Make The Headline Better: Advice from 6 Copywriting Legends

July 11, 2014


Copywriting legend David Ogilvy was a big believer in headlines. For that matter, all copywriting legends were big believers in headlines. After all, memorable, outrageously effective headlines are what made these folks advertising icons.

But, historic headlines - in almost every case - are not the result of a sudden burst of inspiration. They take hard work. One of Ogilvy's most successful headlines took 104 drafts to write. Gene Schwartz would sometimes spend a full week on his headline and first paragraph of copy.

For content marketers, a good headline can multiply exponentially the number of people who engage with the content.  Meeting marketing goals often starts with a click. In order to attract the click, the headline needs to be compelling and dripping with benefits to the reader. This applies to content across channels; website, blog and social.

Follow this advice from six copywriting legends to nail more headlines -- and take your content marketing to the next level.

The Power of 3

John Carlton, known as the Copywriter’s Coach, takes command of his headline writing by focusing on benefit-rich copy.

He recommends starting with three different drafts that describe the benefits your company can deliver on. Start by asking yourself these questions:

  • What sets you apart from the competition?
  • What sets you apart from every other product out there?
  • What sets you apart in your customer’s mind?

This gets the creative juices flowing. You may end up with 3 drafts or 10, but at least this technique gets you started putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard).

Make Friends with Your Inner Editor

Even though Joe Sugarman, legendary copywriter and author of The Adweek Copywriting Handbook, is known for writing super long copy, he recommends writing quickly, letting the copy flow unhindered before your inner editor takes over.

The real trick to writing great copy is in the rewriting of that first draft. As you revise your draft, work to get the first line read, then the next line and so on. If you write with this intention in mind, you’ll write tighter, more persuasive copy that keeps the reader wanting more.

Don’t Reinvent the Wheel

David Ogilvy, the master at writing award-winning ad copy, still informs the professional copywriter today. His pithy and sage advice was legendary and is still relevant.

Let his wise words sink in and saturate your next piece of content. Here are just a few insights from the master of copy.

  • “If it doesn’t sell, it isn’t creative.”
  • “The consumer isn’t a moron; she’s your wife.”
  • “Never stop testing, and your advertising will never stop improving.”
  • “Don’t bunt. Aim out of the ball park. Aim for the company of immortals.”
  • “When people read your copy, they are alone. Pretend you are writing to each of them a letter on behalf of your client.”

See more Ogilvy quotes.

What’s In It for Me?

For more than 50 years, John Caples served as one of advertising's most effective copywriters. Caples mastered results-oriented mail-order and became the world’s authority on copy testing.

Before the days of A/B testing, Caples understood that the best headlines always appealed to the reader’s self-interest.

When writing headlines make sure to include the benefit to the reader. If they ask the question ‘so what’, would your headline provide the answer?

Put on Your Sales Hat

Claude Hopkins pioneered the concept of scientific, or measured, advertising. He was one of the first to recognize that advertising was about salesmanship.

In that sense, he advocated writing copy the way a salesperson might speak in a one-on-one setting. In his era, ad copy centered on mail order ads, but his influence holds much truth in communicating in the Digital Age. Make sure your copy is clear and specific and written in a way that evokes conversation. Leave the stuffy, corporate speak out.

Stop ‘Em in Their Tracks

Eugene Schwartz, author of the classic, Breakthrough Advertising, shares his experience as a successful copywriter who’s honed his craft for decades. Schwartz states that your headline has only one job: “to stop your prospect and compel him or her to read the second sentence of your ad.”

Here’s a quick look at his top tips:

  • State the claim as a question. Do this to get the audience saying ‘yes’ before they have even read the copy. E.g. “Could you use a 20% lift in your Click Through Rate?”
  • State the difference in your headline. What’s makes you unique?
  • Address the people who can't buy your product. This creates intrigue. E.g. “If you’re 2015 marketing plan is locked down, don’t read this.
  • Address the prospect directly.  E.g. “To the content marketer out of good ideas, this is for you.”
  • Challenge the prospect's limiting beliefs. Make your reader think bigger. E.g. “With this social content strategy, pull up a seat at the revenue table.

The most successful copywriters create an emotional response. The legends of copywriting all knew to focus on meeting the needs, motivations and desires of the reader.

Next time your headline is underwhelming, take a look at these tips and craft a masterful headline sure to attract the reader’s interest.

*Photo Source: Antiwantrepreneur


Write better headlines that grab the attention of your audience on LinkedIn. Learn what they’re reading – and what they want from you -- in our latest content consumption report: