Best Practices for Writing Headlines

How To Create Advertising Headlines That Get Noticed

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Getty Images/muharrem ├╢ner

A headline is one of the most important pieces of communication in advertising. Whether it's a print ad, a billboard, an online banner, or a brochure, this is your chance to grab the consumer's attention, and entice them to read on. Do it well, and you'll start a conversation that ends in a sale. Do it poorly, and you'll never have the chance...they'll look elsewhere before you can give them any more information.

But what makes a good headline. Where do you even begin? It's time to do a little research.

Look At The Headlines That Entice You

Before you start writing headlines for advertisements, take a quick test. Flip through a magazine, newspaper or even visit a website and read a few stories. How did you make your decision on which stories to select? It wasn't the fancy opening sentence or the little picture that went along with the article.

The headline and maybe even the subhead made you want to read or even ignore the story. The same rule applies to print advertising. Consumers scan headlines before committing to reading the entire ad. If you haven't written a powerful headline, your print ad copy might as well say, "blah, blah, blah," because it's not going to be read. Writing your headline is one of the most important factors in writing your print ad.

An effective headline doesn't just pique your reader's curiosity.

It hooks them. They are drawn into the ad, compelled to read more. There are many approaches you can take to write a solid headline. Explore these various methods for every print ad you create.

It's OK To Be Direct with an Offer or Guarantee

Headlines don't have to be complicated. If you have a special offer that will lure customers in, don't think you have to spend hours trying to create a witty, humorous headline to go along with your ad copy.

Sample headlines from existing print ads:

  • 30 Free Digital Camera Prints from Snapfish
    Print ad for: Snapfish
  • LifeStyle PartyTime Kitchen $159.99
    Print ad for: Step 2
  • Take a 30-day test drive and decide for yourself.
    Print ad for: Escort Radar

Make a Memorable Statement

These are the popular type of headlines you usually see in print ads running in national magazines. Sometimes they're creative and catchy. Sometimes they're just a couple of short words. Sometimes they're a sentence or two. Magazines are loaded with these headlines.

This is why a lot of people think you must write this type of headline in order for your ad to be a success. That isn't always the case, of course. Knowing your market, your products and what exactly it is you're trying to sell will help you determine if using a statement as your headline is right for your ad.

Sample headlines from existing print ads:

  • Be One in a Million, Not One of a Million
    Print ad for: Pantene Pro-V
  • Easier Mac
    Print ad for: Chef Boyardee Mac & Cheese
  • Stop. Rinse. Play.
    Print ad for: Mr. Clean AutoDry Carwash
  • Viruses can live on surfaces for days.
    Print ad for: Lysol
  • The Gorilla Has Evolved. Now It Gets Stronger, Faster.
    Print ad for: Gorilla Glue

Use News in Your Headline

If your ad is introducing a new product to the market or an improvement on one of your existing products, you can use that news in your headline.

Introducing, Finally, Announcing, Now and New are popular choice words you'll find in these types of headlines.

Sample headlines from existing print ads:

  • Introducing Freschetta Pizzamore. For Take-Out Taste at Your Place.
    Print ad for: Freschetta Pizzamore
  • We've Always Helped You Rock. Now We Help You Roll.
    Print ad for: XM NavTraffic
  • New Southwestern Style Veggie Cakes
    Print ad for: MorningStar Farms
  • Introducing a World of Healthy Flavors!
    Print ad for: Pilgrim's Pride EatWellStayHealthy

The Question (and Sometimes Answer) Headline

The question and answer format can easily be overdone in advertising. A question's wording can also run the risk that your potential customer can answer the question with a "no" and they'll skip reading your ad. Carefully choose your question so you don't lose your reader right from the start.

Sample headlines from existing print ads:

  • Need Curb Appeal? Go With a Pro!
    Print ad for: Classic Gardens and Landscapes Inc.
  • Do your plans include having another baby in the next five years?
    Print ad for: Mirena
  • How do you heal dry skin? Use a lotion that's actually attracted to it.
    Print ad for: Curel Ultra Healing Intensive Lotion
  • Uncomfortable? Comfortable.
    Print ad for: Dulcolax Stool Softener
  • Want to Know How to Make Kids Happy? Look Inside.
    Print ad for: Kraft Singles

Note that not all question headlines have the answer in the headline and they don't have to be straightforward questions that rely on a "yes" or "no" answer. You can be creative with your questions and this can also help you avoid the question headline that allows your potential customers to easily answer "no" and move on to the next ad.

Sample headlines from existing print ads:

  • From scratch? It'll take 15 minutes to find out if you're out of garlic.
    Print ad for: Ore-Ida Roasted Potatoes
  • How do you redesign the most beloved small SUV? Very carefully.
    Print ad for: Subaru Forester
  • Why use fake flavors and additives when you can use lemongrass and coconut?
    Print ad for: Kashi
  • Are the hairs on the back of your neck begging for exercise?
    Print ad for: Ford Flex
  • What will you keepsake?
    Print ad for: Hallmark
  • Is it a vacuum cleaner that kills germs? Or a germ-killer that vacuums?
    Print ad for: Halo Vacuum Cleaner

Show the Benefits

You know there's a benefit for customers choosing your product over your competitor's. Putting the benefit(s) right into your headline can immediately capture the reader's attention. It all comes down to that "don't say it, prove it" mentality. 

Sample headlines from existing print ads:

  • Spread Endorsed by Cardiologists. And Taste Buds.
    Print ad for: Promise
  • We have twice the antioxidant power of orange juice and we help protect your immune system.
    Print ad for: Welch's 100% Grape Juice
  • I've got 60% less fat than regular potato chips and the killer abs to prove it.
    Print ad for: Chex Mix
  • Valvoline SynPower Offers 4X Better Wear Protection Than Mobil 1
    Print ad for: Valvoline
  • Once-monthly Boniva builds bone density to help keep my bones strong and healthy.
    Print ad for: Boniva
  • My, What Strong Teeth You Have. Orbit Extra Helps Fight Cavities, Strengthens Teeth.
    Print ad for: Orbit Gum

Testimonials Are Powerful Persuaders

Your headline can be straight from your customer's mouth. Testimonials aren't as popular as other types of headlines but they can be very convincing for a potential customer to keep reading.

Sample headlines from existing print ads:

  • "I've relied on Lexol products for 30 years."
    Print ad for: Lexol
  • "I learned about Little Remedies from experience...my cousin's."
    Print ad for: Little Remedies
  • "My Ultra is 9 years old and still looks and works as good as new."
    Print ad for: Ultra wet Grinders
  • "I Use usaa.com to Manage My Accounts Every Day."
    Print ad for: USAA
  • "A '14' on a Scale of One to Ten. It's That Good."
    Print ad for: Zon

Create a How-To

Using a how-to headline is found more in newspaper ads these days as opposed to print ads in magazines. Using a how-to headline like, "How to Stop Smoking in 2 Weeks," can give your ad a lot more mileage than, "Quitting Smoking is Hard."

This can be a very easy headline to write if your product is right. These headlines don't have to sound like a how-to instructional book either. They can be creative too.

Sample headlines from existing print ads:

  • How to Get Results Super Fast with New Xomax
    Print ad for: Xomax
  • How to Destroy Canada's Ancient Boreal Foreset, in 3 Easy Steps.
    Print ad for: Greenpeace

Share the Reasons

Reasons are another quick way you can come up with a good headline. In fact, a headline that states the reasons can help jump-start your entire ad. Simply state that there are so many reasons why your company is this or your product is better than that, and then the body of your ad copy backs up those numbered reasons.

Sample headlines from existing print ads:

  • Here are 200 Reasons Why Coldwell Banker Properties is #1
    Print ad for: Coldwell Banker
  • The List of Reasons to Use the Body Journal is Endless. But It Starts Here.
    Print ad for: Body Journal
  • 6 Ways Chevrolet is Better
    Print ad for: Chevrolet Used Cars

Try writing your headline from a variety of these approaches. You don't have to narrow your list all the way down to just one headline.

You can always run an A/B test to see which headline is pulling in more consumers. Run one ad in one magazine with your first headline and change the headline for the second magazine.

An easy way to track your A/B test results is by using a different URL in each of the ads. Create two identical pages you want your customers to visit. Put one URL in one ad and the other in the second ad. That way, you'll know exactly which headline is attracting the most customers and generating the most sales for your company.