The easiest headline writing checklist you’ll ever find.

According to copywriting legend John Caples, there are four important qualities a good headline may possess. I share the qualities, with examples, and create a checklist out of them all.

Legendary copywriter John Caples said that there are four important qualities that a good headline may possess:

1. Self-interest
2. News
3. Curiosity
4. Quick, easy way

Tested Advertising Methods by John Caples

Wondering why you should care about what some random copywriter that lived in the 1930s thought about writing good headlines?

Well, he was the one that wrote the ads for this book:

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie (Hardcover) for  sale online | eBay
The original cover for one of the world’s most famous self-help books.

Just look at the bullets and you’ll see that a direct-response copywriter has been let loose.

Let’s take a look at the four qualities Caples mentions:

Self-benefit

The what’s in it for me part of the headline.

Taking the book above as an example, the title clearly indicates that, by reading the book, you’ll learn to make friends and influence people.

Let’s go into the wild and find some other examples.

Taken from Ahrefs’ home page.

The self-benefit in this example is obvious. You want to rank your site higher and drive more traffic to it. But you’re not an “SEO pro”. With Ahrefs you don’t have to.

Taken from thenewpaper.co

A mobile-optimized landing page for a service giving you, well, the daily news as concisely as possible.

News

Most news-focused headlines tend to be quite sensational and “oh-my-god-you-have-to-try-this”.

Sales page from Early To Rise.

The word “discover” implies there’s something new to learn.

The “how to use” adds to the self-benefit we talked about before.

There’s more happening in this headline but I’ll talk about it at a later date.

Curiosity

A great place to go for curiosity-laden headlines is your own email inbox.

Sign up for a couple or in my case 200 email lists, direct them all to their own folders so that your primary inbox won’t be cluttered, and come back in a couple of weeks.

Here are some examples of curiosity-focused headlines from my own inbox:

Source: My inbox

Your copy will be trash (unless you do this…) – Builds curiosity by implying there’s a way to avoid writing bad copy and that way is detailed in the email.

So about yesterday’s email – Hints at some kind of controversy/drama. Probably only works if you read yesterday’s email.

A university researcher gets held hostage in the slums of Chicago. What happens next will (probably not) SHOCK you. – Shocking story (notice the lack of self-benefit here).

Quick & Easy

Quick & Easy is used to answer common objections such as:

How is this new?

How is this different from everything else?

It won’t work.

It won’t work for me.

Some examples of headlines that characterize Quick & Easy:

1977 Ad by Ben Suarez.

“Discovers the secret” implies that there’s been a secret “trick” to escape the rat race all along. And in this advertorial (ad that looks like an editorial) you’ll find out what the “7 simple rules” are.

Keep in mind that this ad ran in the 1970s — it wouldn’t be as effective today (due to the market being inundated with headlines like these).

Lead from Agora Financial.

Self-interest: “Regular folks from all over are cashing in on this type of income too”.

News: “You’ll Never Believe What We Found Buried”

Curiosity: “Inside Trump’s 2014 Financial Statement”

Quick & Easy: “Little known type of income opportunity”

The Easy Headline Writing Checklist (Answer These 7 Questions)

After you’ve written your headline, run it through these questions:

  1. What does the reader get?
  2. Is the benefit clear to the reader?
  3. Is the lead new or fresh? Or is this “old” info?
  4. Does the headline arouse curiosity in the reader?
  5. Will the reader think “I wonder what this secret/trick/’one thing’ could be?” when first seeing the headline?
  6. How easy is it for the reader to achieve whatever is promised?
  7. How long will it take to achieve it?

And that’s it.

Print those 7 questions out and reference them whenever you’re tasked with writing headlines, email subject lines, or even subheadings in a blog article.

Remember that this is a checklist, but you can still create great headlines that work better than you’d ever imagine even if your headline doesn’t pass all the questions above. Context is everything. As always.

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