

So, a headline that instantly communicates a problem (i.e., a painful situation or a potentially painful one that may arise without the benefits of your offering) will have more impact. People who associate with the message will feel compelled to read more, which also helps to qualifiy your readers -- it isolates the "serious" from the "curious."

You heard it before: there's a difference between "needs" and "wants." When I work with plastic surgeons, I often tell them to use as a headline, "Suffering from wrinkles?" That way, it pulls only qualified prospects into the ad because it appeals not only to people with wrinkles but also to those who suffer from wrinkles (i.e., they want to do something about them).

Take a look at a web salesletter I recently wrote for Michael Murray at http://successdoctor.com/partners/murray/. The copy and most of the headers use some of the triggers I mentioned earlier. Below is a brief list.

Can you identify them?

  • "SPECIAL REPORT! Want to cash in on ..."
  • "... But don't have a product or a website?"
  • "How a 'Physically Disabled' Teenager ..."
  • "Earn a $2,000-to-17,000 Monthly Downpour of Dollars ..."
  • "... On a Shoestring Budget!"
  • "Jealously guarded 'secrets' are finally revealed ..."
  • "Get your hands on dirt-cheap products to sell ..."
  • "You'll never have to create your own products!"
  • "... Model after actual websites 'making it' BIG TIME!"
  • "PLUS, for a limited time only, the next 500 orders ..."
  • "And if I can do it, I'm sure most 'abled' people can!"

Michael is a 19-year old with cerebral palsy. (I was moved by his story.) With his headline specifically, I used strategies to increase the attention factor. My biggest concern was the fact that people have become desensitized with opportunities of this nature. So, while I catered to people's emotions, I used Michael's disability as a psychological "hook."

Ultimately, ask yourself: "Does my headline effectively stop people from scanning my web page, capture their attention and trigger their emotions in order to pull them into the copy?" More importantly, ask yourself, "Does my opening statement beg for attention, arouse curiosity and genuinely cater to the motives and emotions of my market?"

If not, change your headline and try different ones. Sure, the change may be small and insignificant. But often, the smallest changes can create the most dramatic changes in your results.

About the author
Michel Fortin is a direct response copywriter and consultant dedicated to turning sales messages into powerful magnets. Get a free copy of his book, "The 10 Commandments of Power Positioning," when you subscribe to his free monthly ezine, "The Profit Pill." See http://SuccessDoctor.com/ now!

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