The Complete List of Headline Copywriting Formulas

The Complete List of Headline Copywriting Formulas

Ask any direct response marketer which is the most important part of the copy to focus on and 8 times out of 10, they’ll say the headlines.

After all, if the headline doesn’t catch your reader’s attention…

It’s over.

The copy would never have had the chance to sell, persuade, or even educate. (Depending on your objectives naturally)

So, while I usually encourage people to get creative with headlines writing, sometimes it helps to have a swipe file to kick-start the creative juices.

Read This Before Using Any Formula or Template

Perhaps the biggest risk of using a formula is that the end result becomes stale. Especially in competitive industries where every competitor is using the exact same formula in their ads.

That’s one of the reasons why copywriters spend a great amount of time focusing on the hook and angle of the sales copy.

All that even before penning a single word.

But for the ease of convenience, the formula helps set a direction, especially for newer writers.

With that said, while you’re running through the formula, remember to put yourself in the shoes of your audience and consider the following points:

  1. Audience – Who are they, demographically and psycho-graphically
  2. Problems – What problems or issues are they worried about?
  3. Solution – Have they heard of your solution before?
  4. Benefits – What sort of benefits do they get from your solution compared to others
  5. Results – Any specific results you can talk about?
  6. Time – How soon can they expect to see these results

You may not use all these pointers within your headline copy, but it’s always a good practice to have them at the back of your mind.

Many of these formulas were created by famous copywriters like Eugene Schwartz, Clayton Makepeace, Dan Kennedy, Gary Bencivenga, Joe Sugarman, and much more. Their sales letters brought in millions of dollars for themselves and their clients.

And it works wonders simply because they understood the psychology behind the headlines, which I’ll briefly touch upon below.

So, let’s start looking at some formulas shall we?

The “Functional How” Headlines

These are the most common type of headlines you’ll see in blog posts writing as they’re usually educational and informative.

The key is to bring in either a way to eliminate the problem or achieve the desired results with a proven process.

  • How to [solve a problem]
  • How to [achieve a desired result]
  • How to [desired result] without [undesired action]
  • How much is [problem] really costing you?
  • See how easily you can [desired result]
  • How [something controversial] resulted in [desired results] and [benefits]
  • How a new [solution] solved my [problem] in [time]
  • How this unusual mistake helped me [solve a problem]
  • Here’s how to make [problem] disappear
  • How I [achieved results] in [short period of time]
  • How [expert/celebrity] achieved [results]

The “Vanilla List” Headlines

Listicles are great ways to structure any form of article writing as it provides a natural order to the way the content is presented.

While not as effective in a sales copy, they do see some applications in lead capture land pages.

The goal is simply to help the reader quickly identify what they can expect from the content.

  • [X Number] of ways to [achieve results]
  • The ultimate guide to [desired result]
  • The complete list of [desired solution]
  • [X Number] sure-fire ways to [desired result]
  • [X Number] tested and proven [solutions]
  • [X Number] common [problems] faced by [audience] – which one do you really want to solve?
  • [X Number] lessons I learnt from [solving problem]
  • We reviewed [X Number] of [solutions] and this is what we discovered
  • Do you recognise the [X Number] early warning signs of [problem]
  • [X Number] reasons you’re [problem]

The “One & Only” Headlines

Sometimes the reader is looking for a whole list of solutions but they want that one specific solution that will solve their problem.

Naturally, this one single solution is going to be something you’re providing. (Doesn’t make sense to promote your competitor’s product now does it?)

The objective here is simple… lead them to whatever you’re promoting.

  • The lazy [audience] way to [desired result]
  • The single most important [solution] to [achieve result]
  • The only way smart [audience] rely on to [solve problem]
  • A little mistake that cost [audience] [problem] a year

The “Deep Dark Secret” Headlines

Everyone loves secrets.

Especially when that secret also helps solve the very problem they’re struggling with.

When it comes to secrets, it doesn’t always have to solve the problem, but as human beings, we’re always curious about things we do not know.

And sometimes, we like to believe that people in power are hiding things from us (mere mortals).

  • The secrets of [audience] that always get [desired results]
  • Little-known ways to [desired result]
  • The secret of getting [results]
  • [X Number] [Experts] share their opinion on [problem] / [solution]
  • Here’s what [Experts] are really hiding from you about [problem]
  • The secret [solution] that’s been locked up for years, finally revealed
  • Achieved [results] like [experts]
  • When [Experts] are stuck with [problem], here’s what they really do

The “Guaranteed + Chopped” Headlines

Nothing reduces risk from a reader faster than having a guarantee up front and center.

Guarantees don’t always have to come from the solution provider, it can be in the form of an endorsement or testimonial from a past client.

The most important thing here is to take away the reader’s perceived risk.

  • Proven: The most effective way to [solve problem]
  • Guaranteed: [Desired results] without [undesired action]
  • [X Number] of [audience] have [desired results] you could too
  • We will help you [desired results] or your money back

The “Breaking News” Headlines

There’s something so powerful in being the first privy to important information.

We can’t help it but want to tell the world about what we know because they don’t know it yet.

And thankfully for us as copywriters, we know how to use this information and put it into an attention grabbing headline.

  • New [solution] solves [audience] greatest mystery
  • Scientists have finally discovered why [problem] persists in [audience]
  • Here’s how you can beat [problem] with this new [solution]
  • The amazing new [solution] discovered by [expert]
  • How a new discovery made [audience] [desired result]
  • Finally – the [solution[ for [problem]
  • New way to [desired result]

The “Great Revelation” Headlines

For our final set of headline formula, we’re going to explore perhaps the most dangerous one of all.

Dangerous because if it’s used immorally, it can have devastating consequences.

That’s because we’re appealing to our reader’s unconscious bias that there is an external reason to explain whatever situation they’re facing.

The truth is, we can’t help it.

All of us are victims of this cognitive bias known as the confirmation bias where we’re looking for information to support what we think.

And most people don’t ever believe that they’re partially at fault.

So, without further ado…

  • Why [audience] are doomed to [problem] until…
  • Why you unconsciously let yourself continue to suffer from [problem]
  • [Problem] affecting you? It’s not your fault.
  • Why relying on [expert] may be more dangerous than you thought
  • Don’t buy [solution] until you read what we have to say
  • How to get what [experts] owe you
  • Secrets [experts] conveniently forget to mention

Mix & Match

Here’s the best part about using templates for formulas in your writing…

They’re not static. And never meant to be.

So, feel free to mix them around and test out different ideas and combinations.

I’ll continue to add new formulas and ideas but feel free to share your own variation and versions so everyone can benefit.

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