This Is How You Write Headlines That Hook 'em!

You can have the sharpest ad copy, but it won't reel in readers (nor land the sale) if they don't get past the headline.

learn more about Craig Simpson

By Craig Simpson

Paul Bradbury | Getty Images

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The headline is the most important part of your sales letter or space ad. You could have the best advertising copy and the best product, but it doesn't matter if the reader doesn't get past the headline. Changing the headline can make a huge difference in your response rate, even if you don't change one word in the rest of the sales letter.

When starting to write a sales letter or print ad, advertising legend John Caples recommended spending hours just writing headlines. Or even spending days writing headlines if necessary. If you can come up with a good headline, then you can most likely write a good sales piece.

In writing a headline keep in mind that you have only a few seconds to get the attention of the reader. Remember that the reader's number one question is, "What's in it for me?"

Here are six steps to make sure your headline turns your audience into customers.

Lead with a key benefit or intriguing question.

I always suggest putting your biggest benefit in the headline. Not the entire sales pitch, but the biggest benefit to the reader. Or base the headline on the key question that will be answered in the sales letter. You want the reader to stop and think, "This letter applies to me. There might be a something in here of value to me."

Related: Want to Stand Out From the Crowd? Know Your Unique Value Proposition.

Make your message exclusive.

One way to do this is to say that the message is only for a special group of people. Readers see that they fit into the group, and they think that this sales letter is for them.

Include a "qualifier" that really doesn't exclude people.

An inclusive qualifier makes all readers feel like they are part of a group, and that the sales letter is directed to them. Here are a few examples of inclusive qualifiers:

  • For women who would like to lose 10 pounds in 10 days
  • Attention Drivers who drive less than 37 miles a day
  • Car Owners: Save 2 Gallons in Every 10!

Almost everybody is a car owner, but people skimming through their mail think, "Wait, I'm a car owner!" and they stop and read the sales letter. For the sales letter that used the last headline above, the addition of the two little words "Car Owners:" in front of the headline increased the response by 22 percent! Remember, little changes can make a huge difference!

Related: 9 Phrases Smart People Never Use In Conversation

Attract people who are the most motivated of the group.

For example, one advertiser tested headlines for a baldness cure. One headline was "For Bald Men" and the other was "Do You Suffer From Baldness?" The headline with "Suffer" in it pulled better because it attracted men who thought that baldness was a problem.

Specifics can also increase the power of a headline. For example, an ad targeting real estate brokers, saying "I gained 9 new real estate listings in 2 weeks" is better than "I gained more listings."

Break up long-form ads with subheads.

Many people will skim through a brochure to decide whether they want to read it further or not. If they see something interesting in a subhead, then they will stop and read that part. If that part is interesting enough, they may go back to the beginning and read the entire brochure.

Related: 4 Reasons to Use Direct Mail Marketing Instead of Email Marketing

Cater headlines for online and offline ads.

If you are writing copy for both direct mail and the internet, you may need to write different headlines for the web. In direct mail, you are "talking" directly to the reader. On the internet, you also have to take into account there are key words that are more easily found by an organic search. Keep a swipe file of all the control sales pieces you receive.

Start your swipe file by opting in to mailing lists and study the mail that you receive. Believe it or not, many top copywriters read The National Enquirer to see examples of good headlines. The National Enquirer may not report a lot of "real" news, but they certainly know how to write headlines that grab people's attention!

Craig Simpson

Author and Owner of Simpson Direct, Inc.

Craig Simpson has managed thousands of direct mail campaigns and grossed hundreds of millions in revenue for his clients over the past 15 years. Simpson is the owner of Simpson Direct Inc., a Grants Pass, Oregon-based direct marketing firm, and a respected speaker/presenter on the topic of direct mail. He is the co-author with Dan S. Kennedy of The Direct Mail Solution. He blogs at

Related Topics

Editor's Pick

Everyone Wants to Get Close to Their Favorite Artist. Here's the Technology Making It a Reality — But Better.
The Highest-Paid, Highest-Profile People in Every Field Know This Communication Strategy
After Early Rejection From Publishers, This Author Self-Published Her Book and Sold More Than 500,000 Copies. Here's How She Did It.
Having Trouble Speaking Up in Meetings? Try This Strategy.
He Names Brands for Amazon, Meta and Forever 21, and Says This Is the Big Blank Space in the Naming Game
Business Solutions

Learn to Build a ChatGPT Bot for Only $30

If you want to see what AI can do for your business, grab this course bundle today.

Business News

I Live on a Cruise Ship for Half of the Year. Look Inside My 336-Square-Foot Cabin with Wraparound Balcony.

I live on a cruise ship with my husband, who works on it, for six months out of the year. Life at "home" can be tight. Here's what it's really like living on a cruise ship.

Health & Wellness

5 Essential Steps to Expand Your Vision and Start Living Your Dream Life

It's time to break free from your comfort zone and expand your vision. When you refuse to settle for a mediocre life, you can start building a life you love.

Thought Leaders

The Collapse of Credit Suisse: A Cautionary Tale of Resistance to Hybrid Work

This cautionary tale serves as a reminder for business leaders to adapt to the changing world of work and prioritize their workforce's needs and preferences.

Business News

These Are the Most and Least Affordable Places to Retire in The U.S.

The Northeast and West Coast are the least affordable, while areas in the Mountain State region tend to be ideal for retirees on a budget.

Business Ideas

55 Small Business Ideas To Start Right Now

To start one of these home-based businesses, you don't need a lot of funding -- just energy, passion and the drive to succeed.