As a freelance copywriter, I’m pretty observant when it comes to other people’s ads. For one thing, I’m looking for ideas I can borrow (OK, steal). But I also can’t help myself from comparing my writing to the other guy’s.

One thing I keep noticing is the “don’t want you to know” headlines. I see variations on this headline everywhere. I’ve seen:

”What the big pharmacy corporations don’t want you to know.”

“What your banker doesn’t want you to know.”

“What the IRS doesn’t want you to know.”

“What your insurance company doesn’t want you to know.”

Personally, I hate these headlines. In my opinion, they sound fake and appeal to the 4th grade mentality. They also invoke a feeling of a dark-conspiracy-intent-on-keeping-you-in-the-dark-but-thank-God-this-friendly-marketer-is-willing-to-risk-his-life-to-tell-all. For a price.

So why is this headline formula used over and over again? Because it works.

Despite my opinion, people still persist in buying for their own reasons. And as long as this headline formula appeals to enough buyers out there, we will continue to see its variations.

Which (finally) brings me to my point. Here are some other very effective headline formulas that should be in your copywriter’s toolbox:

  • HOW ____ MADE ME___. This headline introduces a first person story about something that brought about a wonderful change in the narrator’s life or business. For example, “How a simple idea made me my company’s top salesperson.”

  • ARE YOU _____? I love question headlines, and this question formula is stronger than most because it comes right out of the ad and involves the reader. Here’s one way this formula could be used. “Are you financially prepared for a catastrophic illness in your family?”

  • WHO ELSE ____? Another old, but still working, headline format that involves the power of social proof. If all these other people are seeing results, why can't I? It can be used to write something like this. “Who else needs more money to pay for a child’s college education?”

  • HOW I _____. This is another signal of a first person self-help story. An example: “How I made my wife feel like a princess.”

  • HOW TO ____. Who doesn’t want to learn new and interesting methods or ideas? This may be the most powerful headline of all. “How to write web copy that keeps your customers buying again and again.”

  • IF YOU ARE ____, YOU CAN _____. This is a wonderful technique for targeting people who fit a certain category. They recognize themselves and their interest is aroused. “If you are a nonsmoker, you will save 40% or more on your life insurance.”

  • SECRETS OF ____. “Secrets” is another word that attracts interest and works very effectively in headlines. The word makes the reader feel like someone about to learn a closely-held bit of valuable information. Secrets of a self-made real estate millionaire.”

  • ___ WAYS TO _____. This is a list with a number filled in the first blank. Who doesn’t want to read a list of interesting how-to information? “101 Ways To Write Irresistible Web Content.”

Try these headline formulas out. They have been around for decades because they keep working. Of course I’m only telling you about them because a vast government conspiracy doesn’t want you to know about them.


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