Power Of Persuasive Headlines (And Why This One Sucks)

Okay, maybe this headline isn’t COMPLETELY brutal. After all, you’re reading this, aren’t ya? But probably ONLY because I tossed in the word “sucks”…

Straight to the facts today. Over 84% of readers will decide whether to continue on with your copy, sales letter or email BASED ON THE HEADLINE OR SUBJECT LINE ALONE.

No wonder ace copywriters spend 90% of their time crafting compelling and persuasive headlines. Most will experiment with upwards of 20 of them and rigorously test before deciding on a winner.

So what the heck do us “mere mortals” do when we need to create amazing headlines for sales letters and blog posts? Or terrific subject lines to boost our email open rates? Never fear, that’s what this article is ALL about…

Let’s examine the anatomy of a headline. As promised, first we’ll explore why the headline to this article is so brutal.

It has no hook. Nothing specific. The ONLY thing its got going is a curiosity factor, in that it admits to “sucking” all by itself.
We CAN make that better, and if you want practice, check out this earlier post that outlines exactly how to get that practice.

A “classic” headline is comprised of 3 parts. Not all of them are essential, really depends on what you’re going for. These parts are:

=> A Pre-Headline – designed to immediately grab attention and ideally PRE-QUALIFY prospects to see if they’re part of your target audience. Ideally used in long form sales letters

=> Main Headline – ESSENTIAL component of any form of sales copy, including emails where it’s used as the subject line. The purpose of the headline is NOT to sell but just to get the visitor to read the rest of the message. To be effective, it should grab attention by using phrases that are RELEVANT to your audience.

=> Post-Headline – should build on the message of the main headline and lead naturally into the sales copy or body of the email. While most common in sales letters, don’t think this element can’t play a role in email marketing. Depending on the email client you use, you’ll often see “preview text” beside the subject line BEFORE YOU EVER OPEN AN EMAIL.

This is where “post-headlines” need to be placed in email messages. Don’t waste this precious real estate on silly greetings or subject line recaps: take advantage of that preview space to REALLY arouse curiosity.

Let’s have a closer look at each of these elements and HOW TO MAKE THEM WORK FOR YOU…

The Pre-Headline: The goals here are to grab attention, and more importantly, PRE QUALIFY prospects as to whether they’ll be interested in what you have on offer. A COMMON MYTH in copy is that you should try to be as open as possible, and make your message appeal to as wide an audience as possible. That is 100% jibberish. All you’ll do by saying “This Is For Absolutely Everyone” is see your conversions decline to close to zero and piss off a lot of potential readers in the process.

The concept of “polarizing” your audience is worthy of note here. You’ve got to take the opportunity EARLY (like, in the first words of copy) to let people decide if this is something they’re even remotely interested in. If you don’t, you’ll get a lot of tire kickers and not a lot of conversions. If you do, then all the hard work you put into the rest of the copy may actually PAY off in terms of more sales and profits.

So a good pre-headline will “polarize” your audience right off the bat. Let’s look at some examples:

“If You’re Sick And Tired Of Losing Money On Paid Ads, Keep Reading…”
“Frustrated by getting burned with solo ads? Here’s a solution…”
“Disappointed with YOUR affiliate promotions? Must see UNIQUE method…”

In each case, we’re polarizing. We’re segmenting our audience right from the top, by being specific as to the nature of the product or solution we’ll be offering.

If someone ISN’T using paid ads, they won’t be interested and will move on. GREAT. But if they ARE using paid ads and have any interest at all in improving their ROI, they’re likely to continue with the copy.

Same goes for both subsequent examples. Moral of the pre-headline story? Segment early, with your very first words, to boost your subsequent conversions. The side benefit of this is you’ll be seen as an upfront marketer, not one to waste people’s time with blind copy and all the B.S. that entails…

Moving on to the main event, the headline itself. Obviously, this could be the topic of an entire course (and there are many devoted to just that). But for the purposes of this post, let’s look at some powerful, effective ways to draw your prospect in by crafting a killer headline.

Let’s remind ourselves of the goal of a headline (or email subject line): to get people interested enough to keep reading. Let’s repeat that: TO GET PEOPLE INTERESTED ENOUGH TO KEEP READING.

That’s it. The headline isn’t about selling. Get that out of your head RIGHT NOW. Try to sell in a headline alone and you’re in for a world of hurt. How the hell are you going to sell a product or service in a headline or subject line? Short answer: you’re not.

So recognize that the main goal of the headline is MERELY to arouse enough curiosity to get people to follow along with the rest of the copy, and now we can start to make some things happen.


The ONLY other consideration for the headline is that it flows naturally from the pre-headline, if you’ve chosen to use one. As long as the topics are congruent, that’s not much of a problem.

How do we arouse curiosity? Enough to get readers engaged and anxious to continue along for the ride? LOTS of different ways. Good news here is you don’t have to employ multiple methods, usually just one will suffice. Let’s look at how to make this happen:

SPECIFICITY: the more specific, the better. Specific claims as to benefits and time frames. For example:
“Discover How To Earn $103.42 Each Day Using ONE CPA Campaign Within 48 Hours”

THAT is specific. Specific benefit (cash) with a specific time frame, with a specific method. This FURTHER segments your audience and that is a very good thing.

TRIGGER, TOPIC, PROBLEM & OUTCOME: this simple 4 step formula is responsible for some of the most powerful headlines ever. This little formula checks all the curiosity boxes while also being incredibly specific.

For example:
“Why Video Marketing Is The Answer To Driving Unlimited Traffic To Your Affiliate Offers”

The trigger here is the simple word “why”. The specific topic is video marketing. The specific problem is traffic, and the outcome is driving unlimited traffic to affiliate offers. ANYONE remotely interested in ANY combination of traffic, video marketing or earning affiliate commissions will be VERY curious and likely to continue reading.

ISSUES, BENEFITS, DESIRES: great headlines can also arouse curiosity by specifically illustrating how a product or service will solve an issue, create benefit and fulfill a desire.

Consider this example:
“How to Shed Unwanted Pounds, Increase Your Energy And Regain Your Positive Attitude In just 7 Days”

This headline clearly illustrates an issue (unwanted pounds), mentions a benefit (increased energy) and fulfills a desire (positive attitude). Plus it adds a specific time frame. VERY successful headline formula.

BENEFITS, OBJECTIONS AND TIME FRAMES: Personally I LOVE this little headline outline because it applies to the neuropsychology of “The Rule Of 3” (for more details on that, check out this earlier post). This method is elegant and arouses maximum curiosity while being specific as all get out.

Consider this example:
“No List? No Problem – Discover How To Start Earning $75 Daily In Less Than 3 Days”

The objection here is not having a list. The benefit is the daily income, and the time frame (obviously) is inside of 3 days.

This method works great because it answers a potential objection before the reader can even raise it, and this alone makes it a powerful curiosity trigger.

Look, these are just a few of the “classic” methods to craft killer headlines. But sometimes we need a little more juice. Consider the following top converting “opening phrases” to top headlines:

“How To”
“Who Else Wants”
“What Everyone Should Know About”
“Secrets Of ____ Revealed!”
“Don’t Even Think Of ____ Until You ____”
“How To Get ___ (Specific Benefit)”

The 3rd key element to the “headline sequence” is the post headline, and this is optional. You’ll often see it in longer sales letters, as a way of transitioning into the body of the sales copy itself.

The keys to a post headline are brevity and relevancy. It MUST be highly related to the main headline, and to be effective, as brief as possible. Or at the least be presented in a punchy style, so think short, concise sentences.

For a post headline to be most effective, it should hit on a specific benefit that further entices the reader to continue. Most often this will come down to focusing on how easy and quick the product you’re pitching is to implement. EVERYONE likes quick and easy, so if you can demonstrate further in your letter how these are legitimate benefits, by all means use them in the post headline.

Special note to email marketers: don’t discount the power of the post headline when crafting your messages! As email marketers we often work so hard on subject lines that we forget how important the introduction is as well. Recall a portion of this text is viewable in preview format to readers, so by introducing another benefit of the product you’ll do yourself a big favour. Let’s look at an example:

Imagine we’re promoting the latest, greatest list building product.

Subject Line: Revolutionary Software Builds Your List On Autopilot”

Post Headline AKA Intro Text: “1-click simple software adds hundreds of subscribers to your list each week”

Much of that post headline or intro text will be viewable in the preview window for email subscribers. By focusing on the benefits “simple and fast”, you appeal to the desires of a wide range of most IM audiences.

Remember: you DON’T NEED to use a pre and post headline in sales letters. They’re options to help narrow your audience, increase specificity and show benefits. In long sales copy you’ll often see both in place. Obviously you won’t see a pre-headline in an email, however the post headline is best used as the opening body text. Remember, many email clients show previews of this text before the message is even opened, so good to be as intriguing as possible.

The bottom line with headlines, as mentioned, is to arouse enough curiosity to get the reader to keep following along. This DOESN’T mean getting all “hypey” which tends to fly in the face of what you’ve likely heard about promoting digital products. As long as the product does what it says on the tin, there’s no need for excessive hype. Just be as specific as possible, employ some of the above strategies, and get to work!

There is a caveat here. The headline’s MAIN job is to entice people to continue reading. While I don’t advocate hype, I’m all about urgency and excitement in headlines. Provided we’ve polarized our audience so we’re not wasting anyone’s time, let’s do our best to express the GENUINE excitement we have about our product. And entice people to read on so they can understand WHY we’re so excited about it.

Please don’t confuse excitement and urgency with “making stuff up”. There’s no room for that in copywriting and it will only turn around to bite you on the you-know-what. Consider the following “golden rules” as they apply to headlines:

There will be no lying in headlines.

There will be no made up facts.

However, there can be infectious enthusiasm.

A bit of shock value.

And every effort should be made to entice the reader to continue…

Remember the point made earlier about how ace copywriters spend about 90% of their time on headlines alone? That is now YOUR job. And come up with a bare minimum of 10 headlines for any piece of copy you create. Then be brutal in your editing. Get others to check them out for you and give objective criticism. This stuff is CRITICAL.

Remember, 84% of readers will decide ON HEADLINE ALONE if they’ll continue reading. Time spent here means profits down the road. If there is ANY place to scrimp on sales copy, the headline isn’t one of them…

Now, at this point you may be saying “damn, this is a lot of stuff to absorb”. And you’d be DAMN right! Welcome to the world of copywriting, bucko. But ya know what? There ARE some tricks, and I’m not too ashamed to admit I resort to them from time to time. Here goes:

FIRST, there is no better way to craft compelling headlines than by having an intimate knowledge of the product you’re promoting. If this is your own product that you’re writing a sales letter for, no worries. You’ll already have a great understanding of all the benefits, results, and your target market. PLUS you’ll have a subjective passion for the product and that will help IMMENSELY in writing these converting headlines.

But what if this isn’t your product? Maybe you’re writing a promotional email, a product review, or like me you’re a “hired gun” writing copy for someone else?

Same goes. Your first source of inspiration needs to come from an INTIMATE knowledge of the product itself. Review copy, mandatory. Contact with the vendor, helpful. If like anything else you take your time with the research, the actual creation of the headline will be much easier. AND it will tend to convert a heck of a lot better. There’s no short cuts here kids. GET TO KNOW THE PRODUCT.

How do you take what you know about a product and turn it into a great headline? Easy. By knowing the product you’ll have a great idea about the solutions it offers and the benefits it can bring its users. Beyond that, review any sales copy you have access to for the product itself. Many JV pages will include email swipes. Check those out, especially the subject lines. See if there are some power words or phrases you can incorporate. Then check out the sales page itself. If the product isn’t live yet, request a draft copy from the vendor.

Sales pages are golden sources of “headline nuggets”. Many vendors invest big bucks into professional copywriters so they are riddled with powerfully suggestive phrases, headlines, sub-headlines and benefits. Often you’ll discover a turn of phrase that ticks the boxes for you.

Personally, I take notes whenever I preview sales pages, JV pages and vendor-provided email swipes. Helps me internalize all of it, which further helps me put my own spin on a key benefit so I can craft a unique headline. I highly recommend this practice. It’s all about results and there are few areas that will impact your bottom line as much as an effective headline.

“But Mark, what about all those affiliate marketers who email me 2 different products per day? Surely THEY haven’t reviewed each of those products…” Right. They haven’t. Their subject lines suck. Their emails are usually swipes provided by the vendor. How many of them do you delete before opening? Exactly. Let’s NOT be like that, cool?
Now, PROVIDED you have intimate knowledge of the product you’re writing headlines for, and STILL need a little extra help, I’ve got you covered here as well.

There are both free and paid online resources that will help you craft great headlines. First in my bag of tricks is The Portent’s Content Idea generator (free). Simply enter a keyword or 2 and it will spin a headline out for you. Refresh as many times as you like for more and more ideas. Portent’s relies on some of the most up to date and classic copywriting methods so you’ll get some great results with this free service.
Tips for use: don’t count on a “miracle solution” here. Rather, best if you scan through numerous options and take some snippets you really like, then incorporate into your own unique headline. Once in a while you’ll get lucky and find one you can use “as is”, but more often you’ll simply be inspired by some power words or phrases that you can make fit with the product you’re promoting.

Additional benefit: free learning. By simply using this tool, you’ll see some very effective use of specifics, benefits and compelling words and phrases. Just by playing with this service you’ll discover some great tools to add to your arsenal.

Here’s another free online service that’s often overlooked: Sloganizer.


Possibly it’s the title, but Sloganizer works much like Portent’s in that all you need do is enter a keyword or 2 and let it do its thing. You can refresh as often as you like to get all sorts of great ideas for headline generation.

Recently I invested in a paid plugin that promised to come up with amazing headlines for your copy and emails as well. Truth be told, I didn’t find it offered anything much better than the 2 free services already mentioned. So I’m glad I didn’t promote it, even though I personally invested in it. I’d highly recommend using the above 2 sources if you ever find yourself stuck for headline ideas, and also for the learning outcomes alone!


=> Practice By “Improving” Headlines on Existing Copy: learn on someone else’s dime, not yours! As mentioned in this previous post, it’s ridiculously easy to access all sorts of emails and sales letters recommending products in your niche. Grab some, check out the headlines, and apply the above methods to make them better!

=> Always always ALWAYS get to know whatever product you’re promoting as well as you can. Put it through its paces. Understand its goals and benefits. Then check out the sales copy and any sales tools you can. Incorporate the “best of” this copy into your own highly converting headlines.

=> Experiment with Portent’s and Sloganizer to get some great ideas, often just a few power words or triggers. The more headlines you “spin” using these free tools, the more high converting headline techniques you’ll pick up as you go.

=> Pick up a Great Copywriting Resource: sure, this post isn’t a bad start. Lots to chew on. But there are other, paid resources that are worth their weight, literally, in gold. Comment on the FB page if you need suggestions as to what we include in our “copy library”. Personally I refer to one or 2 of these on a DAILY basis…

=> Watch Ads On YouTube and TV: it’s easy to skip ads on YouTube and ignore them on TV. But these are where advertisers spend big bucks and you can be sure the copy is excellent. You’d be amazed at how much valuable intel you can pick up just by spending a few seconds absorbing these advertisements.


Now that we have a firm handle on creating high converting headlines, time to turn our attention to their little brother, sub-headlines…

If the headline’s main job is to attract attention, the sub-headlines’ jobs are to HOLD IT!

Never forget that. Consider how many ads you’re served daily. Or the number of sales letters you decide to read after clicking on a link. You decide pretty darned quick based on the headline and sub-headlines just how far into the copy you’ll go…

Sub-headlines are designed for “skimmers”. Of the, on average, 16% of viewers of your sales page that will continue after reading the headline, precious few will make it all the way to the end. Your sub-headlines are there to keep their curiosity piqued and keep them engaged with your offer.

So, sub-headlines need to be ultra specific BENEFITS to end users of the product. No time for fluff or wasted words. We’re talking about SPECIFIC RESULTS in a SPECIFIC TIME, or a REAL BIG PAIN TRIGGER incorporated into each.

Sub-headlines should be placed strategically and allow each form of the copy to transition seamlessly from one section to the next.

From a brief “about me” section that builds trust, the next sub-headline should reinforce STRONGLY a key benefit of the product. And that continues into other elements of the copy, such as the lead-in to the main product benefits, risk-reversal section, testimonials, claims, etc.

As such, sub-headlines should ideally be restricted to one line. Consider them “mini-headings” within the copy itself.

The Acid Test For Effective Sub-Headlines: when you’re done with the sales letter, ONLY read the main headline and sub-headlines. Does the information provided within just these give the reader a good idea of what’s on offer? If it does, AND COMPELS people to continue with the copy, you’ve done your job. If the headline and sub-headlines don’t concisely explain the offer at hand, you’ve got some editing to do!

Applying These Techniques To Effective Email Copy:


I should mention at this point that I used to truly suck at writing emails. Truly. To the point where I burned out multiple lists with my limited skills and hack attempts at copying what others were doing in the industry.

Even after studying, testing and applying multiple email courses, I never really got that great at writing emails. Until…

I started studying sales copy. One cannot discount enough the benefits of studying and applying the methods of the great sales copywriters.

There’s a reason professional copywriters command such high prices. They study. Test. Apply. Split test. Rinse and repeat. When conversion rates hang on the balance of very few precious words, every single written word equates to dollar signs.

No where is this more true than in email copy. Unlike sales letters, you have precious little space in which to convey urgency and create curiosity.

Shorter copy is always harder to master than longer copy. And by their very nature, emails are of shorter length than sales letters.

But by studying the art of crafting powerful headlines and sub-headlines, email marketers can quite quickly improve the efficiency and conversion rates of their own emails. Headlines become subject lines; sub-headlines can be easily translated into powerful calls to action.

This is NOT to say you shouldn’t be checking out solid email courses. Fellow Rebel Lee Murray has some EXCELLENT courses on the subject, and they’ve helped thousands of students. I’ve learned from Lee, amongst others. And heck, I’ve got a couple of email marketing courses of my own floating around out there that have gotten some decent reviews…

But Lee has been earning a solid income through writing for years. And I’ve made studying sales copy and conversions a daily habit for a very long time. You don’t just “wake up” and become a master email marketer: you get better by studying and applying something new each and every day.

But one of the fastest ways to get better at it is through studying sales copy. Good and bad. Learn from the good. Work at “improving” the bad, as that’s an exercise in itself.

Action Plan For Email Marketers:

Review the marketing emails that hit your inbox (and spam filter). Work on improving the subject lines, as this is fantastic practice.

Check out any sub-headlines or calls to action and decide what works and what doesn’t. Make improvements.

Make a habit of checking out a couple of IM review blogs on a daily basis. This is another place where “short copy” lives. These review sites live and die on the power of short sales copy.

So they’re a GREAT place to discover tips and tricks for creating compelling headlines and calls to action with as few words as possible. And that’s what separates good email marketers from bad: the ability to compel action based on limited “verbiage”.

In closing, I hope you get a sense of the “urgency” I want you to feel in terms of headlines and sub-headlines as they apply to your bottom line. More important than pretty much any other aspect of your marketing. Time spent mastering these principles is time very, very well spent.

As always, we encourage your comments and feedback. Hit us up on the FB page with any questions and comments.

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One thought on “Power Of Persuasive Headlines (And Why This One Sucks)

  • June 12, 2015 at 12:35 am

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